As I was walking to Shul this past Shabbos morning, I noticed a man standing outside Park East Synagogue looking distraught. I approached him to see how I might help, and as he told me his story, he started to cry.
The night before, his daughter, expecting her first child after nine years of marriage, had gone into labor and asked him to accompany her to Cornell hospital. The trip from his daughter’s home in Lakewood to the Upper East Side was filled with hope and excitement. Those who are observant know the emotional turmoil that an observant Jew would experience traveling on Shabbos, even if it is not only commanded in order to save a life, but a Mitzvah to do so.
At the hospital, awaiting his grandchild’s birth, the man’s concern was how he would manage to keep a lid on his excitement until he could reach out to his family after Shabbat. Hours passed without an update, and as he slept in the waiting room into the early morning, he saw doctors and nurses rushing past him. His heart sank when he realized that they were all heading toward his daughter’s room. He waited outside, saying Tehillim and hoping and praying that all would be well. An hour later, the Doctor came out with the terrible news: his daughter had delivered a stillborn child. The newborn had not survived labor.
The man had been on an emotional rollercoaster, first trying to contain his joyful news, then trying to find the right words to comfort his daughter as he sat at her bedside that morning. After so many months and years of waiting, of imagining the blessing this child would be to their family, of what he or she might be like, he now wrestled with profound grief. “The only place I can go now is to Shul in the hopes that I can express my emotions to G-d, and share with Him the pain and anguish that I am feeling,” he said.
I walked the man into the main sanctuary after taking care of the COVID protocol at the building entrance. I glanced at him as he opened the Siddur and started to pray, tears flowing down his face nonstop. We don’t know the ways of G-d, and at times, there are few words that can comfort a broken heart. I cannot imagine this family’s pain.
As a Cantor, there are times when the music doesn’t come naturally, when one must actively seek inspiration. But on this day, I found myself profoundly inspired by the faith this man showed. In the wake of his pain and anger, he sought to connect with G-d by coming to Shul, opening the prayers and reading those that were penned by King David thousands of years ago: “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because G-d, you are with me.”
When I turned my phone on after Shabbat, there was a text message from the man. He thanked me for my kindness and sensitivity, and showed a renewed sense of hope. “I believe that we will come back to this hospital one day and celebrate the birth of a child,” he wrote. “And on that day, I will come back to Park East and sing with you Halel with a full heart and joy.”