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Talyah Leah, Shoshana Rivka, and Dovid Shimon waiting for the school bus in Flatbush

There is never an act of kindness that should go unrewarded. In the end, everything works out for the good, even if you fail to understand God's plan. The creation of the world is based on this priciple. After each act of creation the biblical text asserts the refrain, "And it was good", after each act of creation.

I had a plan and perhaps a single shot at lifting myself from orphanage and poverty to a normal life. The plan included entering the US Army, winning a scholarship for pharmacy school, completing school and working for several years as a pharmacist while saving money, then buying a house, and then getting married.

It was a long shot, and the details were sketchy, but it was a plan. I had a few hurdles that had to be overcome. I had a defaulted student loan which should had stopped any financial aid. I went to get legal help about it from an organization in downtown Brooklyn. An administrator did me the favor of losing the record...literally. The loan didn't show up on the record again for 15 years when I applied for my PhD. You would never get away with this today. We are now in a state of the tyrany of computerized records and unforgiving and all seeing government.

I also had no guaranteed landing stop when I finished with the Army. My grandparents finally stepped up and filled that stop out. It gave me real breathing room to work on my education and to grow. I also earned a few bucks as a bike messenger, which is itself a great story. And I greatly benefited from the loving hand of my grandmothers mothering skills. She was the finest caregiver, and a natural born therapist. Whatever was wrong in the world, in her kitchen all demons and tzarsus were kept at bay. Her kitchen and home was nearly a literary device. It's existence in the world seemingly made no sense. Drama we had plenty, but everyone was always secure and at ease in those welcoming walls.

What wasn't in the plan was meeting my wife, Ellen. When in the Army I met a nice Farm girl by the name of Ellen Boehlke. She was quite beautiful and a charmer, lovely smile and seemingly gentle. After I left the Army she converted to Judaism. She came to Brooklyn and met my Grandmother, and we arraigned to be married during Chanukah. We had a small wedding that was attended by her sister and her mother and her Aunt's at Temple Shalom on Avenue U in Mill Basin. We then convened to my mothers house in Starret City where we lit Chanukah candles. We lit so many candles that it made my mother very nervous. At this point, my parachute was cut. All the foundations for security were undone. I had more than 3 years left of school, no profession or job yet, and I was taking on a wife who was completely disconnected from her Midwestern barrings. It was a lot of responsibility and we were on the clock. But I figured I could finish school and get working as a pharmacist before running out of money while on my scholarship. One just has to have faith, even if one is leaping head first off a cliff into a lake.

And faith we had, so I moved out of Grandmother's house and into the basement of 928 East 28th Street, with the Yudkowitz family. When I first met the old women who owned the house, she was a native Yiddish speaking holocaust survivor, I gave her my phone number in Mill Basin and told her my Grandmother loved to speak Yiddish. I was very young and ignorant. I didn't understand that while Grandma Esther loved Yiddish in theory and was brought up to love and read Yiddish, when confronted with a true native Yiddish speaking holocaust survivor from Eastern Europe with Orthodox roots, she wouldn't react well. That wasn't the type of Yiddish speaker she had in mind and the initial conversation between the two did not get off well. But they made peace and I was approved for the apartment. Ellen finished her Army enlistment and we moved into the basement. Here we met a young couple, Joey Kaplan and his wife. Joey's father was the great author and physicist, Arey Kaplan who's famous pinkish/purple Chumash is in most English speaking Jewish homes.

In short time Mrs Yudkowitz moved out, and so did the Kaplan's. Her son, Moshe (Marc) and his family moved in with his wife Rochel, and daughters Sorah-Leah, and Chanah-Rivka, and Miriam Zehavelah, and Devorah Esther. It was not much different than Teve the Milman. And a bit later, upstairs, moved in Moshe's father, and Mrs Yudkowtiz's husband. The elder Yudkowitz's didn't live together. They got along well enough, but saw no reason to hang out together. He was an interesting character worth saying a word about, as this is a time and place, Brooklyn in the late 1980's, that no longer exists either spiritually or physically.

Moshe's father, Leon Yudkowitz, was a holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia. He spent the war fighting with the partisans in the forests of central Europe and avoided liquidation, although they got his entire family. This was not just for a year or two. Germany over ran Czechoslovakia in 1938 and it wasn't freed until 1945. I can't remember the details, but I believe that he lost his wife and his entire family in the Final Solution and his wife was the sister of the then current Mrs Yudkowitz. After the war, he found his siter-in-law and they married and had a family. It was not exactly a marriage made in heaven, so their separation in their older years needs to be understood within that context.

