In my opinion, all parents deserve a medal of honor, but there are those who stand in a league of their own. I am referring to certain extraordinary individuals who are entrusted with the precious task of raising children with special needs. I’ve been directing the Friendship Circle of South Jerusalem for a decade now, and the parents I meet continuously amaze and inspire me.

There is Gaby, who makes raising a daughter with Down syndrome look like the most exciting experience. Through her infectious optimism and positive posts about “Hallel Mini-Supermodel” (her daughter’s social-media name), I am delighted to hear how her youngest child is thriving in mainstream education. There is Leah, who tells me numerous times how blessed she is, after sharing that her adorable daughter Tali, who is on the autistism spectrum, can keep her up at night for weeks on end.

There’s Lea, a single mom of three daughters, two of whom have special needs. Lea cares around the clock for Arayl, who has a serious genetic disorder and is in a wheelchair with a feeding tube. She barely has a moment for herself and works tirelessly to support her family, yet her disposition is upbeat. She thanks G‑d for the miracle called Arayl, who will celebrate her bat mitzvah this year, despite doctors’ predictions that she wouldn’t live past age 10.

And then there was Nechama. Have you ever encountered someone so pure and authentic that you felt humbled and uplifted in her presence? Nechama Miller, z’’l, was such an individual. She radiated truth and inner peace until the very end. As Dalia, a staff member at Shaarei Tzedek Medical Center, marveled, “When you walked into Nechama’s room, you felt a deep sense of roga, peace and inner calm.”

Some of the children, parents, and volunteers in the Friendship Circle of South Jerusalem gathering for a barbecue and sports clinic with Tamir Goodman.
Some of the children, parents, and volunteers in the Friendship Circle of South Jerusalem gathering for a barbecue and sports clinic with Tamir Goodman.

I was blessed to meet Nechama seven years ago. She invited me into her home in Katamon, where we sat together, introduced ourselves and spoke about Aharon, the beautiful baby boy she was holding on her lap. Aharon has Down syndrome, and we were arranging Friendship Circle volunteers who would come to visit him and his older sister every week. Our first meeting was warm and positive, and our relationship grew and blossomed over the years.

Certain character traits stood out about Nechama that continue to inspire me and countless others.

1. Gratitude

After every program or party that we arranged, Nechama offered heartfelt words of thanks, which were not only expressed verbally, but usually came in the form of a beautifully written letter. The blessings she would send my way encouraged me and warmed my heart. I can still hear her voice uttering with feeling: Brucha tihiye, “May you be blessed!” Her sincere gratitude gave me strength to continue and motivated me to do more.

Our Friendship Circle volunteers loved going to the Millers—not only because of their adorable children, but also because of the special way Nechama made them feel. In the words of Nava Crispe, who volunteered for more than a year with Aharon and Moriya, “Maybe it was the fact that the second I walked into her home, she offered me food and water. Sometimes, she’d even insist that I take food back to my dorm, giving me a Tupperware container with a huge brownie for me to indulge in after I left. Or maybe it was the endless gratitude and appreciation that she expressed. I was doing a tiny fraction of the hard work she faced day to day, and yet she truly thanked me for it, as if it was the most valuable and helpful thing someone could do.”

2. Patience

Nava also noted Nechama’s extraordinary patience. “The things that would send the average person over the edge or at least would successfully irritate or provoke them were handled by her with the utmost calm and even with a sense of positivity. Aaron would be ripping apart his favorite book, and instead of getting angry or upset like many would, she would gently tell him to stop. I was always amazed by this. The things that test my patience or are difficult for me to handle would be addressed by her in such a loving manner.”

3. A balance of humility and strength

Nechama embodied a striking combination of humble refinement, and resolute strength and determination. Her kind nature and soft smile came alongside an unbreakable spirit and iron will. She would leave no stone unturned to assist and protect her children. If it meant contending with City Hall with endless persistence so the preschool that Aharon attended would improve the acoustics to accommodate his hearing challenges, then that’s what she did. If it meant calling teachers from her hospital room to assure that Moriya was adjusting well to the new school year, then that’s what Nechama did. Every fiber of her being bespoke utter devotion to her family and commitment to the wholesome upbringing of her children.

