A Fire, a Mother's Worst Nightmare: An Amazing Misaskim StoryDate: May 18, 2010
Written for Mishpacha Calligraphy
My husband, Nachman and I were zocher to bring into the world our sixth boy, Tuvia, on Purim, 2007. It was a tremendous bracha, and we were so thankful to HaKadosh Baruch Hu for granting us this special all-boy family. What a special day to receive this gift -- Purim, a day of Nissim. Nissim is what we clearly saw throughout his complicated birth. It took me longer than usual to recover but soon my busy schedule kept me running. At that point I was a preschool director, and a camp director. I was at work early in the morning till late at night, winding down preschool and opening up a day camp for 500 children, all the while, juggling my yummy, delicious newborn baby and his older brothers, ages 2-9, as well as cooking and keeping house.
We planned renovations to accommodate our newest addition, and hoped to finish these renovations over the summer, but Hashem had other plans, and we ended up starting construction the day after summer camp ended. We moved our whole family into my parents' house while work was being done. Starting the school year, not in our own home, was difficult, yet we thanked Hashem that we would soon be in more spacious quarters. We moved back into our newly renovated house Erev Yom Kippur and after such a long time, it was with tremendous joy that I cooked, cleaned, and prepared for yomtov.
The first days of Sukkos were beautiful. We spent a lovely Chol Hamoed with family, and Hashana Raba was a special day preparing for guests and family. After I bentched licht, my baby Tuvia, now 7 months old was in an adorable mood. My mother played with him and fed him and we all enjoyed him by the seudah. The next morning, my husband, father, brother, and three oldest boys went to shul. I enjoyed my morning playing with my baby and schmoozing with my sister-in-law on the couch. I was so relaxed, so calm, so enjoying this special yomtov.
Tuvia fell asleep. I was thinking I should put him in his crib and get the table set so everything would be ready when the men come home from shul. But I was so relaxed, sitting on the couch with my precious, sleeping baby, I gave myself just a few more delicious moments. Finally, at 11:00 A.M., I forced myself to get up and I walked upstairs to his third-floor room, placed Tuvia gently in his crib, covered him, and then went downstairs and swung into rapid motion, heating up lunch and setting the table.
Only twenty minutes later, at 11:20, my oldest son, Chaim Asher, 9 1/12 years old, came running in from shul. He never walks home alone, but this time, he came home a good ten minutes ahead of his father. "Ma, I see smoke!" he yelled. I dashed to the kitchen, presuming that my cooking liver was the cause. Everything was fine on the stove. Then suddenly, in really less than a minute's time, smoke was billowing all over the downstairs, and the smoke alarms were ringing. I had no idea where the smoke was coming from, but I started screaming to get everyone out of the house.
My 2 and 4-year old sons, sister in law, and her sleeping baby, (who was thankfully sleeping downstairs), made it out of the house with Chaim Asher. I flew up the steps to grab Tuvia, and that's when I encountered a mother's worst fears. I ran into a wall of blackness like I've never seen before. I've never understood makos choshak ( plague of darkness) until I saw this wall of smoke. Do I run through this wall to get my baby, and if I do, will I live to mother my other children? Hashem in his infinite kindness, gave me the sekel to run back down stairs, to do the impossible. To leave without my baby.
I ran down the stairs, grabbed the cordless phone and called 911, screaming like a lunatic, 'my baby is burning, come quick' and the operator starts asking in an agonizingly slow manner, "what borough?" I was losing my mind. Someone flagged down a policeman from the corner, and I was screaming at him. It was Shimini Eretz morning, and the streets flooded with Yidden. I was screaming like a maniac to everyone watching the flames now shooting out from the top of the house. "What should I do? Should I run through the fire and get my baby?" I yelled to the crowd. No one answered. I saw only an awful look on every one of their faces; what could they say?
My husband turned the corner, and came running when he saw our house on fire. His first question to me was, "Is everyone out?" I told him Tuvia was still in his crib. When he turned to run into the house to get Tuvia, I screamed after him, "No, don't go, you're going to get hurt!" He went anyway. He had to try to save Tuvia, and I couldn't stop him. I was very panicked the whole time I was trying to save the baby. I had absolutely no thoughts about losing our newly renovated home and all of our possessions. I could only think of Tuvia in his crib, and I was hysterical.
