By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
His Hebrew name is Tuvia Chaim ben Esther, and he needs our prayers. His friends, family, and coworkers know him as Allen. I rarely use my articles to promote a particular cause or highlight a particular need, but this story is so amazing on so many fronts that I feel compelled to do so.
He is 37 years old and his 33-year-old wife, Stacy, is six months pregnant with their first child. If the doctors are correct, it will be Allen’s only child, and in the words of his oncologist, thank G‑d Stacy is carrying a boy. They have been married for a little over a year and according to Stacy they have spent approximately 90 percent of their married life in hospitals.
Their saga began about a year ago when Allen received a phone call that his mother was ill in Florida and required hospitalization. Allen and Stacy packed sufficient belongings for about a week and drove down to Florida, where they looked forward to visiting Allen’s mother in the hospital and Allen’s father, who was parked by her bed. On their trip, approximately two hours from Florida, Allen developed severe pains in his abdomen. He thought it would pass, but the pain was relentless and intensified with each mile they drove closer to the hospital.
The intended visitor soon became the patient. The minute they arrived at the hospital, Allen himself was admitted with a diagnosis of a most rare form of intestinal cancer. The prognosis was not good.
We often talk about respecting one’s elders, especially one’s parents. Many years ago in a lecture, I stated that the job of a parent is to give the child what he needs and not necessarily what he wants, while the job of a child is to give the parent what the parent wants and not only what the parent needs.
So Allen, who could barely move or talk because of the progression of his disease and because of the treatments he was undergoing, would not cause any unnecessary angst for his mother, who was in the very same hospital, two floors above him. Thrice daily, Allen, with the assistance of his nurses, would change from his hospital gown into street clothes and take the elevator up to visit his mother. He would leave his wheelchair by the door.
When she passed away a few weeks later, she had no idea that her visitor was indeed a patient himself.
Hailing originally from New Jersey, Allen and Stacy returned to their home, family, and friends. But Allen rarely spends any time at home, as he is fighting for his life. His father, who sat by his own wife’s side, now sits by Allen’s side together with Stacy. The father is a beaten man whose faith in doctors, drugs, and G‑d has been severely tested.
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It somehow became known to two Orthodox Jewish girls, ages 25 and 23, that the hospital in their city was host to Allen, Stacy, and Allen’s father. They immediately sprang into action. Daily visits were followed by a worldwide effort for Jews all over the world to accept more stringent behavior in the deeds that they perform. E‑mails were sent worldwide to pray for this family and return e‑mails were sent to this couple from all four corners of the earth.
The couple never had a chance to go on their honeymoon to Fiji, and with the hospital’s permission these two girls had the hospital room decorated in a Fiji island motif. Community members sent over a complete kosher Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, possibly the first kosher Thanksgiving turkey the couple ever ate. Kosher food arrives daily, rarely eaten by Allen as he is too weak to eat.
Stacy’s spirits are high one moment when she feels the baby kicking inside of her but instantly crash when she sees her husband lying in an unresponsive state a few inches away. He cannot move and rarely speaks. When Allen can communicate, he texts Stacy from his bed. Texting his love, as she sits by his bedside.
His father? Forget about it. He just buried a wife and the pain of it all is too much to bear. He sits by the window with his head in his hands and acknowledges no one—not the doctors, not the nurses, not these two strange girls who seem, in his estimation, to have too much time on their hands and who simply won’t let this family be.
The other day, these two young women arranged for someone to come to Allen’s bedside with a pair of tefillin. He was asked if he wanted to put them on. Prior to that day he had not opened his eyes in four and a half days. He nodded yes, and the young male visitor placed the tefillin on Allen’s arm and upon his head.
Now you can be a cynic or a believer, but within minutes of having the tefillin placed on his head, Allen opened his eyes and smiled. His eyes made contact with his father’s eyes and with Stacy’s. It was a brief respite, but a moment that was powerful, and deserved—a moment etched in their minds.
It was a short-lived respite, however, as his condition worsened. Eyes closed, body motionless, wholly unresponsive to any outside stimuli.
These young ladies were not done. They arranged for a popular Jewish singer to come to Allen’s room with a guitar. The singer played two songs. The first is a song very popular at weddings, called Birkas HaBanim, the Blessing of the Children. It is a slow song, a powerful song in tune and in words. The young ladies explained the meaning of the song to Stacy and to Allen’s father. Stacy cried, but Allen’s father was still too numb from it all to be moved. He sat in his chair by the window with his head buried in his hands.
The singer then sang a well-known, upbeat song titled “Yesh Tikvah,” which translates into “there is hope.”
The father got out of his chair, hugged the singer, smiled, then cried and remarked that he never believed in man, in Orthodox Jews, to the extent he did at that very moment. And minutes later, Allen’s eyes opened and he texted his wife “Yesh Tikvah, there is hope, I have not given up on life yet.”
This is not fiction. I sat next to one of these young ladies at a dinner just hours ago and heard all of this personally from her. And in her true sense of modesty, she refuses to allow me to publicize her name.
But there is more. Allen’s condition is so severe that the hospital has said there was no reason to continue treatment. These two young ladies—remember, they are just 23 and 25—found a hospital in the Bronx that agreed to accept this young man and treat him with a combination of traditional and holistic medicine. These two young women arranged to have all of his medical records transferred and—get this—arranged for a medevac to transport Allen from New Jersey to the Bronx, when the moment is right.
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Pick your own lesson of inspiration from this saga. Is it a story of a father’s newfound belief in mankind? Is it a lesson on how we Orthodox Jews can allow others to embrace us by our good deeds, breaking stereotypes in the process? Is it a story of a man who went to great lengths to respect his mother? Or perhaps a story of that same man who believes there is still hope?
Perhaps it is a story of a dedicated wife or maybe of an unborn Jewish child who is praying in his mother’s womb that he has the chance to meet his father.
Maybe it’s a story about the power of tefillin or the power of music or the willingness of a Jewish entertainer to give of his time.
Maybe it’s a story of two young Jewish girls who have made it their daily work to care for strangers in a modest and respectful way. Perhaps it’s a story of Jews worldwide who are aware of this man’s condition and have vowed to improve their lives in his merit.
I guess it could also be about the facility in the Bronx that has agreed to treat Allen on an experimental basis.
Actually, I think this story is about you, the reader, and how, if this moves you, to assist this family and their unborn son in any way you can.
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.