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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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Chance Encounters?


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I believe that everything happens for a reason. Even the seemingly smallest of occurrences has a purpose.

I recently had a doctor’s appointment in Yerushalayim. Once finished, I decided to do some shopping in a nearby grocery store. This spur-of-the- moment decision led to an encounter with someone from my past, who was to teach me invaluable lessons in life.

While standing in line at the register, I noticed a woman with a familiar- looking profile in the next aisle.

The woman must have sensed my gaze because she turned around and met my eye. A look of recognition passed between us, and we struck up a conversation.

We had once lived in the same city in the U.S., and had attended the sameshul. Yocheved (not her real name) was a few years older than I. We had been acquaintances, rather than good friends. She and her family had made aliyah to northern Israel a few years before my family and I moved to Yerushalayim.

We caught up a little bit on each other’s lives. Yocheved’s family had recently relocated to Yerushalayim.

The line of shoppers moved slowly forward as we spoke. We exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch.

Over the ensuing years, we occasionally spoke by phone. Her youngest child was now in school with my son, Rafi. We invited each other to family simchas, but we still did not develop a strong friendship.

My youngest child, Shani, was studying in Hebrew University. Her school building was not within the campus proper, but located across the street, within property belonging to the Mt. Scopus Hadassah Hospital. There was a small, enclosed courtyard where the students could relax between classes. The Hadassah hospice shared use of this courtyard.

One day my daughter and her friends were in the courtyard, enjoying the sunny day. A patient was outside, leaning on her walker. When she saw the girls, she called them over. She was very friendly and asked them about themselves. When she heard my daughter’s name, her face lit up. It was none other than Yocheved, who was unfortunately now very ill. She asked Shani if I could please visit her.

At first, I would take two buses and visit her on my own. One day, my husband asked if he might join me. And so began a very special, important part of our lives.

We tried to visit Yocheved as often as we could. When one visit would end, we were already planning our next one. It’s hard to explain, but our visits became as important to us as they were to her. Our friendship became very strong, as we bore witness to her suffering and her acceptance. She never complained, though hooked up to a morphine pump and later confined to a wheelchair – and, at the end, connected to oxygen.

She never wanted her guests to leave, though she would fall asleep several times during a visit. She tried to go to as many shiurim as possible, with the help of her special friends. She was interested in everyone’s life and spoke glowingly about her family. We never heard her speak a bad word, whether about others or about her fate.

Overall, we who visited Yocheved received far more from her than we gave.

We were planning our next visit when our son, Rafi, came home from university. He had just taken a midterm exam, and asked me to sit down with him for a minute. He told me how, when the test was done, he decided to hang around the university for a while. He didn’t have anything important to do there, but he just felt the need to stay.

Suddenly, a familiar-looking young man approached him. Neither of them remembered how they knew each other, but they exchanged a few words. A few minutes later, as Rafi was leaving the campus, he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was the same young man. He had remembered a mutual friend of theirs, someone who had been in Rafi’s class. He asked my son if he knew that this friend’s mother had passed away a few days before.

And so, due to another seemingly chance encounter, we were able to complete a circle. We had been there to help see Yocheved on her way and now, though we had missed the funeral, we were able to say our goodbyes through speaking with her children.

May Yocheved be a melitzat yosher for her family and Klal Yisrael.

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