(This story was originally published in The Jewish Press, “Lesson in Emunah,” entitled “The Power of the Mitzvah,” February 7 and 14, 1992, but additional events warranted an update.)
My husband and I had been trying to have a baby for several years. We’d gone to specialists and come pretty close a few times. The first pregnancy ended prematurely, when our twins were born in the sixth month, and were simply too tiny to make it through the night. I was told I would need surgery and complete bed rest during any subsequent pregnancy to avoid another such incident, G-d forbid. I became pregnant immediately after that, but it was not meant to be … very early, before surgery could be considered, it was all over.
During the next few years, we continued to visit a variety of doctors. Since my husband and I had both been working all these years, we were able to “live the good life,” as they say, but it was truly empty, without children.
It was Thursday, July 3, and everyone in Manhattan was leaving early for the July 4th weekend. My boss allowed me to go, as well, so I walked the two blocks to our restaurant, where my husband was already closing up for the weekend. We had planned to go to the fireworks display that evening.
The lights were out, and my husband and I were ready to leave, when an older gentleman walked in, clearly distressed. He was en route home to Brazil from a business trip to Israel. He had come to Manhattan between flights for some kosher food, and while eating in the park nearby, several teenagers ran off with his suitcase. Everything of value was gone … his siddur, tefillin, ticket/boarding pass, passport, travelers’ checks. He did not know where to turn. He spoke a broken English, but I was able to speak to him in Hebrew.
We called the police, but they never showed up. We walked up and down the street to find a police officer, but could not find one. We tried calling his consulate for a visa to return to Brazil, but they were closed for the weekend. Nothing was going well.
Finally, he decided to head for the airline ticket office to see what he could do. When he failed to get a ride, he set out to walk the few blocks.
My husband locked up the restaurant and we began to head home. We both felt terrible, but what could we do? Then, my husband said he wanted to invite the gentleman home with us for the weekend until he could get back to Brazil, but he didn’t know how I would feel about that. I told him that I was thinking the same thing, and we quickly turned the car around to see if we could catch up with him.
Upon our arrival to the ticket office, we found him pleading with the only employee in the dimly lit office. She said that she could not help him, that she would record the theft, but that he would have to pay for another ticket, and would first need a visa. He continued to call the consulate, leaving numbers after the beep, but none of the calls got a response. The employee advised him to go to the police precinct to officially report the theft in the hopes that someone might return some of his belongings.
I told him that he should not worry, that he should not purchase a new ticket yet, and that we would accompany him to the police station. He was visibly shaken, and asked me if I could direct him to a Chabad house. I told him that if he could not get on his flight, he was more than welcome to our home until things got straightened out.
When we got to the police station, my husband waited in the car. We were starting to feel a special closeness to this elderly gentleman. He was akin to a zeide. We proceeded to report the incident, detailing the items in the carry-on bag which were now lost, while I translated to the officers.
As we were about to leave, the phone rang. It was the consulate. The lady from the consulate had called the ticket office in response to our many phone calls, and the employee advised her to call the police station. We explained the situation, and she told us that she was calling from home, but this constituted an emergency, and it would take her approximately an hour to return to the consulate, but he would need passport photos first. I told her I would try to find a photo store, and made a set time and place to meet her.
When we left the precinct, I told my husband what had happened. I was so happy that the lady had called. There was no question that we were going to follow through. We decided that I would go with this gentleman for passport photos. We found a place nearby, and although I offered to pay, he declined, saying he had some money left in his pocket. Then we waited outside for my husband to return with the car. I was quite nervous, since we were in a seedy neighborhood.
I was so thankful when my husband returned, and we proceeded to the planned meeting place. We arrived early, and he had enough time to call his wife in Brazil to tell her what was happening, in case he missed his flight.
The woman arrived, opened up the consulate and began to prepare the visa documentation. We had to agree that we would pay for the ticket if necessary, since the visa would only be valid for 24 hours. She was a lovely woman, and did what was necessary.
When the paperwork was completed, she called another man from the consulate at home. She asked if he would come in to sign it the visa in order to validate it. He refused, saying we would have to come to his apartment, across town. So off we went. I waited in the car this time, while my husband went upstairs with our “zeide” for the proper signature.