Police pushed me across the street and there was nothing more I could do. My husband soon came out of the house, despondent as I had been that he couldn't get past the wall of smoke. It was then that a tremendous calmness came over me and I felt a huge hug from HaKadosh Baruch Hu. I tell you, I did not do this through some force of will, or good thinking. It came to me as a gift from Hashem. I knew that at that moment, Hashem was deciding whether my baby would live or die, and both alternatives are equally good, one option not better than another, all in G-d's plan. I was completely and totally in Hashem's hands, and so was Tuvia.
When I thought I was responsible for saving my baby, I was screaming, hysterical. When the fire trucks arrived and the police cars were blocking them from the back of the house so they went in the front of the house first, I knew that Tuvia was in the back of the house and time was of the essence, so I was going out of my mind. But now, in that moment, I gave up all efforts to save Tuvia, and I felt a completely unexplainable feeling in the midst of such a crisis - I felt bitachon and Emunah in a way I've never experienced before.
I was standing outside on the street, crying, (just because I had surrendered to G-d doesn't mean that I wasn't pleading with Hashem to save my baby), when my neighbor pulled me into her house, and I was sitting on her couch pouring my heart out with tehillim when Hatzoloh came into the room and asked me if I was sure I had put the baby into the crib because he could not be found. When I responded, "Of course, I know that the baby is in his crib!," they brought me outside to the fire chief. It was then, that the fire chief said, right in front of me, "Take the mother away; we know what happened to the baby."
I understood in that second that my precious baby, Tuvia, whose name means "Hashem is good", was no longer alive. I walked in stunned silence across the street to my neighbor's house, where my mother was sitting on the porch and said to her, "Mommy, Hashem nasan vHashem lakach yehi shem Hashem mevorach matah vaed olam. (Hashem gives, and Hashem takes, but let the name of Hashem be bentched forever).
While the fireman battled the fire, I wrestled with the realization that Hashem had decided that we are not supposed to have this baby anymore. I was holding and enjoying my baby, and ten minutes later, Hashem sent the flames to take him back to Olam Haba. Tuvia was born on Purim and returned to his Creator on Shimini Eretz, what a special neshama, and what an honor for us to be his parents for his short time on this earth.
I am told by witnesses that I let out some kind of wail when I heard the news, from a place one only accesses in the worst tragedies. I did what any mother would do upon hearing the devastating news that her baby has died. But I never felt for a second, not one, that this was anything but G-d's plan, and this was a great comfort to me, even in that moment.
When my brother in law came over and said, "Tuvia was only supposed to be in this world for seven months. It's not like he had a lifetime ahead of him, and now he won't have what he was supposed to have. He was sent to you from the Ribono shel Olam for seven months, and you got to enjoy him for all of it," this gave me then, and continues to give me, nechama every day.
My husband and I were stunned of course, really, in shock -- who could ever be prepared for a disaster like this, and how would you know what to do, how to handle law enforcement, all the legal matters involving kavod hames, autopsy, and so much more. Along with Hatzolah, Misaskim's volunteers never left our side. You should never need Misaskim's assistance, chas va shalom. There were all the shailas regarding what we could and couldn't do on yomtov. One image that is seared in my brain is the Misaskim volunteer making so many phone calls for us from the scene, all with the pinky of his finger. What a lesson it was to see what it means to be a yid. He would stop and say, this call is for yomtov shaini, or this call can wait till after yomtov. It was a mindboggling thing to watch him.
Once Misaskim came, they didn't let any of the officials speak to us till they spoke to them and they ensured we didn't have to sign any papers on yomtov, or answer any questions that could possibly incriminate us later. They kept us away from newspaper reporters, and helped us decide if we would escort the baby's body out of the house.
I felt so strongly that Tuvia had to be buried in Israel. Everyone around me was pushing for local, but Harmenuchos is where I wanted him buried. It took three zillion more phone calls to make it happen, including getting my husband and my father on a flight Motzei Shabbos with the mes, on a flight that was already overbooked. Thankfully, firemen were able to retrieve our passport from the house amidst a pile of ashes.
