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Remembering G-d's Gift

Remembering G-d's Gift

(Printed in the Press Telegram 5/14/06)


Remembering G‑d’s Gift


Zalman, my son:  So it is, a Mazel Tov to you on your venture of life.  You got engaged and will soon be married.  How many so called coincidences and miracles, happen to a family’s son?  I guess many and here is ours.  When you were born your mother and I were delighted.  A fourth son.  You brought joy and brightness to the family and our Jewish community.  Both our families, from the old country and America, were overwhelmed with the happy news and excitement.


A few weeks before your birth I came across an ancient law regarding the acquiring of a new home.  The rabbis were very specific as to what should be done before moving into a new home.  If the home had been newly built and the owner were to be the first to live there then the following strange, but true, laws were to be applied. 


You should bring salt, bread, and honey into your home.  You are to slaughter a hen for a woman and rooster for a male.  This law was very definitive.  The rabbi who commented on the law was a great chassidic rabbi.  He was know as Darchei Teshuva, so named because of his monumental work on the Shulchan Aruch – Code of Jewish Law.  This rabbi was known as a miracle worker and was called the Munkasher Rebbe.


Today this law  is virtually unknown to the Jewish population so no such ceremony was performed when we moved into the new home.  However, we did bring in the salt, bread and honey.


It was 1980 when we bought our new home.  It was one of a kind.  We proceeded to live in the house and then you were our baby boy.


One day, unexpectedly, you seemed to be very lethargic.  A slow but sure change was taking place.  You were not responding to the regular stimulus given to you.  Somehow you lost your eye contact and response to our stimulation.  You had become a non-responsive infant.  I erroneously felt that maybe you were with some kind of fever or virus but your mother knew differently.  “Zalman is not well, we need to take him to a doctor now!”  And so you were taken to our pediatrician who said “I was just at a medical conference where I was enlightened about a new infant disease called Infant Botulisim.”  This is a poison that affects a baby’s immune system, weakening and destroying the nervous system, causing the infant to act like a floppy doll with no muscles or nerve system working.


Doctors have a sixth sense and our pediatrician said that Zalman was to be placed in the pediatric critical care unit where he would be observed.  She wasn’t sure as to what would happen, but was very concerned.  And so, we took her advice.


So my nightmare began.  Every day Zalman grew weaker and weaker.  Soon, you could not swallow your food, then your breathing slowed almost to a stop.  It seemed that baby Zalman had become a lifeless doll.  But there was still a little hope.  The cause for this disease is giving honey to an infant.  Once Botulism is contracted the deterioration cannot be arrested.  But a wonderful research doctor, Dr. Stephen Arnon, and team had the desire and a method to help these infants with Infant Botulism.  Instead of giving up hope and considering the infant a S.I.D.S., Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, he advocated that the infant be maintained.  With care and love the infant would re-grow the destroyed nerves and muscles and could be taught how to respond and re-learn the needed skills for survival as the disease does not penetrate the brain belt and the brain stays nourished.


Zalman was moved from the critical care unit at Kaiser to a special long time care center at Harbor General Hospital and placed in an incubator.  He was given the most loving and meticulous care.  Medical staff came to observe the progress.  Zalman was now part of a great and important study on Infant Botulism.  Would he live?  And if he did, would he regain his faculties?  Could he be stabilized long enough for a complete recovery?


Yes, such questions were asked and no definite answer were available.


What do parents do during their time in the hospital?  They speak to their chaplain for comfort, solace and encouragement.  But in this particular predicament there was no one to speak to.  As you see I was the Jewish chaplain for the Harbor Hospital and had no real answers! 


“How does it feel to be on the other side?” asked a young but naïve resident doctor.  Little did he understand how much pain I was enduring.  His question only exasperated things for me.  But I had faith.  Your mother was always there at your crib.


Days turned into weeks and weeks into months.  Oh how we prayed for a miracle.  Soon there was movement, a smile, a tear, eyes that followed the parent and nurse.  Little movements were a great step for Zalman.  The hospital staff had the breathing mask removed and Zalman was fed intravenously and then with a small dropper.  Zalman needed to acquire the gift of eating.  All we had was an infant that acted as a newborn but was already older.  We nearly gave up. 


Being religious parents we felt that if some infants receive complete recoveries then we should pray, have even more trust and belief.  After a few months Zalman came home but not before we had a crash course in pediatric C.P.R.  Nurses and health givers helped us nurse our son to normal.  Regular visits to the home by health practitioners were common.


After so much suffering we were truly rewarded.  Zalman learned to eat and was able to turn himself around.  What joy there was with each turn and trick our Zalman performed.  Nothing but nothing was taken for granted.  The doctor who discovered the Infant Botulism Syndrome kept in touch as well as his dedicated staff. 


I write this story on my plane ride back from New York City to Los Angeles, California, where I live.  I flew to New York for the one day to attend your engagement party. 


You had hundreds of friends join you at the engagement celebration.  You smiled, laughed, and gave a neat talk on Chassidic philosophy.  How much pride you gave me and your friends.  Here you were in your glory.  You have done well.  You spend a lot of time helping kids in need.  You volunteer to work with difficult children and teenagers.  You are a caring soul, something special and unique.  You have a Rabbinical degree, you play the harmonica and you are computer savvy.


Soon, you will be married and with G‑d’s help you will start your own family.  I know you like helping people.  I want you to know that you are a sweet person. 


The honey you posses is a special gift from G‑d.  Use it well.   Remember be firm, caring and loving to the right things.  Honey, at the wrong time, can be toxic and in your past experience it proved harmful.


As your father I wish you success.  I don’t know much about slaughtering  fowlwhen acquiring a new home but I do know that giving honey to an infant is harmful.  On the other side of the coin giving honey to those in need strengthens and gives hope and life to many.  You can help others build new homes, something that’s needed in our world.


Zalman, you will now be building your own new home.   Go bring in the honey by carrying out the mission of making this world a better place to live. 


You are named after a great Zalman – Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first chassidic leader of Chabad.  He taught the love for your fellow is as great as the love of G‑d.  Live up to his name sake. May the G‑dly force be with you.