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       At the entrance to Bruria’s house I met a young man in a wheelchair. He greeted me with a friendly smile and politely asked who I was looking for. Despite my expressed desire to take the stairs, he insisted that the elevator would be more convenient and comfortable. His authoritative, yet charming demeanor masked the fact that he was a young man with a disability.

      The unique abilities I witnessed were evident in everything I soon heard from Bruria, his foster mother, who has been lovingly raising him for 16 years, almost since the day he was born. 

       

      Background

      “My husband and I come from a religious background. We have five healthy biological children whom we love dearly. As I was nearing forty, I felt that I desire to add more meaning to my life. I thought about changing direction at work. I worked in education, and part of my work included accompanying students on Holocaust education trips to Poland. Those journeys changed my life. During one of our trips, we visited the ‘Children’s Forest’, where some 800 Jewish children from a nearby orphanage were massacred. The organizers placed photographs of children on the ground, and everyone was asked to select a photo of one child, and to hold that child close to their heart. It’s difficult to describe the intensity of the experience. We boarded our bus and I wrote in my notebook: ‘When I return to Israel, I am going to adopt a child’. I yearned to provide a warm home for a child who does not have one.

      At first, we couldn’t decide whether to foster or adopt a child. At that time, my husband, who was hosting a weekly radio program on one of Israel’s leading channels, was contacted by Orr Shalom. They asked if during the week of Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year), he would be willing to talk about foster children on the program to raise awareness of the immense need for loving families. My husband and I debated the matter, and concluded that he would only feel comfortable speaking about foster families if he had the experience of being a foster parent himself. With me wholeheartedly up for the challenge, we began the fostering process immediately after Rosh HaShanah.  We had no idea how long it would take for us to welcome a child into our family, but things happened rather quickly.

      It was clear that due to our age, we would be assigned an older child, or one with physical or cognitive difficulties. It’s usually more difficult to find a home and a loving family for kids facing these challenges. A few months later, Naor came into our lives.  He  was born between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). He was born without his upper limbs and abandoned at the hospital. His biological mother had cut off all contact, his father and aunt seldom visited him, and he was left alone in the hospital. The first warm hug he ever received was from a volunteer from the “First Hug Association”. After that, his painful story was published in the media in hopes of finding him a foster family.

      When Orr Shalom approached us regarding Naor, we went to see him at the hospital. We were brought in through the back door to evade the press still covering the story. We spoke to the doctors, who told us that they had no idea how he would develop; no one could predict whether he would be able to speak, and there was speculation that he may even suffer from cognitive delays. I’ll never forget that visit. I remember we went in feeling anxious and hesitant, and stood over his small bed, disheartened. What we saw was heartbreaking. Naor suffered from a type of fungal disease that covered his tiny face. His head had been shaved and he was completely wrapped up, with only his face showing. Until today, there is a small mark on his face from the fungal disease. I tell him it’s just like the one Harry Potter has.”

       

      Family status

      “When Naor joined our family, our eldest daughter was a teenager in the 10th grade, and the youngest was four years old. There is a rule in fostering that if anyone in the family, including children, objects to the process, the process is stopped. This rule is crucial because it ensures that all family members are supportive of the fostering arrangement. Prior to Naor’s arrival, we had a few months to mull over the idea as a family. Yet, none of us could imagine the extent to which we would all change. At first, the children found the concept of foster-care strange. I assume they must have been scared and nervous, but as time passed, and with our support, they grew more enthusiastic and applied themselves to the process.

      Three months after the process began, we went to the hospital accompanied by our four oldest children. When we left the hospital, two of the older girls, who were in their teens, started crying. They couldn’t believe I was capable of leaving the baby there. This was in December, the hospital was full of sick children, and the nurses told us that it was sometimes so crowded that there was no time to give him a pacifier. They would often attach the pacifier with a band aid, so it wouldn’t fall from his mouth. With that in mind, it was quite clear that there wouldn’t be anyone available there to give him a hug or caress his small head.

      Our children immediately understood that the baby had no hands and may never be independent, which made them anxious about his future. Mine and my husband’s main concern was his disability. We had to honestly ask ourselves how we could help him without negatively disrupting our family’s life. For a moment, our hopes were burdened with fear. I remember not uttering a word all the way home. I later asked my husband what we would do if the child had to go back and forth between home and the hospital for treatments and surgery. I knew that would require my full attention I worried about how that would impact  our children. I was confused; I knew I wanted to take him, but not at the expense of our five children or the time I spent with our youngest daughter, who, as I already mentioned, was four at the time and still needed her mother.

      A short time before we made the final decision, my husband officiated a young couple’s wedding ceremony. During the wedding, a young man with only two fingers approached him, shook his hand, and introduced himself as the groom’s brother. Since we were still undecided, we decided to speak to him and seek some answers. His self assurance and  independence gave us strength, and made us believe that anything is possible. He told us he was  also missing his toes, but despite that, he could walk! We shared our disquietude about the decision of whether we would be able to care for a baby with such challenging disabilities. The groom’s brother, then in his early twenties, replied that he knew the story and followed it in the news. He was very moved, and promised he would help us with Naor every week. It was thanks to him that we were able to reach a final decision. The desire to open up our hearts took precedence, and in January, Naor came to us straight from the hospital; he was only four months old.”

