Opinion

The Human Spirit: Delay

A Jerusalem couple in their 50s see the fruits of their faith materialize after their trying, extensive attempt to have a child.

An infant child.
Photo by: Reuters
Edna and Shlomo Naki live around the back of an old, odd building that also houses a yeshiva. You go down a lane and up the stairs on a winding street in Jerusalem’s Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood. Their street is named for a mystic.

On a play mat on the living floor, a beautiful four-month-old baby girl is gurgling and batting hanging toys.

She is the Nakis’ first child. Edna and Shlomo are 54.

Theirs isn’t a late marriage or a second marriage. Indeed, Edna’s teacher suggested the match back when Edna was in teachers’ seminary. Edna had grown up in a the farming community of Bnei Ayish. Shlomo, a Jerusalemite, was studying in Yeshivat Porat Yosef in the city. The teacher thought these two rather devout youngsters with Persian-born parents, both of whose mothers were named Sarah, would make a good couple. Edna – today still with luminous brown eyes and unwrinkled skin – said no after the first meeting.

“But then, I always said no to potential matches,” she says. The teacher convinced her that he was a nice guy and deserved a second date. “She was right,” says Edna. “He is a very nice guy.” After a while, they became engaged and then married. They were 20.

Both Shlomo and Edna loved children and they wanted to have a baby as soon as possible.

When half a year passed and Edna wasn’t pregnant, they consulted a famous doctor. He did extensive tests. Everything was fine, he said. He encouraged them to go back and keep trying.

Just to make sure, they traveled south to Netivot to visit the Baba Sali, Yisrael Abuhatzeira, the Moroccan rabbi reputedly able to facilitate miracles through his entreaties to heaven. He gave them a blessing but cautioned them: They would need a lot of patience. Their miracle wouldn’t happen anytime in the near future.

Shlomo became a teacher. Edna worked in a nursery school. They were cheerful and popular with the children and their parents.

Their sisters and brothers – they each had five siblings – got married and had many children.

Bountiful bouncing babies brought joy to extended family gatherings. Shlomo and Edna spent their days surrounded by children, and often their evenings, too. But they went home to a childless home.

“You can’t go through your life being bitter,” says Shlomo. “You have to rejoice with others and believe your time will come. You have to remember God is running the world.”

They went to lots more doctors, took more tests. They continued praying. Lots of well-intentioned advice came their way. “Once we went to the Kotel [Western Wall] 40 days in a row. Another time we prayed at the graves of the righteous. We ate almonds. We were willing to try almost anything.”

Fifteen years after they were married, Edna became pregnant for the first time. She didn’t make it through the first semester. Other short, unsuccessful pregnancies followed.

“We were private about our pain,” Edna says.

“Even our families didn’t know. Of course, for the woman this is harder. But Shlomo was always there for me.”

Their siblings’ children grew up and got married. There were now hundreds of family members at gatherings. Shlomo and Edna lived in a rented flat, using up all of their savings on private medical treatments and alternative therapies.

“The rabbi said we had to wait. So we waited.”

They turned 30. They turned 40. They turned 50.

Shlomo quotes a biblical commentary.

“When Abraham fought the four kings, he brought a force of 318 fighters. Why that number? Because 317 is the gematria [traditional Jewish system of assigning numerical value to a Hebrew word or phrase] of the Hebrew word for despair – yi’ush. You have to overcome despair in your life.”

“It’s not as if we weren’t living our lives,” recounts Edna. “We were teaching and involved in the extended family. We were able to help out our siblings when they needed us.”

She had serious talks with God. “I would turn to God and say, ‘I’m tired of all these doctors’ visits. You are the true healer. I want you for my doctor.”

Last March, Shlomo delivered gifts for the Purim holiday to his local rabbi, sick in bed with advanced Parkinson’s disease. Shlomo wanted to get him up and cheer him. “I need to dance with you,” Shlomo told him. “It’s Purim.”

The rabbi declined – he could hardly move.

But Shlomo lifted him out of bed, and they danced around the floor “a quarter of a turn.”

Tears fell from the rabbi’s eyes onto Shlomo’s shirt. “I’m praying for you,” he told Shlomo.

Shlomo came home exhilarated. “Get ready, Edna,” he said. “I don’t know and I don’t care if it’s going to be a boy or a girl. This is going to be the year for us.”

Their faith includes belief in doctors.

“We have modern medicine today – such a blessing,” enthuses Shlomo. “God directs you to find out what you need to do,” says Edna.

She underwent more medical treatment – an alternative treatment purported to strengthen the reproductive system, and a medical procedure to implant an ovum that she says was frozen long ago. “I was so scared before the procedure that I had to take a tranquilizer,” she says. “There was a long line of women waiting for treatment. I was so fortunate that I was the last one in line in the doctor’s office, so by the time it was my turn I was more relaxed. I think that helped.”

Her girlfriend, Ziona, came over to be with her when they called for the results of the pregnancy test.

The first test results were promising. It seemed that the pregnancy was taking, but it was too early to tell. There had been so many disappointments. A month later, the hormone numbers had risen: a good sign.

Edna let the nursery school know that she wouldn’t be coming to work this year. “I want to start my own home nursery,” she told her boss.

She learned she was carrying twins. But the initial excitement turned to panic as one of the babies stopped developing.

“Then I had one left,” she recalls. “I realized that even that was a heavenly protection – that the chances of bringing one child into the world were greater than twins at my age.”

Afterwards, she didn’t leave the house for the entire pregnancy except to take taxis to medical tests.

She lit candles in her home in memory of righteous souls. She prayed for herself and for Shlomo. She prayed for the baby. She prayed for the doctor: may he be blessed with wisdom and skill.

In the eighth month, her obstetrician, Prof. Yossef Ezra, insisted on hospitalization. She had developed gestational diabetes. She was feeling weak, and needed to avoid toxemia.

She spent a month in bed in Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem. At last, the doctor said they could wait no longer. Shlomo came. Her sister came. His sister came. Friends came. Her sister went in the operating theater with her. Friends and family waited outside the room with Shlomo. He prayed and paced.

Now it was hard to wait.

The doctor performed a cesarean section. He lifted out a well-formed baby girl: 3 kilos, 300 grams.

She didn’t hear the cry. And then it came… a loud wail of a newborn. “Everyone else was crying, too,” says Ezra. “All around the delivery room and halls, people were crying.”

“When you wait this long, you get a perfect miracle,” says Edna.

They named the baby Sarah, for the matriarch and the two matriarchs of their family, both gone before they had the joy of seeing this baby – the youngest of all their grandchildren.

Sarah Hodiya. Her middle name means “Thank you, God.”

Ziona moved in for four days to take care of the baby at night. Both families raced to buy a baby carriage, a crib, toys, pink stretchies.

Edna is still home with the baby. She had a quick recovery, she says. “All those blessings for an easy birth meant an easy recovery for me. To see our baby smile and kick her legs when Shlomo comes home from work… all the waiting and trials just fade away.”

It is her message to us for this period – the Three Weeks before Tisha Be’av, when the hearts of Jews are heavy for our lost Temple.

“Bad times will pass,” says Edna. “You need to have faith.”

Shlomo says, “The overriding message is: ‘Don’t despair. The prophets have promised the redemption and it will come.’” After all, the Messiah is to be born on Tisha Be’av.

Quotes Shlomo: “Have no doubt. Even if he is delayed and we have to wait, he will come.”

The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.


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