With the visa stamped, our next stop was the airport. We arrived at JFK, found the airline, and waited on line. When we got to the front, we explained the situation, showed the police report, and he was, thank G-d, automatically issued a new boarding pass! No additional money was necessary. I gave him a pocket siddur and our name and address. We wished him luck, gave him a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and sent him on his way. We watched as he went through the security gates, thanking G-d that he had been able to make it in time. We were crying, happy he made it, but almost sad to see him go. He was so grateful to us for helping him, telling us over and over again that he did not think he would have made it without us.
I secretly hoped that I would hear from him. Some days later I received a little package from Brazil. It was my siddur, along with a very cherished letter … a note with a bracha from our very own shaliach. I missed him, but I was grateful to Hashem for allowing my husband and I the opportunity to do such a great mitzvah.
When we told people what had happened, they told us that we were good people and they didn’t think they would have done so much for a stranger. But the funny thing was that we truly didn’t feel as though we had done so much. Things kind of went along, and came together, and G-d helped us every step of the way. There wasn’t much time to think about what we were doing. We just knew that it had to be done and we did what was necessary. It became an adventure, and was much more fulfilling than any fireworks display would have been. We felt good about ourselves, better than we ever had.
Several months went by, and I discovered I was pregnant! Though a difficult pregnancy, I was expected to deliver early in the ninth month. As the ninth month drew to a close, and I found myself overdue, I realized that I would give birth on July 3.
After three days of uneventful labor, I gave birth on July 3, just before midnight (a week overdue)! Everyone at the hospital thought I would want a “July 4th baby,” but in my heart I was hoping for the third. We knew that our special gift was given to us on July 3, in the evening (I went into the hospital at 5:00 p.m., the same time we had caught up with the gentleman at the ticket counter, exactly one year to the day). I wanted to be able to tell our story to others, and show the power of doing mitzvot. We felt that we had been given a chance to perhaps save a Jewish life, and were rewarded with the greatest gift of all … a new, precious life.
We named our daughter Eliana, which means “My G-d answered me,” and we thank G-d every day for answering our prayers, and for helping us see the power of good in doing mitzvot. We were appreciative for the opportunity to see the purpose and meaning in life that most people do not get to see.
May Eliana grow up to be a source of nachas in our lives, and may she be a source of spiritual strength and inspiration to all those who meet her, and hear her story. May we all learn from the power of mitzvot. Amen!
Amazingly, the story does not end there.
Ten years after Eliana was born, a rabbi who wanted to use our story for inspiration in his Yom Kippur drasha approached us. We were asked to recall the details. I can only assume that this reminded Hashem of our story, because shortly after that I was shocked to find out that I was, once again, pregnant! Although it would be close, July 3 the following year would have been more than a week overdue, so I figured that it would not play into this story. The pregnancy was uneventful, and I stayed on bed rest as instructed.
Several days before my due date, I arrived at the doctor’s office for a checkup. During a routine sonogram, he noticed that the amniotic fluid was beginning to diminish and advised me to return the following day. The next day, a different doctor did a sonogram, and confirmed that the amniotic fluid was “in pockets” rather than surrounding the entire baby. Since the due date was a mere several days away, and the baby was definitely over seven pounds, he decided it was best to check into the hospital to be induced for labor. He called the hospital, and relayed that we should be there “at 5:00 p.m.” (note the time). At the hospital they told me that the process of inducing labor could take as much as two days. Throughout the night, labor progressed very slowly, but by early morning, I was taken into the birthing area.
Around 10 a.m. I realized that things had started moving very quickly and the doctor was shocked to find out that the baby was about to be born. At 10:31 a.m., on Friday morning, June 22, David Netanel (which means “Beloved Gift from G-d”) came into this world.
After I arrived home from the hospital, it occurred to me to check a calendar for the Hebrew date for the evening of July 3, 1989 (the date of the incident with the gentleman), and I saw that it was Rosh Chodesh Tammuz (the evening of July 3 was actually Alef Tammuz). Imagine my utter shock when I realized that the evening of June 21 through the next day, June 22, is actually Rosh Chodesh Tammuz (Alef Tammuz). Of our two children, one was born on the English anniversary, and the other on the Hebrew anniversary of that incredible day so many years earlier.
We are grateful to Hashem for giving us these two precious gifts … our “mitzvah children” … and we are in awe that the mitzvah we did so many years ago continues to retain so much power. I guess you never really know how far-reaching a seemingly simple act of chesed can be. Who knows what we could accomplish and how quickly Moshiach would arrive if we could all strive to do chesed, especially when the opportunity just falls into our laps. Had we skipped our opportunity, look what we would have missed!