The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
I’ve long been familiar with the saying “Man proposes and G-d disposes,” but the depth of its meaning was recently brought home to me suddenly and unexpectedly.
If I had been asked in the early part of 2009 where we would be spending Pesach, I would have answered, “with the Chevra in San Diego.” Instead, I found myself in the Sephardic Nursing Home/Rehabilitation Center in Brooklyn.
As a result of the sudden onset of a medical emergency, my husband was unable to fly, and in need of therapy. And I wanted to be by his side. After the initial shock of my husband’s situation wore off, I found myself in uncharted territory. I had to find a nursing/rehabilitation home for my husband, and the only ones I had ever seen were far from appealing to me. It was also hard for me to make decisions at that time, as I was still having trouble coming to terms with the whole situation.
The name Sephardic kept coming up in discussions with family and friends and I finally went to check it out. That is when a whole new world opened up to me. Angela Villanella gave me a tour and I was very impressed — so much so that I chose it for my husband. The place is beautiful and clean and very welcoming. There is a very special garden in the back with a small waterfall that flows into a pond with Koi fish. It is a joy to sit out there.
Most impressive was the rehabilitation floor, which is top notch. But all the tours in the world could not have prepared me for the exceptional care and rehab my husband is given by the people who work there, and that makes all the difference. All the nurses and aides on his floor are wonderful, but as with all things, some are outstanding and deserving of mention. Barbara the evening nurse is in a class by herself. Nurses Lisa, Angela and Valerie are also very much appreciated. Aides Carmen, Townsend, Jennifer, Esther, Ms. Smith and others go a long way toward making a big difference in the day-to-day care of a patient.
Of course, Sephardic runs as well as it does thanks to its very able director, Michael New, who is hands-on at all times. I have found a level of caring — and a desire to help — at Sephardic that was lacking at the world-famous hospital my husband was in before he transferred here.
But there is one more thing about Sephardic — and it’s something no other place has. The secret weapon is Rabbi Avraham and Mrs. Dina Amar. I met them for the first time in the beautiful shul at Sephardic. I had expected a social hall/makeshift shul, so I was unprepared for the beautiful sanctuary with furnishings from Kibbutz Lavie in Israel. Both the men’s and women’s sections are large and comfortable. The bimah has ramps on both sides so that wheelchair-bound men can still get an aliyah to the Torah (my husband got the aliyah before Az Yashir on the seventh day of Pesach).
Rabbi Amar runs the shul and all religious services. He makes it his business to know everyone residing at Sephardic and he sees to it that anyone who wishes is brought to services. He davens and reads the Torah in his beautiful voice and gives divrei Torah that are appreciated by all. Rabbi and Mrs. Amar go to great lengths to see to the smallest details and they give everyone a sense of being needed.
So there we were for Pesach. Rabbi Amar led the two sedorim and gave special meaning to all the rituals. Everything was very festive and beautiful. By that time we already had friends who were also patients there. We sat with Helen and Sam Sherman and they felt more like family than friends. Suddenly I realized I didn’t feel sorry for myself anymore.
By the last days of Pesach I didn’t think I could be more impressed than I already was, but then again, I had never experienced a Yizkor service at Sephardic. Rabbi Amar went over to every man and woman and said the Yizkor prayer for their mothers and fathers. Yes, it took some time, but old and younger alike felt the satisfaction of knowing their loved ones had not been forgotten.
Meanwhile, the weather had turned spring-like and we went out to the beautiful garden in the afternoon. We got seats under an umbrella and it was easy to forget our circumstances and imagine we were in the garden of a resort hotel.
What made it possible for me to spend Pesach with my husband? The wonderful Bikur Cholim of Bensonhurst, which maintains an apartment for women and a second one for men, just down the block from Sephardic. The apartments are beautifully furnished with three bedrooms in each and a living room and kitchen. (The family that takes care of the apartments tries to accommodate everyone and can be contacted at 718-234-1067.)
My husband is slowly regaining his health and we are both very grateful to everyone at Sephardic and at Bikur Cholim of Bensonhurst. Most of all we give thanks to Hashem for putting us in the hands of such wonderful shlichim (messengers).
About the Author: Naomi Klass Mauer is associate publisher of The Jewish Press.
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