Our last Seder in Philadephia

The spirit of the holiday offered extra strength to one family during a medical emergency.

By RUTH RADBERG
April 13, 2009 15:18
3 minute read.

We were a sad group sitting around the hospital bed. Each person was immersed in his or her own thoughts, the machines around the bed beeped and flashed, but our hopes that the patient would receive a liver transplant and be well again were fading with every beep. The view from the hospital bed was of Philadelphia, in all its glory, both the plenty and the poverty. It had been a long, frightening nine months. Four years after being diagnosed with sarcoidosis in the liver, David was told that he needed a transplant. I found myself sitting next to my desperately sick husband, aged only 52, on the plane to Philadelphia, to the Albert Einstein Hospital which had agreed to accept David for a transplant. Our eldest son Amir, living in Washington with his wife and baby, would be with us in the US, but we had left behind a married son, and two teenage daughters, still in school, to fend for themselves in Jerusalem, as well as ageing parents, at a time when buses were blowing up all over the city. We thought that it would just be for a few weeks but the months passed, and still no transplant. The hospital had a life of its own. There were three Israeli families there, and the Jewish doctor warned us against speaking Hebrew, as local Americans were also waiting for organ donations, and might resent our being there. There and then I realized the importance of holding an Adi donation card, in the context of Jewish pride. Should we not look after our own first and foremost? I felt so blessed that I lived in Israel, which was paying for ordinary citizens, like us, to go abroad for a transplant, and all that it entails, for the sake of pikuach nefesh, a life in jeopardy, not to mention my place of work which would pay my salary every month. so that we had one problem less to worry about. Now, nine months later, David's long fight for life was coming to an end. Anat and Talya had come out to join us, during the Pessah vacation, laden with goodies from Jerusalem, but David would never taste them. He would never again taste the "crusty" Shabbat halla in Jerusalem that he so missed every Friday. He was unconscious. SUDDENLY, PESSAH was upon us. Who could think of making Pessah when we did not even know where we would be? I went through the motions, bought Pessah food, a couple of pots and pans, but my heart was next to that hospital bed. Seder night came around, and suddenly the rented basement apartment was full of people. Our three kids (the fourth, Oren, had visited from Israel just weeks earlier) niece Liora, on Sherut Leumi in Texas, daughter-in-law Sara, and grandson, Itai, just 15 months old, were crowded in the two-room apartment. We set the Seder table, with paper plates and plastic cutlery, a far cry from the usual silver and linen that usually adorn our Seder table. There was one decision to make. Who would miss the Seder and stay with David in the hospital while the Seder was going on? Everyone offered; no one wanted to leave him alone, although he was unconscious. But who would miss Seder? Suddenly, I snapped out of my lethargy. I called everyone together. "No one will miss Seder, God will look after Daddy for the few hours that we sit down together. We must celebrate this Seder night like every other year, now more than ever," I declared. Everyone argued, but I was adamant. At a time when everything in our lives was collapsing around us, I knew that we had to cling to who we are. I thought of ancestors who had held Seders in clandestine, frightening situations, in order to preserve the links in our chain. OUR SEDER began. There were not enough chairs, yet even sitting on the floor everyone felt the love that was radiating in the air. In that cramped room, far from our usual lives in Israel, a subdued group of people forgot the hospital for a short time and told the age old story of Pessah. We sang the familiar songs with gusto, every word, from beginning to end. The mood became electric. I looked into the eyes of my grandson, just 15 months old, and saw the look of wonderment in his eyes and in those eyes I saw the future. Life would never be the same, but the next generation was already taking its place around the table, and hearing about the exodus from Egypt. It was a wonderful Seder, and as it came to an end, and we prepared to dash back to the vigil around the hospital bed, never had those words, "Next Year in Jerusalem" meant so much as in 2001, in Philadelphia.


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