Thursday, September 21, 2017

Three years ago, on April 6, 2014, I learned first-hand of the depth and sincerity of our community’s dedication to the principles of bikur holim (aiding the sick) and helping others. It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday at the start of spring, my daughter was visiting us for the weekend from college and we decided to spend the morning taking one of our first bicycle rides of the spring before knuckling down to Pesach cleaning. Little did I know how that bike ride was going to disrupt not just my Pesach plans, but the entire year and the rest of my life.

On our way from Bergenfield to Nyack, we took in the beautiful views of the reservoir, the budding flowers, the gentle breezes, enjoying the exercise and the fresh air, Miriam riding with the leaders of the bike club, and me towards the middle. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a car turned right a few feet in front of me, into a parking lot, cutting me off. Instinctively, I slammed on my brakes. That was a mistake… I went flying over the handlebars, flipped 180 degrees and slammed into the pavement. When I came to, I couldn’t tell whether my legs were touching the ground or not. Other riders quickly gathered around me a called 911. I exhorted them to call my daughter’s cellphone, repeating her number, and within minutes, she had turned around and was by my side. I cannot begin to describe adequately what a comfort it was to have her there with me. When the EMTs arrived, I knew enough from watching TV medical dramas to grasp the significance of them asking me if I could wiggle my toes. Boruch Hashem, they did wiggle, and I was not permanently paralyzed.

I was rushed to the emergency room, immobilized, where I was fitted with a back brace and a neck brace, and visited within hours by friends and family. From there I went to the Kessler rehabilitation center in West Orange, where the incredible people at Congregation AABJ&D bring bikur holim into the lives of dozens of patients whom they have never met before. They not only brought kosher food to me and the other two observant patients in the rehab hospital, but put together minyans for Shabbos and Pesach, although that meant walking a mile-and-a-half each way. A man from Monsey who had fallen off his roof, his devoted wife, an older Chasiddishe woman who was my roommate, her husband and I shared a seder in a little conference room that the Kessler administration was kind enough to put at our disposal for the holiday. My husband managed to pull the house into shape for Pesach in a few hours, and was taken in by our dear friends for the Seders. There were many tears of gratitude to the ribbono shel olam for granting us the privilege to live to see that Pesach and to daven with the lovely, warm people from the West Orange kehillah.

After I returned home, my Teaneck friends sprang into action, setting up a schedule for meals to be delivered by not only friends, but acquaintances and even friends-of-friends whom I did not know. For two months, while I was in a brace and unable to drive, a rotation of wonderful people from the community drove me to my thrice-weekly physical therapy sessions. People whom I had car-pooled with a decade earlier called to ask if they could pick up anything for me at the vegetable market. I cannot begin to thank the kind and giving people of this community enough for the help, the support and the chizzuk they provided during this very difficult time. I was struck by the exceptional nature of this spirit of chesed when a non-Jewish friend of mine went through elective surgery a few months after my ordeal. She didn’t have a faith-based community to turn to, and felt abandoned and helpless, unable to find anyone to buy a carton of milk for her. It is easy to overlook the loving support that we are privileged to enjoy as part of a community of mitzvah-observing Jews. We are there for each other when one of us is going through emotional upheavals, whether it is during mourning and shiva, during illness and recovery, or during births and weddings. The embracing and uplifting support of our community is something that I am reminded of every spring, and will never take for granted. Thank you all.

By Laurie Shestack Phipps

 Laurie Shestack Phipps raised her two grown children in Bergenfield, and now rides her bicycle only on bike paths, not on the street. She and her husband, Tom, cherish their ties to the Rinat and wider Teaneck/Bergenfield Jewish community.