BY CHANA SHAPIRO/AJT CONTRIBUTOR//
Every family has its own saga, replete with unforgettable moments. This story, one of our family’s most memorable incidents, took place exactly nine years ago.
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It’s always a surprise or a concern when the phone rings at our house on Shabbat. As Sabbath observers, we receive calls only from those who don’t know us or who try to contact us because of an emergency.
If we’re in hearing distance of our answering machine, we know what to do, but if we’re in another room….well, here’s our story.
It had been years since we had the good fortune to worry about the well-being of our parents, and there didn’t seem to be any pressing problems with our kids. So, when the phone rang repeatedly at 5 a.m. on that fateful winter Shabbat morning, we had no reason to expect any significant news.
We woke with a start, looked at the clock and went right back to sleep. The phone rang again, but we were so confident that it was a wrong number, we weren’t concerned enough to hurry into the kitchen to catch a possible message.
An hour or so later, we heard loud banging nearby. It sounded like someone was engaging in construction. Why would anyone start hammering at dawn on a frigid Saturday morning?
We were still too tired to get out of bed to locate the source of the noise, but when we realized that the racket was closer to us than we realized, we got up. It was happening at our house. Someone was banging on our front door!
We were sure that a confused individual had the wrong address, and we took a moment to calm down enough to greet the innocent stranger with something like good manners. My husband, Zvi, started to get ready to go to synagogue, and I threw on my bathrobe and opened the door.
It was our daughter, Rachel.
“Want to take a long walk?” she asked. She was holding a tiny orange sweater in her hands. It was a symbol. It took a second or two, then I got it. Our pregnant daughter, Sara, was in the hospital, maybe giving birth at that very moment.
The baby wasn’t expected for another month, so there had been no anticipation that the early-morning phone calls we’d discounted could be earth-shattering signals.
We didn’t know what to do first. By now, Zvi was in full Shabbat mode, so he immediately launched into speed davening as I got dressed. Rachel kept reminding us that it was freezing outside and we needed warm clothes. We were going to take the most memorable Shabbat walk of our lives, all the way to the hospital.
Getting into our warmest coats, mufflers, gloves and hats, we headed to the hospital, praying for sidewalks. Zvi wore his favorite down coat, a puffy, three-quarter length bright red jacket. With his full white beard, round, rimless glasses and crimson garb, he looked just like everybody’s favorite jolly, old elf – albeit the kind of elf who wears a kippah. My own green coat and hat added to the elf effect.
Our merry little band made our way to our own nativity experience, and we inadvertently attracted a certain amount of attention. We were frequently greeted with cheery “ho, ho, ho’s,” as joggers, other pedestrians and passing cars noticed our trek.
One gentleman whom we passed, taking note of Zvi’s persona, summed it up rather neatly, “I thought you were a real-life Santa, except for the beanie on your head.”
Miles later, a very excited Santa and his helpers arrived at the hospital. We were temporarily stymied, however, at the hospital entrance. How were we to enter without triggering the electronic doors? After years of living a carefree orthodox life, we were faced with our own Shabbat conundrum.
We stood slightly back from the entrance and waited, facing several folks inside who were looking through the glass back at us, wondering what we were up to.
Were we some people from a place so remote that we didn’t know how to manage those magical electronic doors in order to engage their opening mechanism? Or, more likely, were we out there, biding our time, planning something sinister? In that case, the insiders were not going to jeopardize anyone or anything in the hospital by opening the doors for us.
A couple approached the entrance and we quickly moved close to them. They took a long, hard look and apparently decided we looked more silly than scary and weren’t going to cause any harm. They entered; we entered.
All eyes followed us as we asked where the stairs were. The woman at the desk spoke slowly and clearly, making sure that we could understand her, “There’s an elevator just around the corner,” she pointed out.
“We’re Sabbath observers,” we explained. It was likely that this woman’s Sabbath was Sunday and her observance included the ability to use an elevator, but she nodded kindly. She’d seen our type before.
We raced up the stairs, worried that we’d missed the whole thing. Instead, we waited all day with our son-in-law, Alex, and his parents until after dark.
At 6:40 p.m. Miriam Dahlia Burmenko came into the world. Shabbat was over, but no one had brought cameras or video equipment because of the Sabbath.
In reality, it didn’t matter one bit because her dimpled chin and silky hair were permanently imprinted on our mental hard drives.
Miriam just celebrated her 9th birthday. These days we enjoy her telling the story.
Chana and her family wish you and yours a very happy, fulfilling and joyful 2014.