Chabad of Baka gala: One night, so many stories - opinion

From the moment I stepped inside the hall where the dinner was taking place I was met by friendly faces, all eager to talk to me, I even felt overwhelmed.

 NOW: SUMMER 2023; writer at L (photo credit: LEORA ASHMAN)
NOW: SUMMER 2023; writer at L
(photo credit: LEORA ASHMAN)

I wasn’t feeling well and had already decided not to go to the Chabad of Baka gala dinner for the groundbreaking of the new Bet Levi, but then suddenly I pulled myself together and told my husband “Let’s go!”

Later I was glad we did. From the moment I stepped inside the hall where the dinner was taking place I was met by friendly faces, all eager to talk to me, I even felt overwhelmed.

What happened at the Chabad of Baka dinner?

Rabbi Avraham Hendel and his wonderful wife Nechama Dina are such a vibrant couple and well-liked by so many. The rebbetzin’s mother, Mrs. Kalmenson, a beautiful-looking woman, sat beaming with joy – so proud of the work of her daughter and son-in-law. We spoke a little bit and she introduced me to her two other sons who had come over from the America and England to support their sister.

Nechama Dina’s brother Yekusiel Kalmenson was the guest speaker. He runs the Renewal Health Group, a family of treatment centers dedicated to changing the landscape of addiction recovery in Los Angeles.

Her older brother, Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson, is the author of several popular Jewish-themed books including Seeds of Wisdom; A Time to Heal and Positivity Bias, and the amazing, People of the Word, which is a must-read. Mendel is associate editor of the Chumash Project, a monumental initiative encompassing the entire body of Jewish teaching, giving the English reader unprecedented access to its wisdom and guidance. He is also rabbi of Beit Baruch and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London, where he lives with his wife, Chana, and their children.

 THEN: CAMP with Leora, Toronto, summer 1994. (credit: LEORA ASHMAN)
THEN: CAMP with Leora, Toronto, summer 1994. (credit: LEORA ASHMAN)

“What an incredible family!” I couldn’t hold myself back when I spoke to Nechama Dina after her younger brother had finished his amazing speech which had kept the crowd silent and enthralled until the end.

Great energy was felt in the room as people from diverse backgrounds mingled and spoke to each other and then listened to Rabbi Hendel’s plans for the building that will eventually become a beautiful Chabad house and synagogue to finally accommodate all their activities and their growing community. Lessons, after-school activities, the friendship circle, women’s Torah and Tea, and so much more.

The former basketball star Tamir Goodman, who was being honored together with his wife Judy, for their wonderful work for Chabad of Baka, came up to me with his usual friendly smile and wanted to introduce me to a couple who were friends of theirs. 

His friend, Eitan, had suffered a massive left-sided stroke at the age of 42. A husband, father of four young children, a property management owner, Crossfit instructor, volunteer senior MADA paramedic and driver, and someone who regularly gave Jewish classes, Eitan had been an extremely active person, generous with his time, and passionate about helping and volunteering. That all changed in the blink of an eye, Eitan survived the stroke but was left with aphasia. 

Whereas “stroke” is a word that many have heard and understood, “aphasia,” which is more common than Parkinson’s, is not. It is loss of language and comprehension due to damage in the brain so that a person is no longer able to perform the simplest of actions, let alone really understand why.

Speech is stolen from the person, who may not be able to read or write, and may find numbers pretty unbearable to work with.

As I shook hands with Eitan’s wife, she smiled at me and told me her name was Leora. Then suddenly she looked me straight in the eyes and said that I looked very familiar. I told her I get that often, as my overconfident self spilled: “You probably saw my talk show.” 

No, I did not, she said sweetly, as I hid my eyes in shame, and then she asked me if I was ever at camp in Toronto. After taking a moment to remember, I recalled my camp experience almost 30 years ago as a counselor in Canada; I had almost forgotten about it. 

Yes, I answered; I actually did, I replied to her. Leora didn’t take her eyes off me and then said, “Hadassah I remember you now, not only were we at the same camp, we had a mock wedding, you were the bride and I was the groom!”

I had to sit down for a second, she sat down next to me and started searching her phone until she found the picture of us under a fake canopy in Toronto, in the summer of 1994.

We hugged. Suddenly her face was so familiar to me, and she still looked beautiful. I remembered her long hair all pinned under a hat to play the groom; suddenly all that was a distant memory came back to me so clearly in my mind.

“I just recently pulled out that picture of us from camp to show my daughter, who needed some help for a mock wedding she was doing in her camp, and here you are!” Leora asked me if this were not hashgacha pratit (“Divine providence”)! 

We could have talked the entire evening, so we decided to set a date to meet up and talk about everything we have experienced in 30 years. 

I meet Leora’s husband Eitan, sitting at her side, he spoke very slowly and with a soft voice. It was the first time he had been out to an event since the stroke Leora told me, and he was mesmerized by the speeches since he had no memory of all his pre-stroke learning. So it’s all kind of new to him, even though he used to do daf yomi and give a weekly class at his synagogue!

I came home feeling amazing, even though my cold was coming back. I was full of emunah, which happened to be the topic of the evening’s event: Faith. 

There’s someone running this world even if sometimes we don’t always understand it – and every little thing we do has a reason and an explanation – and in everything we do we must see Godliness because Hashem is right there with us in every little aspect of our lives.

Let’s just open our eyes. 

For information on aphasia please check

For information on the activities of Chabad of Baka,