Issue #17 – Shmira Amidst the Carnage

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Shmira Amidst the Carnage

By Chaya Tavin

You hear the words. They sound like platitudes – “He is a special neshama”, “You were chosen”, “Your family will grow from it”, “Hashem only gives tests to those who can handle it”. They are true. Yet…

When Binyomin Dovid was born, a neighbor sat with my husband for a long time. He was no stranger to Down syndrome and no stranger to nisyonos. His own precious Menuchi had died at the age of seven, after years of struggling with congestive heart failure. Now they were raising Refaeli, a sweet loving boy they rescued from the hospital when his own parents were unable to take him home. In what the world would call coincidence but we know is hashgacha, my son Avraham Yeshaya was in Gan Harmony with Refaeli the year Binyomin Dovid was born. Now Rav Tanzer came to speak to my husband. Somehow when he said it – that our family would grow from it, that we would see the good, – it rang true. We knew that this was a nisayon that was tailor made for us, that it would somehow be good for us.

But only now do we understand just how good.

It was a clear Tuesday morning in Jerusalem. My husband came home from neitz to get Binyomin Dovid ready for the school bus. You see, Tuesday morning is Abba Day. Binyomin Dovid looks forward to Tuesday morning all week – maybe because Abba puts ketchup on the cheese sandwich, or puts more pretzels in the bag than Ima does, or more salt on the salad. Or maybe because he so loves his Abba and their special morning together. And because Tuesday is their special day, my husband davens at the neitz minyon next to our house, instead of his regular minyon in Kehillas Bnei Torah, where he is the gabbai.
Sirens, ambulances, police, army – the quiet neighborhood turned into a living nightmare, but we were wide awake and this was no dream. Then the rumors. Name after name- good friends, all.
Between the hope and the tears we spoke. My husband turned pale as he said, “Chaya, do you remember….”.
Binyomin Dovid was a sickly baby with Down syndrome and a host of medical issues and I needed chizuk. I made my way to Bnei Brak to see Rebbetzin Kanievsky. I waited outside until it was my turn. I came in to her – a sleeping baby in my arms. Rebbetzin Kanievsky took one look at him and said, “You don’t know what shmira (protection) you have in your home”.
I thought I understood.
Perhaps, I thought, other things would be easier because this would be difficult. But now, almost 13 years later, I understand. Binyomin Dovid was the only reason my husband was not in his minyon that morning. And because he knew my husband wasn’t coming, his post davening chavrusa – a stalwart regular in that minyon too, decided to daven elsewhere that morning. We could not have imagined so many years ago that our son would save his father’s life and the life of his chavrusa.
The neighborhood was in lock down, with the police and army searching for more terrorists. Eventually they opened the roads, and slowly people ventured out. Names were released. We davened, we cried; we cried and we davened. Somehow we had the presence of mind to realize that Binyomin Dovid needed to get out of the house. The school bus had long gone on without the Har Nof kids, so my husband drove him to cheder.
“Are you sure you can drive?”
“Yeh, I‘ll be okay.”
The previous week, we had arranged for Binyomin Dovid’s classmate, Dovy, to come home with Binyomin Dovid on the school bus Tuesday afternoon. The boys spoke about it incessantly. They were so excited. I called Dovy’s mother – I didn’t want to cancel – the boys were so excited; but since I would be at the levayas, I had arranged for someone else to be in the house when Binyomin Dovid would come home. She kindly offered to switch venues, so Binyomin Dovid went off to his friend straight from school while I attended the levaya. After the levaya our kids, many of whom are no longer living at home, came over to talk. We shared our pain, our shock, our faith. I realized it was getting late. I called Binyomin Dovid’s hostess to find out that she was already giving him supper. We made up that we would come shortly to pick him up.
What do you say to a child – any child – and especially one with Down syndrome -about such a horrific event? In the car on the way over we wondered, what should we say? What should we not say?
