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Goodbye, Yosef Chai

Goodbye, Yosef Chai

Yemima with her son, Yosef Chai, z''l
Yemima with her son, Yosef Chai, z"l

This past Shabbat, I ran into my friend Yemima walking down the street with Yosef Chai, her year-old son whom we have all been praying for so much over the last year. This Shabbat, Yemima, who is the person I know most likely to be mistaken for a movie star, looked pale, thin and worn by grief and worry. When I asked her how Yosef Chai was, she shot me her classic ironic smile and said, "Now you know better than to ask a question like that on Shabbat."

I see that my connection with this holy little boy taught me a great dealAnd then, only two days later, I was taking my daughter to nursery school when I noticed a small black-bordered death notice. When I saw the name "Yosef Chai Mizrachi," I gasped. Hallel asked me what happened, and I could not speak, my throat swollen with held-back tears.

Even though I only saw him a handful of times over the course of his thirteen-month life, I felt a real closeness with Yosef Chai, and looking back, I see that my connection with this holy little boy taught me a great deal. After months of praying for him, day after day along with my own children, Hadas, Hallel, Maayan…Yosef Chai, I would often long to see him, almost like a physical urge to see this beautiful little boy, so cute and cuddly. It took Yemima's pointing out to make me notice the blue feet and nose and fingertips that the medical residents would make a special trip to see in real life and not only in their textbooks accompanied by an unpronounceable name.

I can't exactly express what was so special about Yosef Chai. Maybe it was that Yosef Chai was a boy who seemed totally magical. A child who doctors said would never regain consciousness after a heart attack six months ago, was laughing and playing with his adoring siblings at home a month later. Anyway, who ever heard of a child born with only two heart chambers who actually lived? And not only lived, but lived with such vigor and joy for life?

Yosef Chai never once ate a piece of solid food, he spent his life on a strict diet of mother's milk, sustained by liquid love. And this is how I remember him. Just as G‑d rides on the praises of the Jewish people, so too was Yosef Chai sustained solely by Yemima's milk and the constant prayers of the hundreds of people who prayed every day for his wellbeing. I remember Yosef Chai glowing despite his blueness. His life defied reason, medical realities, and despair; he was a little boy who was the physical embodiment of faith and impossible hope.

A few months ago this past spring, I went to visit Yemima, and she told me that she was taking Yosef Chai to the hospital to do the second operation in a series to repair his heart. Twice they had set a date for this operation, and both times Yemima and her husband had asked everyone they knew to pray, and then, right before the operation, there was a disaster. Once Yosef Chai even had a heart attack (isn't a heart attack something that you are supposed to have when you are seventy, and not seven months?)

His life defied reason, medical realities, and despairSo, as I left that day, Yemima told me that because of the previous failed attempts, this time they had not told a soul they were doing the operation, which was a dangerous one for Yosef Chai. She said, "You are the only person I am telling. When you light candles this Friday night, know that it's all on you." I assumed she was joking, but she repeated this phrase, "Only you." I looked closely at her face, and saw she wasn't smiling when she said it.

I've prayed for sick people in the past, and I know just how terribly flaky I can be about it. What, as though my prayers actually make a difference? Why would G‑d care one little bit about what I have to say? As though there aren't another thousand people also praying for him? But that Friday night, I stood for a whole twenty minutes by my candles, praying for Yosef Chai, crying and crying to G‑d to have mercy on him, to have pity on his mother and father and sisters and brothers who love him so much.

And as I stood there, I imagined the impossible. I imagined that one day I would dance at Yosef Chai's wedding, and I would say to Yemima, "Who would have thought twenty years ago that we would be standing here today?" and she would wipe away a tear and nod as we remembered for one brief moment the despair that we had worked ourselves up into so foolishly many years before.

After that Shabbat, I spoke with a few women, and it turned out that a bunch of us had actually known about the operation, and had prayed for Yosef Chai when we lit Shabbat candles. But what a lesson! I have never prayed like that in my whole life, really believing that everything depended on me, really believing that G‑d was listening solely to me. And ever since that Friday night, prayer feels different. It's not a dramatic or revolutionary shift, but something clicked that night, like a dislocated elbow snapped back into place, or as though I'd been doing needlepoint for years wearing big bulky gloves, and then one day I took them off and realized that I could do the work better if I stripped my hands bare and got to work. Even though it is a bit scarier that way since you can get pricked by the needle and bleed.

And now I walk around my neighborhood, and I see the broken women remembering the hours they spent praying for Yosef Chai, or the women who spent days searching the internet for information to save him, or corresponding on Yemima's behalf with doctors in America and Germany, looking for some sort of solution. And now, the end of hope, the train to salvation derailed. Since I heard of his passing, I still find myself thinking from time to time, "Maybe they could still do a heart transplant." And then I remember with a terrible jolt that we've passed over the line from very, very sick and dead.

"When you light candles this Friday night, know that it's all on you."Yemima was supposed to take Yosef Chai to a diagnostic procedure to look inside his heart a week before he died. The specialist had told her that there was a good chance that Yosef Chai would not survive the procedure, which meant that she and her husband found themselves in an impossible situation; Yosef Chai couldn't survive without the procedure, and he probably wouldn't survive with it either. So she told me that she had pushed off the appointment by a few weeks, and said, "I am supposed to take him tomorrow to this hospital where they are sure that he is going to die on the operating table, but I said to my husband, I don't agree! Anee lo Maskeema! If I can have one more day or one more month with him, then I choose a month!"

