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A Bride, a Groom and a Love That Filled the Room

A Bride, a Groom and a Love That Filled the Room

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Art by Sara Seldowitz
Art by Sara Seldowitz

I attended a wedding several years ago and I still think about it. It wasn’t that the food was delicious or that the reception hall was lavishly decorated, although both might have been the case. But these peripherals were dwarfed by the simple goodness of Noah, the groom; Rivka, his bride; and both sets of parents.

My friend Nechama became a ba’al teshuvah (“returnee” to Judaism) many years before me, then married and gave her children a religiousNoah was born with a rare heart defect upbringing. But there were challenges. Like his older brother—and to his parents’ deep surprise—their son Noah was born with a rare heart defect that required several surgical interventions, and even then, things were touch and go.

After seeking the help of a genetic counselor, Nechama and her husband, Yakov, learned that their chances of conceiving a third child with a similar heart defect were very high. Nechama and Yakov were genetically ill-matched, but deeply in love and consistently kind to one another, even under such duress. They also wanted to expand their family, but not at the risk of having another child who might die. While scouting out opportunities to adopt, they learned about a pregnant woman who was carrying a baby with a 50 percent chance of a different genetic disease that was not life-threatening. The birth mother had several other children with the same disease and felt she couldn’t handle another. Having developed the tools to care for ill children, the couple was most willing to adopt the girl, regardless of the outcome. The girl, it turned out, was perfectly healthy.

When Noah, still beset with health challenges, became a teenager, his grandmother asked him what he wanted to be. Expecting the answer to be an engineer or doctor, the very bright and somewhat shy Noah didn’t hesitate to answer: “I want to be a husband and father.” My friend didn’t take this remark lightly; after Noah found a job and slowly made it through his evening college classes, foremost on Nechama’s mind was having her son search for his bashert, the other half that Jews believe G‑d designates for each of us at birth. Trying to help facilitate a match, Nechama spoke to many Orthodox parents. Noah’s health continued to be a concern for many prospective partners. But as it turned out, my friend didn’t need to look further than through her own living-room window at her friend Shira’s house to find Noah’s bride.

Soon after, Nechama joined a group of women who met at Shira’s home across the street to network and discuss potential matches. When Shira took the floor, Nechama listened intently, fully aware of her friend’s kindness and amazing ability to shuffle priorities. Shira emphasized her daughter Rivka’s unusual kindness, sensitivity and competence. Miriam already knew, of course, that Rivka, age 20, had been raised in a family of nearly a dozen children, almost half of whom were mentally disabled. My friend saw beyond the simple description and stories to the pearl that this young woman is. The thought hit her like a proverbial ton of bricks: Rivka is perfect for Noah. Rivka, as it turned out, was in complete accord with her future mother-in-law. Noah and Rivka quickly became reacquainted. Several months later, my husband and I were invited to the young couple’s wedding.

It had been several years since I had last seen Nechama and her family. Noah had grown into a thin young man, with a gentle and sweet expression that mirrored that of his mother’s. Rivka was friendly, giving and warm, just as Nechama had described her.

Rivka’s arms were outstretched as she greeted everyone, but I noticed that she lingered longer, providing affectionate hugs, and holding the hands of several young women seated in wheelchairs. After the chuppah (marriage ceremony), Noah’s brother, Eli, who was unable to live independently, hugged his brother closely,My vision definitely shifted with tears of joy in his eyes. Throughout the evening, Nechama, in her typical manner, wore the sweetest smile on her lips. The often present glow around her face was the brightest I had ever seen and lasted the entire evening.

After some alone time, following the chuppah ceremony, it was time for the bride and groom to start the festivities. Rivka was surrounded by numerous women with Down’s syndrome, with whom she eagerly danced.

Some believe that a child with a disability is viewed as a holy reincarnated soul who needs a small tikkun (soul correction) and doesn’t need to test themselves with life’s complexities. From her carriage and the look on her face, I think Rivka simply saw each as an additional person to love.

I don’t think I drank that night, but my vision definitely shifted. After conversing with and hugging my friend, the bride, and her mother before leaving, I took another look around the reception. I no longer saw a distinction between those who were healthy and those with visible disabilities. The love that permeated that hall had done more than transcend these differences; it made them disappear.

More than a year later, Noah was granted the second half of his wish: He became a father. His little girl was born perfectly healthy.

Nancy K.S. Hochman is a freelance journalist and essayist, a creative writing teacher and an admission essay writing coach. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Child, Seventeen Magazine, Hadassah Magazine, B’Nai B’rith Jewish Monthly, Na’amat Woman and many other publications.
Artwork by Sara Seldowitz.
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Sophia Forest Hills, NY November 17, 2017

Beautiful article!!!! I love this article!!!! It is a must read!!! Beautiful!!! Reply