Somehow, I put a smile on my face as I knocked on the door. Dovy’s mother reported on the successful visit as Binyomin Dovid finished up his supper and bentched. We decided to wait and see what he would say.
On the way home in the car he asked, “Will there be a piguah (terror attack) tomorrow?”
How do you answer that?
BE”H no?
I don’t know?
A short while later he asked, “What is in our shul?” I certainly was not going to tell him details of the horrific carnage, yet he knew that something absolutely horrible had occurred there. He saw us crying. He heard that Abba’s friend had been murdered by terrorists. I simply told him that it had been cleaned up and that Abba was going to daven there. He asked again and again about the shul and then asked, “What about Shabbos”. I didn’t understand why he kept asking. Hadn’t I answered? Oh, that is one of those Down syndrome things….. But no. There was something more. I realized that he thought the shul was somehow destroyed. The shul is one of “his” places. He was agitated over the loss of “his” place. I explained again that the shul was fine and that he would go with Abba on Shabbos. Binyomin Dovid was so excited. “His” shul was still going to be there.
I did not think this would be the last I would hear of this, and I was right. First thing Wednesday morning BD asked, “Is the piguah over?”
Yes, Binyomin Dovid, it is over. We spoke a few minutes and I told him to get dressed. I went into the living room to daven and he came out after a few minutes.
Binyomin Dovid looked at me as I davened.
And looked
And looked.
Then he pointed to my siddur, and said, “That is our cannon.”
I kissed him. He started talking and talking and talking about commanders and soldiers and who knows what. I was davening – but even if I could speak, I think I would have let him go on. He needed it.
Then he stopped
“But”, he said, “they are all shlichim of Hashem”.
Do we need to hear more than that?
If I thought I was finished with his questions and comments, I was wrong. We went out to wait for his bus; it was Wednesday after all, not Tuesday. Binyomin Dovid turned to me and asked, “Are we at war?”
We sure are.
But not the way he meant it.
B”H, as I began to mumble something to answer him, the school bus drove up.
That afternoon he went to his Middos club. The Rav, an outstanding educator, had the boys speak. Story after story after story of hasgacha pratis. He skillfully instilled in them the message of how much Hashem loves them. And then Binyomin Dovid stood up and said, “I saved my Abba’s life…”
Thursday morning Binyomin Dovid was up bright and early. He went to get his plastic war toys, a recent gift from a neighbor. A sword, a helmet, a shield and a breast plate. He looked like a Roman warrior. The sword reminded me of ……
I wanted to shout ‘HaKol kol yaakov veahayadayim yidei Esav’! I could not bear to see him with a sword. I knew he needed to do this. I knew I needed to let him do this. But not today.
Once again, B”H for the school bus – “Wow, Binyomin Dovid, look at the clock; time to go outside….”
Shabbos he went to shul with Abba.
Usually. on Leil Shabbos he goes out during the drasha and plays with the younger boys downstairs. Not this week. He sat through Kabalas Shabbos, all of HaGaon HaRav Rubin’s powerful drasha, all of maariv. He was happy to be in his shul. He answered Amen Yehei Shmei Rabba to the heartbreaking kaddish of the yesomim of the kedoshim. And, unlike the kedoshim, he came home.
There are many powerful lessons to be learned from this tragic event. The exactitude of Hashem’s Plan is blindingly clear. The heartfelt request of the widows that we strengthen ourselves in Shalom should bring each and every one of us to make real and lasting changes in ahavas Yisroel. We should never take the people in our lives that we love for granted.
The challenges we have with our special children are great- but the rewards are often far beyond what we could ever possibly have imagined. And perhaps too, we need to remind ourselves of the message of Binyomin Dovid’s innocent words – our siddur – this is our cannon.
May we be zoche to bias goel tzedek bimheyra byameinu.
Postscript: One Week After the Attack:
Tonight, Binyomin Dovid came out in his pj’s waving his plastic sword, yelling,
“They say alla-akbak (his version), we say Mi L’Hashem Eilai!!!!”