How I Saved a Life in 5 Minutes or Less

How I Saved a Life in 5 Minutes or Less

10 years ago, my neighbor Rena* lost her only child in a tragic car accident.

Soon after the accident, a neighborhood rebbetzin confided that on top of her horrific family tragedy, Rena was married to a husband who frequently beat her.

The Rebbetzin did not know what to do to help Rena, and she requested for me to go and meet with her…maybe Rena would open up to me?

I could not fathom why the Rebbetzin had asked me to visit this woman when Rena had so many friends, and I barely knew her! Rena had just gotten up from sitting shiva for her beloved 8-year-old daughter… what was I possibly supposed to say to her? I also knew nothing about domestic abuse, what could I possibly do to help her? Rena and I also came from such different cultures, such different religious backgrounds.

While I liked Rena, and respected this Rebbetzin, I thought this idea was going to be a big, fat Hall of Fame Waste of Time.

But I decided to do as I had been told…

I went to visit Rena at her home, and stayed for about an hour. I tried to get Rena to open up about her marriage by telling her a made-up story about a woman whose husband beat her, and Rena just clucked her tongue and shook her head, but said nothing about her own beast of a husband. I remember clearly how awful and ashen Rena looked, the color of ET when he was dying, and how she walked around her apartment as though she was half asleep, a mannequin’s fake perma-grin glued to her face. I don’t remember anything else about our meeting, except how we discussed at length the B-12 shots Rena had received and which she thought she needed more of, but her doctor still wasn’t certain about.

I left our meeting, feeling that Rena’s situation was hopeless…and if there was anyone in the world who could possibly help her, sorry Rebbetzin, it certainly wasn’t me.

I never visited Rena again. I had two teensy children at the time and I was about to give birth and I didn’t have the time or the ability to also be a social worker. But, as an afterthought, I did call an organization that provides emotional support for religious mothers to see if they could help Rena. The woman who answered the organization’s hotline was silent as I told her Rena’s tragic story, but she hinted to me that their organization was understaffed and underfunded and overwhelmed with the existing caseload. She doubted they would be able to provide much assistance to Rena…

A few years passed. And I heard through the grapevine that Rena had finally divorced her husband (this man has since remarried, and divorced yet again).

And then, this past Thursday, on Lag Baomer, I ran into Rena for the first time in several years in Meron. Rena looked transformed… gorgeous in her magenta dress and playful wooden beads, and her smile—what a phenomenal, light-up-a-room smile had replaced her old mannequin perma-grin.

“Seeing you today, Rena, is like witnessing the resurrection of the dead…” I told her. And I wasn’t exaggerating.

Rena turned to the friend who had travelled with her to Meron that day, “Tali, I want you to meet Jenny…Years ago, after the accident, when I was still married to him, she was the only one, the ONLY ONE in the world, who understood what a terrible state I was in.”

“I was always smiling, always smiling, so none of my friends understood how depressed I was. But Jenny did…And she put me in touch with the organization that supported me and cared for me for so many years until I was strong enough to leave my marriage.”

“If I am alive today, it is thanks to Jenny. She is the person who saved my life.”

I walked around for the rest of Lag Baomer on a high. I couldn’t get over the fact that that a single phone call, such a minuscule act of kindness, could have such far-reaching effect on another human being. But this encounter with Rena was also was a bit scary for me…what other small but earthshaking acts of kindness had I missed out on over the years?

And I was reminded me of a story I heard many years ago, but have never forgotten…

The Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas, the great Tsaddik Rav Avraham Pam, once had an elderly congregant who became ill and was hospitalized. So Rav Pam wrote the man a letter wishing him a refuah shleima- a speedy recovery. It was a short letter that took the Rosh Hayeshivah just a few minutes to write.

The elderly man treasured the letter he had received from the Rosh Yeshiva. He slept with it underneath his pillow, and shared it with all of his visitors.

After the man passed away, Rav Pam heard how much his brief letter had meant to the man in the months leading up to his death.

Rav Pam then said, “This whole incident is frightening to me. It took me just two minutes to write that letter, yet in the hospital it gave the recipient such cheer and comfort. Do we realize what can be accomplished in just two minutes?”

And that was exactly how I felt this Lag Baomer after my conversation with Rena.

We JewishMOMs are different from one another in many ways, but there’s one thing that all of us have in common… we have zero time to waste.

So it would have been perfectly understandable if I had decided 10 years ago, as I waddled around in my ninth month of pregnancy, that there was nothing I could do to help Rena, her case was so hopeless, so out of my league, and anyway why should I get involved at all when she had so many friends and I was a total outsider?

But this past Lag Baomer I felt so incredibly grateful that I decided, despite my doubts, to spend those few minutes DOING something, and who knows?

By doing something, anything…by taking those two minutes, you also might save a life, like I did, without even knowing it—and with God’s help.