And Yemima was right. She and her family had exactly one more week with him, a week in which she held Yosef Chai, and prayed for him, and knew more intensely than any other mother on the planet that the baby she held was a total gift from G‑d. A total miracle.

The last time I saw Yosef Chai was the day before he left this world. Yemima joked, "It used to be that people looked at me, and now all they look at are Yosef Chai's blue feet." Yosef Chai looked so adorable, so alive, despite his encroaching blueness, that I couldn't imagine that the doctors were actually right, that just over twenty-four hours later his two-chambered heart would simply stop beating as his mother held him in the hospital ICU, and in one moment he looked upwards towards the One who was calling him home, and his soul left his sick little body.

And, isn't it supposed to be that when you believe in the eternity of the soul, death is not as sad. Right? But there is no way around the longing, the longing for Yosef Chai, the longing for a baby to nurse and push around in a baby carriage and hold and love.

May G‑d send comfort to this broken and mourning family, to our Rebbetzin Yemima and her husband Rabbi Chaim Mizrachi and their whole family. May G‑d comfort them in the midst of all of the rest of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Amen.

Chana (Jenny) Weisberg is the author of the new book One Baby Step at a Time: Seven Secrets of Jewish Motherhood (Urim), and Expecting Miracles: Finding Meaning and Spirituality in Pregnancy through Judaism (Urim). She is the creator of the popular website, and lives with her husband and children in Jerusalem.
This article appears in the newly-released book "One Baby Step at a Time: Seven Secrets of Jewish Motherhood" (Urim).
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Sharon Russ June 17, 2015

This article made me cry and feel so much love. May Hashem bring nechama always to the friends and family of that beautiful precious baby. Reply

Ruth Columbus March 15, 2013

Oh oh oh All I can do is just cry. And grieve.

May his family be comforted among those who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem. Reply

Shirly via August 26, 2009

May G-d give the family of Yosef Chai (zichrono L'bracha, may his memory be a blessing) much strength and may they know only good for the rest of their lives (until 120). May they have a happy new year to come with health and happiness. Reply

rivkah gottesfeld miami, florida/usa August 25, 2009

yosef chai i once heard in a class that there was a woman unconsious in a car accident and her soul left her body and went to a woman who saw the accident and was saying tehillim (psalms) for her-upon her recovery she tracked down this woman -i think she signed a paper as a witness to this accident-anyway when she found her she thanked her and told her that each letter of each word of the tehillim that she said for her surrounded her with warmth and light... Reply

Natana Pesya Kulakofski Worcester, MA USA July 15, 2009

This is a Lesson on How to Daven Two years ago I lost a friend to the disease so terrible we don't even mention it by name. When she first entered into the hospice care, I recruited women all over my community to recite one complete book of Psalms each day. I myself said as many as I could each day. I said to myself, I've never prayed so hard, with so much concentration, in my whole life.
But that's just the point. All of our praying should be as if it's all up to us, each one of us. The fate of the world stands as if on a scale evenly balanced. One good deed, one extra chapter of Psalms, could tip the scale for the good and change the world.
Every time we pray, which includes the recitation of Psalms and blessings as well, we have that opportunity, the opportunity to change the balance, to change the world. Let's not let that opportunity go to waste. Reply

Chana November 4, 2007

My heart goes out to the parents of Yosef Chai. May they only know of joy hereon. May we share simchos (joyous occasions) together. Moshiach Now! Reply

Hope Los Angeles, USA October 31, 2007

Hashem (G-d) please have mercy on us. It's hard for us to understand these things. We love you; please, have mercy on us. Reply

A reader West Hartford, T October 31, 2007

Sweet child,, you and your family and friends are in my prayers. G-d bless you. I send you much love...a reader. Reply

Anonymous S Diego, CA via October 31, 2007

May we... May we share only simchas (joyous occasions) together! Reply

Israel October 30, 2007

Yosef Little Angel
Where is the little Angel so we can say good bye
The little angel that came for a moment to say hi.

Could not hang around to show us a childish grin
Not even to fall down in tall green grass blowing in the wind

Where is that little Angel that just passed thru
Who never knew a spank or the flu

We wished G-d would have left him a little longer
But He needed him and wanted to make us Stronger.
Stronger to hope, stronger to Love
To believe we will hold his hand one day in Heaven above.

Where is the little Angel we want to say good bye
Oh yes we must quit looking down and turn our gaze to the sky
There he is adorned with bow and wing
Where he belongs, where Angels sing Reply

Inge Reisinger Offenbach am Main, Germany October 30, 2007

This is a very hard lesson for the parents and shows that G-d is the beginning and the end of all life.

Anonymous Houston, Tx October 29, 2007

Ohhhh. Dear little beloved Yosef Chai. You have filled my eyes with tears. They all falling down my face. It hurts. Reply

Jennifer B. CA October 29, 2007

I am in tears... I sit reading this as I feed my newborn boy - tears of grief for Yosef Chai's family, and tears of gratitude for my own healthy children. Life is so unsure, and yet so amazing. Thank you for sharing this story. Reply

Ellen Charleston, SC October 29, 2007

Yosef Chai's story Amazingly written, Chana! Yes, your point that death isn't supposed to be as sad when one believes in the eternity of the soul, and yet, because we are left behind alone without the beautiful soul that has passed over, we grieve intensely. But because we believe, our grief passes more quickly, and our memories turn the joy of having known such a beautiful soul. Thank you so very much!