A week before Passover, I got a call from a rabbi in Miami asking me to hurry to Boston’s Children’s Hospital to pray for a newborn baby scheduled for high-risk surgery. The situation was urgent. It was 10 am and the baby’s surgery was scheduled for 11:30 am. They wanted a rabbi and they wanted him now.
Ten minutes later, I was at Children’s Hospital. I headed straight to the NICU. I wasn’t sure who I was looking for and all I could see were tiny babies with wires attached to all parts of their bodies as machines beeped and lights blinked on and off. Next to every crib was a mother and father hanging on to their child’s precious life with every bit of hope they could muster. The fear in the room was palpable.
I finally found a nurse who was able to guide me to the family in question. There was no time for the usual pleasantries, so I just said, “Hi, my name is Rabbi Mayshe Schwartz. G-d can do anything. Let’s pray for a miracle!”
There we were: The rabbi and the mom — let’s call her Tiffany — praying with intense focus. We recited psalms and prayers for the success of the impending surgery. Then I left.
The next day, I received a call from Tiffany. She told me the surgery had gone well. About a week later, the day before Passover, Tiffany called me again. The doctors wanted to perform an additional surgical procedure.
“Could you come over right now, rabbi?” she asked.
“Sure, I’ll be right over” was all I could say, and I went.
When I got to the hospital, Tiffany told me the procedure had been delayed until that afternoon. We stepped into the family room and joined her husband. We all said the Shema together.
When we were done, I asked if we could finally take a moment to get to know each other. Tiffany shared that she was born in South America but grew up in Chicago in a very Christian home. When Tiffany was a teenager, her maternal grandmother, on her deathbed, shared that she was born a Jew.
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Tiffany had no idea what to do with that information, but it settled deep within her. She later enrolled at a large American university. Curious about her ancestry, she joined the first Jewish club she found on campus. When a B-team staffer asked her if she was Jewish, she said no, and the staffer wasn’t very welcoming. She left.
She tried her luck with another organization that seemed very passionate about Jews. It turned out to be a horrible anti-Semitic group whose only passion was opposing Israel’s existence. When she told them she wasn’t Jewish but her maternal grandmother was, they ridiculed her, told her that she was Jewish and asked her to leave.
Tiffany continued on her journey, however, and connected with Chabad on Campus. She went to Israel on a Birthright trip. Then she went a second time on a more immersive visit, ending up in the city of Safed in northern Israel.
There, she met a rabbi who had the patience to answer her many questions. On a porch in Safed, she and this rabbi discussed the idea of “synchronicity,” how bashert works, why G-d chooses the intricate path we traverse in life and more. He had a major impact on her decision to pursue a Jewish life.
But as she continued to share details about this unique rabbi, I started to lose it.
My father had been the scholar-in-residence at the Ascent Institute in Safed for 20 summers and the discussions she was describing were very familiar. They were all on the topics he loved to talk about most of all.
I couldn’t hold myself back any longer. I interrupted and asked if she remembered the name of the rabbi. She said she didn’t, but everyone called him “Schwartzie.”
I started to cry. I told them that Schwartzie was my father. “He passed away five years prior and is buried in Safed,” I said. We all cried tears at the synchronicity, the bashertness, of what was unfolding right in front of us. For reasons above my pay grade, I knew I had merited this connection and the privilege of being there for this family as my father had been there for Tiffany.
The good news is that the surgery was successful and we maintained our connection with Tiffany and her family. They joined us several times for Shabbat meals before they were finally able to take the baby back home to Florida.
But the story is not over.
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A few weeks ago, Tiffany asked if I would come to Miami on Sept. 12, to be the Sandek at her baby’s bris. Of course, I said yes.
On this quick trip to Miami, I got to hold the miracle baby as he was circumcised and finally got his Jewish name — “Chaim Mordechai.”
We can’t always see G-d’s plan amid the mysteries of life. But sometimes, we are fortunate enough to see those mysteries unfold in a way that makes His plan as clear as it could possibly be. We must acknowledge those moments and embrace them.
It is said that the month of Elul is a unique time when “the king is in the field,” when our ability to connect with G-d is at its peak. All we need to do is remain open and available to it.
As we all get ready for a new year of health and happiness, of physical and spiritual prosperity, let’s make sure to open our eyes and see the miracles unfolding right in front of us.
Rabbi Mayshe Schwartz is the director of the Chabad Chai Center in Brookline, Massachusetts; founder of YJP Boston, the largest organization of Jewish young adults in Boston; and founder of Chai Hospitality, a volunteer-based group aiding hospital patients.