Mr Yudkowitz was a gregarious man who never learned a word of English. Mrs Yudkowitz wanted nothing for her boy but for him to become a Rabbi. Moshe, of course, chose instead to become a bookkeeper and married Rachel and had a family. Whenever I saw the old man, we seemed to have had kindred spirits, and he would bellow, "Reeuuuvain" from is smallish potbellied frame. And I would grin ear to ear and shout back, "Shalom Mr Yudkowitz!".

One summer day, and he was plenty old, and I had a new car at the time, on a Sunday morning coming back from shule he intercepted me. Reuvain, I need a ride. I had nothing to do that day and said sure. He got in and he lead me unexpectedly to Teaneck New Jersey and upstate New York so he could visit all his grandchildren and children. I met all of Moshe's relatives, and spent a full day on the road in this happenstanced Sunday drivng all about the region, visiting Leon's children. I had Chinese food with his family in a Kosher place in Teaneck. We ended up in Monticello, I believe, at the Cutler's bungalow colony. We ended up with the Sunday night traffic coming back to the City and didn't arrive home until nightfall. And it was a pleasure and I was happy to do it.

Ellen took her first job in New York City working on a Wang word processor for the "Council on Tobacco Research" which was one of the front organizations for the Tobacco industry, trying to fight off government regulation and bad press (a battle they would eventually lose). I was working 24/7 on Pharmacy school, staying up most nights overnight studying and working on my notes. All my notes and subsequent research was meticulously entered into my world processor on my Tandy COCOII computer and printed on my okdata dot matrix printer. Later I moved on to a used x286 PC. I was using the Elite Word Processor that directly accessed the printers binary instructions. It was a different experience than what we do now.

I had a routine for studying. I had three stages of notes. I had taped the lectures on a cassette recorder while sleeping in class. I then borrowed notes from my friend, Liz Moore. I then wrote my notes by listening through the tape and pouring over the related textbooks, combining Liz's notes to mine. Then I typed them all out on the computer and printed them. The next day I reviewed them in detail after dinner and evening prayers. And on the third day I reviewed them again, made flash cards of all the points, and did a final edit before placing them into folders designed for storing dot martix paper. It was a rigorous method to studying, but it was thorough. Nothing was taught in the class that I didn't know. Often that was a problem since tests seemed to go off the rail with material not covered. Unfortunately, I was more exacting than the professors.

Closing in on the end of my 4th year of Pharmacy School, with one more year to go, Ellen corners me and kindly says to me, that she is getting older, she was 3 years older than me, and she wants a baby... now, before she gets too old. She had obviously given this a great deal of thought and caught me by suprise. She was ramped up for a disagree. She was 25, soon to turn 26 after all. Oye. We had no money and I had not yet finished school. But I gave her no argument. We were a jewish family and we were supposed to have children. In for a pound, in for a penny.

I did a quick calculation and figured, well in 9 months I will be only a semester left in school, so we can squeeze this out if I find work right away after college. After all, Pharmacists were in demand, and I anticipated no troubles finding work after graduating (boy was I wrong). So I agreed and soon enough Ellen was pregnant and still going to work nearly every day into her 8th month. We were both dedicated and hard workers, and diligent... if any of that mattered.

I was completely socked into my schooling at this point and I can barely remember her pregnancy. My friend Yitzchok, from school, would come to the house at 1AM and study with me sometime, and I'd have to kick him out. I learned Torah in the morning with a friend, Zev Budnitz, who I met at Rabbi Friendmans Shteepel, "Marpel Lenefesh". He loaned me his 1973 Baby Blue Plymouth Valiant to drive in. I actually loved that car but had almost no money. That winter rolled in and it was cold.

A couple of days before Talyah was born, we were socked in with a very decent snow storm and then it got very cold. That morning, on January 11th, Ellen went into contractions, and I got everything ready to go to the hospital. She had a male OBGYN doctor who was somewhat alouf and had a funny view on women. He was near the end of his career, and I think all those years delivering children might skewer ones attitudes. He viewed women somewhat like one might view race horses. He said it would be hours before she would likely deliver, so I grabbed my Tfillen bag at 6AM and in 10°F degree weather, drove to the shule 2 blocks away. I wouldn't normally do this, but perhaps with the car all set up and pulled out of the driveway, I probably had no quick place to put it. I might had just brought it to shule due to the freezing cold, but it was likely because I had no parking and the roads were being ploughed.