The fire was on Thursday morning, October 4, the next day was Simchas Torah. In the morning we lost a child and yet that night, my husband was in shul dancing Hakafos with his boys, holding the Torah, which is so dear to him, close to his heart. It was quite an emotional scene; everyone was crying. We all witnessed, and experienced, what it means to be an Eved Hashem. I remember choking down a piece of bread and bentsching for the seudah meal on the day my baby was niftar. In bentsching, we say on yomtov especially, "Hashem made this day, that is all good." I was so struck by this, on the day I lost Tuvia, I had to read those words and believe them. "Everything Hashem did today was good." I repeated this phrase to myself over and over and it gave me tremendous chizzuk.
That same day, the day of the fire, my 2 1/2 year old son had a very high fever, and when we tried to give him Motrin, I had to force it down his throat despite his screams because as a mother I knew that this was best for him. From his point of view I was torturing him. I thought to myself, am I more loving than Hakadosh Baruch Hu? The fire, losing everything we owned, being homeless, and losing our baby was a very bitter pill to swallow. I told myself that it was all because Hashem knows what is best for me, that He caused all this to happen for a good purpose. My brother said, "everyone wants to get their child into the best yeshiva. Your Tuvia is sitting with Hashem by the Kisei Hakovod!" This thought gave me joy.
We are a houseful of boys. What would my husband and boys wear to shul for three days? It was a broiling hot day, and a group of high school girls walked to Boro Park the afternoon of the fire, knocked on the doors of store owner's houses, and with no chesbon, asked them to open their stores to help a Yid in need. The girls came back from their journey with all the white shirts, pants, socks, underwear, you name it, that my husband and children needed for the rest of yomtov.
Following Simchas Torah was Shabbos, and then as soon as Motzei Shabbos came, we rushed through a hurried levaya at 9 P.M. so that my husband and my father could catch their plane heading to Israel, while I sat shiva without them, starting the next day. Misaskim arranged for police officers to escort my husband on to the plane, to make sure they got their seats. A Misaskim volunteer took my father's phone number on the way to the airport, and from this momentary exchange came one of the greatest gifts Hashem gave us in the midst of this ordeal.
The Misaskim volunteer called my father during shiva with the most incredible story, one that only could have been orchestrated by Hashem.
Because the fire broke out on a yomtov, Misaskim intervened on our behalf and made sure we didn't have to sign the typical paperwork that accompanies such crisis. On Sunday morning, a Misaskim volunteer was on Prospect Expressway, headed to the medical examiner's office to complete the paperwork for Tuvia's passing, when he got a call that a Jewish pedestrian had been struck by a bus on Brighton Beach and she was niftar. The volunteer turned the car around and headed instead to that accident scene. Misaskim volunteers needed to be there all afternoon, doing the mitzvah of cleaning up her blood from the scene, and it took the rest of the day to complete this mitzvah. They notified the medical examiner that they would come in on Monday morning instead to take care of Tuvia's paperwork.
Later that day, still Sunday, Misaskim received another call about an elderly lady who had passed away in her house. Misaskim volunteers were dispached. This time, the medical examiner had a question about the death and ordered that the body be brought to his office for examination. The family wanted a proper Jewish burial for the woman and signed a form expressing their objection to an autopsy, which is their right in New York State. Still, the body of the woman was transferred to the examiner for an external, non-invasive examination and the mes went to the morgue.
Monday morning, the Misaskim volunteer finally made it to the medical examiner's office at the morgue to finish completing the paperwork for Tuvia. As soon as he got there, he saw the procedure of an autopsy about to begin on the same elderly lady from Sunday afternoon. He knew that the family was insistent that no autopsy be performed. He called out, "What's going on here? Who overrode the objection?" The staff held back from starting the autopsy to look up the paperwork. There, they discovered that a clerical error had been made. Instead of entering a letter "E", for external, someone entered the letter, "A" for autopsy. Had the Misaskim volunteer not walked in the door at that very moment in time, to complete the paperwork for our baby, Tuvia, the autopsy would have been conducted. Even after his pitera, Tuvia saved another Yiddishe Neshama from desecration.
Such tremendous zechus, the way he was niftar, even after his death, how his death brought about such good. There is so much more good that I know of that came from Tuvia's death, and I have no doubt that there is much I don't even know about.