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I lived in Boston for the first nine years of my life, when my mother worked for the Bostoner Rebbe (the current Bostoner Rebbe’s father, zt”l).

My mother had an interesting profession. Her responsibility was to go around and check on patients, show them around Boston, and if they only spoke Hebrew, she would be a translator at appointments as she was fluent in Hebrew after teaching herself to speak it.


I loved accompanying her. Whether it was to the Rebbe’s, a hospital, nursing home (although this understandably changed after my father spent the last two months of his life in one) or the Rofeh House, I would be ready at an instant. Had I not had school, I probably would have followed my mother around. It was enough that I happily already did when I could. I was blessed with the opportunity to meet all different walks of life from the Jewish community globally. People came from near and far to seek treatment for their ailments in Boston with the help of Rofeh. Although I don’t remember it, my mother told me I would run to sit with the dying and cheer them up. I would literally take a chair and drag it over. But I do remember all the other patients I saw at the age of four and up, though I was too young to recognize if a person was dying or not. Even then, I thought I had seen all that was to be seen or could be seen. I could not be more wrong.

One day, my mother and I were walking past the Rofeh House. I do not recall the intended destination my mother had in mind but I do know we were passing the building and I remembered that I felt a sense of sadness for I was under the impression as we grew closer to the building that we were going to go in and as previously stated, I loved to go. It would turn out that although we were not going there that day, there would be someone outside that would change my life forever.

A woman from Israel had left the Holyland for treatment. I was to learn much later that she had come to Rofeh because her stove exploded, engulfing her in a ball of fire that would render her a third-degree burn victim over her entire body. Being that she was a frum grandmother, I never saw anything more than her face and “hands” but it was enough. Due to the explosion, she suffered an infection that spread though her hands and arms. To save her life, she had to have them surgically removed and was given a hook prosthesis for each one. While I am aware of the scientific advancement into today’s technology, I believe that this was the latest technology at the time, despite it being primitive in comparison to what we now have to offer in the twenty-first century.

Her face had many areas that still had not completely healed, and were blackened – possibly dead. She lacked eyebrows, eye lids, lips, ear cartilage and a nose. Being that her features had completely changed, she was unintentionally terrifying her grandchildren. This became a motivation for her to undergo multiple procedures of plastic surgery beyond repairing the third-degree burns to reconstruct her facial features. When I met her she was in between treatments and would become a regular in the Rofeh House as she would return back to Israel for a while and then come back to resume treatment. While I loved everyone who walked through those doors needing help, she became one of my favorites and would miss her when she left but I was always happy to see her again. My joy would become complete when she no longer needed surgery. Her journey had been long, painful, and arduous. If anyone deserved to go home permanently, it was her because I never met anyone who traveled back and forth as much as she had. The simple truth was, I had never seen anyone like this before. I knew a burn victim since I was born but they had already finished full treatment of plastic surgery to repair their face when I met them. Never had I ever come across anyone inured to this extreme and I was terrified.

My mother insisted that I give this woman a hug. I refused. My mother continued to coax me to hug her and I resisted. Little by little my mother got me to go to her. I don’t exactly know how long it took but I eventually gave her a hug. The woman picked me up and gave me a kiss on my cheek. I recoiled. There are no words in the dictionary to describe what a lipless kiss on the cheek feels like. It was then, as I dreaded, that my mother wanted me to give her a kiss on the cheek back. Again, I hesitated but my mother persisted, and like before, there are no words in the dictionary to express the strange sensation of giving a kiss to someone who unfortunately went through an unspeakable horror and had not yet completed treatment. She continued to speak to me in Hebrew gently and as soon as I had given her a kiss on her cheek, I pulled away, I wanted out. I wanted to cry. I had had enough and put up with far more than I could handle for a four-year-old. That is when it happened.

I have had many defining moments in my life. To be fair, I would like to claim that in some way or another, all moments leading up to this moment and after are life-altering. Perhaps they are, but some are more powerful moments that shook me to the core and changed me permanently and formed me into the person I am today.

I looked into her eyes and everything changed in that exact second. My future path would be set out on how I saw her, other individuals, sentient creatures, and the world just by looking into their eyes. Everything physical had melted away. The only thing remaining was her-her neshama – and while I have been blessed to come across many different souls, to this day, hers was, is, and always will be the most beautiful neshama I have encountered. My fear had melted, and from that point on, I have baruch Hashem maintained this gift that Hashem has blessed me with. I was no longer afraid to hug her, hold her “hand,” and give her kisses.

I do not condone subjecting a child to such exposure for while it turned out to be the best for me, it could have ended badly with extreme trauma for any other child. I believe that had this patient not been out at the time to get some fresh air and we had not been passing by at the same time, my mother would not have introduced me to her. Seeing that this experience turned out well she introduced me to other burn victims. I do believe that my mother would have eventually allowed me to meet this unique group of people but at a much older age than four. Being human, there are many things that I do not know but what I do know is that I will be forever grateful for this gift.

We live in a fast-paced world. From sun up to sun down, we strive to reach our daily goals, responsibilities and serve Hashem. The galus we live in dictates and puts pressure on us to focus and value what is outside and overlook what is most precious – the inside. Do not misunderstand me when I say this. There is absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating beautiful things in life. It is when we value it above all else and “worship” it or obsess over it, that is when this issue starts. Balance, like in everything else, is vital. I know that I am hard core in this belief but when was the last time anyone had a chance to look into the eyes of a creation of Hashem’s and see the beauty of it? Even if most people do not consider it beautiful by human standards?

Connections, fame, wealth, and good looks according to society standards have downright bored me. Getting into a person’s mind and heart and knowing their values, integrity and honor have proven to satiate my hunger to understand how each individual works and appreciate their inner beauty. Money, fame, and connections can disappear overnight and physical beauty fades over time. Character, a good heart, discipline, honesty, honor and integrity are all that last.

I dream of a world where one day humanity can put the value of each individual and/or creature (which does not have a neshama but one can still see the beauty of their life by looking into their eyes) and see everyone as a soul on a unique, individual path, doing their own personal mission Hashem assigned them. And that is the most beautiful thing of all.

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