Our shule was a house with tile floors and portable tables and metal folding chairs and an Aaron Kodesh and Bimah. I was pretty simple and I liked it that way. The Mikitzah was in the back of the building and the men's section was about 3/4th of the length of the house with the girls in the back quarter. It was a long, rectangular, two story structure with a back staircase and door between the men's and womens section with a stairs that went upstairs and to the basement. A fairly typical Brooklyn structure of the period with windows running down both side of the house and the front and rear.

Marpeh LeNefesh circa 1991

I walk into the shule and sat down to learn with Zev. Zev looks at me and said, is everything ok? I said, well, "Ellen is having contractions but it will be hours before the delivery". Zev looked at me with deep concern and say, "Really, maybe you should take her to the hospital". I said. "I don't know, they say this can take hours". Zev said, "no, you don't know that. I would go now". We used to spend a lot of Shabbosim with Zev and his wife Phylis. She was from Denver, and he had a background in computer programming. He was more experienced with two children already, so I took his word for it. I trusted Zev. I grabbed my messenger bag and went back out in the 10°F weather and got back in the car, only to find it was now stuck on a snow bank.

Until that moment I was fine. When the car was obviously stuck on a snow bank, with all of Ellen's stuff in the back of the car, and her having contractions in the house, and Zev and others in the synagogue pressing me to go to the hospital immediately, I started to panic. The frame of the Valiant was stuck on the snow bank with the wheels in the air. And it was freezing out. I walked back into the shule to use the phone and Zev says, "What's wrong". I said the car is stuck on a snow bank in front of the shule. Four men came out of the shule. They lifted the car physically off the snow bank and onto the paved road. Some of them were not young men. But they pulled it off. With wheels now on paved road I went to pick up Ellen and we ran to Borough Park to the hospital.

We get to the hospital and I pull up to the main entrance, and I blow past the main desk and go up to maternity and the labor and delivery station. It was a long an miserable wait. It might have been almost 18 hours for the delivery. I think we did some research about it before going and decided to do without anesthesia which was thought to be safer and natural endorphins would kick in. It didn't quite work like that. It was a long and difficult delivery for her, and I felt for Ellen. I tried to be there and be as supportive as possible. I was not in the delivery room. I don't really see the point of having another person in there when everyone is running around. But when Taly came out of delvery I was so in love with her. It was instantaneous.

Through all the stories and the fears, and the grief, when Talyah came out healthy and alert, I fell in love with her immediately. She was the greatest little girl, if a bit yellow, and Ellen was exhausted and slept soon after. The doctor who did the delivery came out and said that "Your wife is a strong women", again with the race horse anaologies. I nodded my head, and with Ellen's permision, I went home to announce the news to my Rav and family.

There was more than a couple of battles along the way with the Hospital. They know you are vulnerable at this point and they try to squeeze you, and asked me to sign a dozen forms that I refused to sign. In the end, all I signed was the consent forms. And then they wanted to keep Taly for extra days. Her Bilrubin was a smiggin high but declining normally. I had to insist they check her out and they refused until the attending intervened and agreed that indeed, there was nothing wrong with the baby. The very long delivery was both a physical and emotional drain on Ellen, and her family wasn't close for support. She could have really used her mother at the time. But the congregation did coalesce on us, with a food train, and constant visitors.

Talyah Leah Safir - just a few day old

It wasn't long before I was changing diapers and putting my camera to use. I have thousands of physical pictures of Talyah Leah. Some time soon I will need to digitalize them. It is time. In short time she responded to my voice, and she loved balloons. We had breakfast every morning and I couldn't see how, as she grew, how anything could get between us, because we were that close.

It was a blink of the eye and she was in playgroup. The Rav's wife, Goldie, ran a play group out of her basement. Goldie was such a fine women, and still is. But we had a fairly strict no candy rule in the house. And the first day at the playgroup Taly come home with two arms full of "pekelach"... candy and chips. I was amazed. I took all the candy and said "No no no... Where did all this coming from?". Morah Goldie! I call her on the phone and I thought I was going to lay down the rules for candy. I had no idea what I up against. The religious Jewish community is simply flooded with candy! Half of every Kosher grocer is pure junk food. It feels like there has never been a junk food created that didn't have a Heksher. I took my lumps on that one.

Talyah Leah is a beloved child who was brought into this world with a great deal of uncertainty. She has great love in her heart, and before she was taken from me by her mother, I could see her wheels turn and understand just how she would think problems through. After she left with her mother, all of that seemed to have been broken. The trust was all gone, and the closeness evaporated. Many regrets I have over this, but not many solutions.

Purim at Rabbi Friedman's house