*Identifying details have been changed.
Image courtesy of Flickr.com user Search Engine People Blog

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13 comments

  1. wow, what a lesson that we never know the far-reaching effects of a simple act. thanks for sharing

  2. That is so inspiring. What makes it so great is how you overcame your inner voice that was telling you, NO!, to listen to your neshama, that was whispering… “GO!”.

    And I don’t think it’s a coincidence either, that you met her in Meron. I’m wondering how many inner “No’s!” you had to conquer just to shlep yourself there amidst the multitudes (if you’re anything like me, that is) ……

    I hope some of this rubs off on me!

  3. Wow!
    I know this isn’t the point of your article, but I think you are going to be in for a shock when you move on and see how many lives you affected! Keep it up!

  4. Anonymous

    Emotional and verbal abuse can sometimes punch bigger wounds than physical abuse. I wanted to leave for years and while he and his family were driving me crazy, I was told time and again by “friends” that it was all my fault and if I would just be more clean, or more loving, or dress better, or cook more, more organized, etc, etc, he would be nice to me.

    It’s much easier to leave and much easier to get support to leave, a man who is physically abusive. Because there are no doubts there what he is doing because he leaves marks everyone can see. It is very difficult to leave a sociopathic charmer who is nice to everyone else in the world except for his wife, especially the marriage therapist.

    He always used the Torah to justify his abuse and called me a moredet. This is someone who would quit his job at the drop of a hat, not buy me clothing or food, and then call me a rebellious wife for going out to work or to school. His parents in the meantime would complain I didn’t work enough and that I was lazy. There was just no pleasing them and to please myself was “selfish”, even if I was merely buying myself shoes.

    I knew that getting very far away was the only chance I would ever have to get to be a real parent without being demeaned all the time. But I never expected in a million years for so many women to be so nasty to me after I left, as if my getting a divorce was dangerous to them; and I especially did not expect the revachah that is supposedly there to help women in my situation to try to capitalize on it by trying to take all the kids or to have a social worker announce with a smile that her goal is to destroy me “because she can”.

    And yes, it’s all in the past but I am afraid that if I stay silent that I won’t have a chance to save someone else from a fate worse than death.

    • Oh wow. that was a scary read.
      It sounds like you were incredibly courageous.
      B’hatzlacha in your future.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for sharing. It is extremely true; everything you said. I know it is a couple years later but thank you for speaking out and Gd willing helping other women. It is impossible to know what one comment, one look, one phone call can do to help a person. I was in a similar situation a few years ago. I was stopped by a police officer on the street and she asked me to go to a quiet room away from him and offered to take him away and at least have him locked up overnight. I guess she saw something in my eyes. I refused (of course). She told me that it would only get worse through time and to walk away while I still had the strength. It took me almost 2 more years but this officer was a messenger from H’m for the good. I am so thankful for that and blessed with the life I now lead in peace. Strength, goodness, and peace to all of Klal Yisrael to this trying time!

  5. Michelle

    Wow, sounds like such a great organization. Maybe it would be worthwhile to tell us which org it is so we can share it with others if they should ever need it….

    • JewishMom

      this amazing organization is Nitza, an organization that primarily provides emotional support for women suffering from postpartum depression.

  6. It is very common that women who suffer from battered wives syndrome pretend all is fine, until there is something that wakes them up and they finally take a stand. It is an extremely courageous and superhuman feat that should be applauded. And instead, many women, particularly in the religious circles, lzaari harav, continue to be victimized. Social services are renowned for generating greater problems. It is extremely difficult to relate and understand these women and their lives because we as outsiders do not want to believe it. Many people can not fathom how another human being could treat anyone like that, and in particular how this person could behave in such extreme ways. No one gets divorced on a whim! Especially when there are children involved. People say the stupidest and most harmful things without thought or concideration!
    Ladies- as Jewish women it is not our jobs to criticise and judge. We are builders and healers. Take the time to prethink what you say. Don’t judge! Be really supportive. Divorce is not a contageous disease! Judaism gives an out and in some cases it is of vital necessity!

  7. It is often the passing comment that can stick and be the most helpful years later. Our words are pearls and gold to be used for the good! Sometimes even we are unaware of the effect we have- for good and sometimes lo aleinu for not so good

  8. Thank you for sharing this inspirational story. So often we fail to realise how much even the most simple act can mean to others! Thanks for reminding me.

  9. Tamar Shugert

    I have a friend that is in an emotionaly abusive relationship with her husband. since i grow up with that kind of dinamic between my perants i know only to well whaat she is going through and how her low self asteem and her deminer over all is a direct resolt of her husbands abusse.
    i want to help so bad! But all she says is that it is her folt. it took my mum 20 years to leave. i don’t want to see her suffer like this.
    if any one has any ideas please contact me by FB. Tamar Shugert

  10. Would the writer (“Anonymous”) who began her post with the words, “Emotional and verbal abuse can sometimes punch bigger wounds than physical abuse…” please email me?
    I think yours is a story worth telling and it could help women, open up some blind eyes.
    Thank you.
    editorialboard@nsheichabadnewsletter.com

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