4. Boundless Belief in Her Children

I heard Aharon’s preschool teacher, Miriam, share how she saw Nechama consumed with the special needs of her son with unparalleled patience and love. She would go to fix his hearing aids numerous times, and she’d rush to appointments and therapies to help him flourish. She did all this with joy and optimism. The way she would speak about her daughter Moriya was full of admiration; you could tell that there was a deep bond between them. Nechama believed in her children. She’d look into Aharon’s eyes and encourage him, and he responded positively to her full faith in him and his potential.

Miriam recalls the time that she told Nechama that Aharon had been the first in his mainstream preschool group to cover his eyes for the morning Shema prayer. Nechama’s eyes welled with tears of pride. In Miriam’s words, “After teaching Aharon and watching his mother’s endless belief in him, I am no longer the same preschool teacher that I was before.”

Nechama Miller with her children at a Friendship Circle event.
Nechama Miller with her children at a Friendship Circle event.

5. Faith and positivity

The last few months with Nechama left an unforgettable imprint on my life. She was battling a severe illness; nevertheless, she carried herself with remarkable grace and positivity, so much so that I never imagined the possibility of her tragic passing. She spoke with faith—never questioning and never complaining. She told me that she and Moriya were planning her Seudat Hodaya, a meal of recovery and thanks, which they felt sure was looming ahead.

6. Reaching out to others

Even as she faced the overwhelming challenges of raising a child with special needs, her thoughtfulness and sensitivity to others didn’t wane. I noticed how she’d reach out in a very humble and unassuming way to people who might need assistance, whether with an encouraging word or an act of kindness. She connected us to other families of special children who are benefiting from loving Friendship Circle volunteers in her merit.

During her illness, Nechama allowed me the privilege of visiting her in the hospital numerous times, and my friend Ziona and I always left awed and inspired. In the midst of her suffering, she dedicated her thoughts and time to matchmaking in the hopes of bringing happiness and meaning to others. She inquired about single nurses, and old friends and acquaintances. As we sat in her hospital isolation room, she’d describe young men and women, asking us if we had any ideas for them. And then she’d follow up with emails and messages because she really cared. Nechama could have wallowed in self-pity and her own pressing medical concerns, but instead she reached out to others with love.

“We see many patients in the oncology ward, but Nechama stood out,” shared Lisa, one of Nechama’s nurses, who was also the object of Nechama’s thoughtful matchmaking. “She was a patient who inspired the medical staff through her incredible way of connecting to others and showing sincere interest and concern, despite her own pain.”

On Friday of Parshat Chayei Sara in 2019, Nechama’s pure soul returned to its Maker. She was buried just moments before Shabbat in the Jerusalem cemetery of Har HaMenuchot. It’s written that great tzadikim, truly righteous people, are buried then for there is no time for judgment and their souls ascend straight to Gan Eden.

The large crowd gathered together at the most hectic time imaginable was a testament to Nechama’s sterling character and the lasting impression she made on others. As I lit my Shabbat candles at home moments later, shortly before sunset, I felt Nechama’s light and warmth surround me.

The world has lost a rare gem, and we miss her terribly. However, we know that her soul lives on, and the greatest tribute we can give to Nechama is to emulate her kindness, gratitude, faith in each child, and her positivity and trust in G‑d.

I cherish the warm blessing that Nechama wrote to me last Chanukah at the end of a “thank you” note for our menorah-lighting event, offering the ultimate comfort (nechama): “May we all merit the great light of Redemption!” Amen!

Afterword: I met Nechama’s parents, Chaya and Avraham Lamm, on several occasions and could tell that her fine character was linked to her upbringing. I also got to know Nechama’s husband, Michael. They were a power couple and a real team. They shared the same vision and matched each other perfectly in modesty, beautiful character traits and admirable faith.

Watching Nechama’s family now and seeing their steadfast faith in the wake of their unfathomable loss is a testament to the great spiritual heights that human beings can reach when they are wholly committed to G‑d and His will. May G‑d comfort and strengthen them.