This one is personal.
The rabbi who teaches our weekly Torah portion of the week class asks: Since we are required to seek forgiveness for our sins every day, why is Yom Kippur so important? This isn’t a class where discussion is encouraged. I venture an answer – that the day is propitious for making requests.
That may be true, he says, but the heart of the matter is those misdeeds we aren’t even aware of. In days of yore, the high priest would act on our behalf by asking for forgiveness. Today, we have the lengthy confessions that are part of the prayer service, parallel to the service of the now nonexistent high priest.
Which brings me to my story and my need to ask forgiveness.
Last fall, before Rosh Hashana, a request came to me through my job at Hadassah Medical Organization to help organize a photo shoot for the hospital’s annual business report. The same picture would be used for New Year cards. The photographer was already on his way.
Time to improvise.
The concept was to focus on new beginnings: a mother and newborn.
I went to the maternity ward, where many moms were lying in bed or pushing those transparent baby bassinets with infants wrapped in pink and blue blankets. I began asking mothers if they wanted to have their beautiful babies model for a professional photographer.
One lovely mother agreed. Her husband, a two-year-old pretty daughter and the grandmother were all there and went along.
The obliging mother was only a few hours after birth and dressed in her wrinkled hospital pajamas. The stylist for the photo wasn’t satisfied, she whispered to me. We needed a different image.
The family would be great for illustrations, but she insisted on a different photo for the cover.
What if a nurse held the baby high? I had a nurse in mind, a striking, darkhaired nurse whom I’d once made a movie about after she successfully brought a recovering American teen tourist back to the United States. I knew she was photogenic.
Gilat Yihye was busy in her job receiving patients for surgery when I interrupted.
She likes to do favors and said she could find 10 minutes for me.
We all met in the ninth floor Healing Garden with its view of the verdant Judean hills. The photographer snapped away. The family got an enviable album.
Yihye caught on to her part in a nanosecond.
She didn’t flinch when I asked her to hold up the couple’s baby to the picture window. After all, she’s a nurse.
When it was finished, I hand-delivered the annual report with her on the cover with thanks. She gave me a big smile and thanked me back. I didn’t bring the New Year card.
Yihye didn’t mention that for years she had tried unsuccessfully to have a baby. Every pregnancy ended in miscarriage, despite her proximity to expert medical care.
Looking back on it, asking Yihye to pose with a baby was an act of cruelty.
Of course, I didn’t know about her fertility problem. I had committed a serious misdeed without knowing it.
When Yihye visited her mother, she showed her the annual report with its message of “new beginnings.” Her mother, who knew well her daughter’s hopes and disappointments, gasped.
But her mother wasn’t angry. She had a different take on the photo shoot.
“This is it,” she said with certainty.
“The sign. This year you will finally have a baby.”
Tall and slim, Yihye usually wears a loose hospital smock and pants as part of her work outfit. By Hanukka, I noticed that she had a little bump, but of course didn’t ask.
Soon after that, she took me aside and told me she was pregnant. Only then did she share with me the cycles of emotion.
Before I could apologize, she told me about her mother’s reaction to the photo of her holding the baby.
“I’ve been pregnant many times before,” she said. “It’s never lasted. Pray for me.”
I prayed every day.
The pregnancy was high risk and monitored carefully. Every Sunday, on the way to my office, I stopped by to say hello. She was still pregnant. She had undergone IVF, the process where an ovum is fertilized in a test tube and implanted. At first it seemed as if two viable embryos had taken hold, but that proved incorrect.
“That’s okay,” she said. “I will be the happiest woman in the world with even one child.”
But even one implanted embryo can split and produce two identical babies.
She was indeed carrying twins.
She gave birth to two little girls, beautiful like their mom. (Okay, the dad is handsome, too!) As the High Holy Days approached, I was thinking about when to visit Yihye, who is home on maternity leave, when there was a knock on my office door.
Yihye was there pushing a double stroller.
Even her mother had come! Babies Tamar and Na’ama were sleeping.
We talked about the events of the previous year, and I did ask for her forgiveness for extreme insensitivity. She said she’d forgive me, but she didn’t think I’d done anything wrong.
Yihye and her mother saw it differently.
“When you came to me out of the blue and asked me to hold up that baby, I had just had a miscarriage. It was a moment of healing.”
“You were the messenger,” her mother added.
No one asked for my help on New Year cards this year, because – by chance, perhaps – the printer had given a double quantity last year and they could be used again. The gorgeous photo of Yihye and the baby would go around the world to wish everyone a sweet new year.
Yihye, who hadn’t seen the card before, received one in the mail.
“Imagine my surprise when I saw my picture, and the text with what felt like my personal story, thanking God for allowing us to reach new seasons and new beginnings: Sheheheyanu vekiyemanu vehigianu lazman hazeh!”
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.