       

      The beginning

      “When Naor came to us, it was impossible to ignore the look in his eyes.

      I thought to myself that he would be brilliant, and this thought gave me strength.

      The first year was complicated and challenging. I spent many days at various hospitals. This was during a busy time in my career, when I was an acting deputy school principal, which was a demanding job with many responsibilities. Luckily, my work was considerate and thoughtful during this time, but I still needed to continue working. I often heard people whispering in the background, out of concern, but still lacking sensitivity. Some warned us it would hinder our careers, but we decided to listen only to ourselves.

      Our children accepted Naor as a brother immediately. We were also happy to see that the extended family, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles did the same, with love and incredible openness. We encountered people who cringed at first sight of Naor’s disability, but after getting to know him, their hearts would open up to him.

      For a while, we couldn’t send Naor to any daycare program, because he had a medical condition which involved blood clots. We had to employ someone to look after him during our work hours. He had to have frequent blood transfusions, and it wasn’t always easy to find his matching blood type. His medical treatments were very demanding, delicate and intensive. Our home functioned as an operational headquarters, with full familial and additional participation. Students from my school came to help out by playing with Naor, and we also had help cleaning the house, but the rest we had to do ourselves.

      So many people were happy for him and all of us.  We received donations of presents from strangers, which was really heartwarming. We were strengthened by the knowledge that this soul was saved, and despite all the difficulties, the whole family received a lifelong gift.”

       

      Adjusting

      “Naor’s disability is only physical. We quickly realized that he had no cognitive delay, but due to his motor skills challenges, he had to overcome various learning difficulties. Today he’s in high school, and he combines his studies at a religious school with a theater concentration at a secular school. He is learning to act in front of a camera, and he’s training as a swimmer. We hoped he would participate in the 2024 Paralympics, but it seems that he doesn’t want it

      enough. He learned to walk when he was four, but walking lasted only two years because his body weight was too great for his damaged legs, and he started moving on his knees. Today, he uses a wheelchair.

      From the very beginning, we recognized his charm, and set two main goals: that he would grow up with self-confidence and would be happy. We are delighted that both goals have been achieved. Since Naor is a friendly and likable boy, I insisted that, despite his physical and learning difficulties, he would attend a regular school instead of one with special education. My priorities were clear: he should feel socially happy even if he doesn’t complete all his high school graduation exams. 

      Since infancy, Naor has been very attached to his siblings, especially to our oldest son, who lives close by, and spends time with him every week. They go surfing, to soccer games, and other activities.

      We’ve submitted several requests for adoption over the years, but strange as it may seem, the biological father, who has no contact with Naor, refuses to grant them. For us, Naor always was, and always will be the same as all our children.

      His behavior is important to me, and I want him to be polite and thankful, despite his difficult predicament, and his need for assistance. Once, when he asked me to bring him some water to drink, I pointed out that he had forgotten to say ‘please’. He repeated the demand for water without saying ‘please’. Responding to requests by people with disabilities as if we are obliged to fulfill them  may well enable dictatorial behavior. I did not cave in to the demand, and he said: “What do you think, if I had normal limbs, I wouldn’t have gone to get something to drink myself?” When I heard his question, it took my breath away. I suddenly realized how difficult it must be to be physically and emotionally dependent on others and know that it will never change. Since he is so well-liked and is surrounded by friends, I sometimes forget the emotional challenges experienced by someone who is dependent on others. He is so intelligent, sensitive, and moving, that we lovingly and readily serve him. 

      We are well aware that as Naor grows up, there will be many challenges to face. However, we have learned that life is lived here and now, and there is no point in worrying about the future. We are his medical guardians, and we will always look after him with sensitivity and love and meet all his needs.”

       

      I Believe

      “We’ve been told by people on many occasions that we have done a great deed for Naor, but I feel the opposite. At the end of the day, living with him has changed us all for the better. The family we were before is not the family we are today.

      Thanks to fostering, I am working now in special education. When Naor was eight years old, I took a Sabbatical. Due to the fostering process we underwent, I started studying to be a guide for parents of children with special needs. Today, I know how important it is for parents to have this support so that they don’t feel alone and get lost in this journey with their children, the various bureaucracies and authorities they have to work with, and also with themselves.

      When I see Naor playing on the computer, I wonder what the people who play with him online would think if they knew that he is competing with them by using only his feet.  They probably wouldn’t believe it!”

       

      Motherhood

      “I grew up in a loving family. My father was a Rabbi. My mother suffered from arthritis since childhood, which affected her heart. When my parents got married, the doctors told her that she wouldn’t be able to have children. Despite that, she went on to have six children of her own, me being her third. My father took care of all of us, and was very loving towards my mother. I only learned about her heart condition when I got married. I inherited her stubbornness and the desire to dedicate myself to motherhood at any cost.

      One night, I dreamt that Naor was taken from me and that his family wanted him back. That’s  been my biggest fear. I dreamt of hiding there to see what he looked like. In the dream, when he left the house, I woke up.

      The word ‘mother’ is powerful and very significant for me, and I am happy being the mother I am.”

       

      Since I interviewed Bruria, Naor completed his high-school studies with full matriculation with a theater concentration. He acted a part in the play “Taming of the Shrew” as a member of the youth group of a prestigious theater group. He is currently attending a preparatory program and would like to join the IDF as a volunteer. His dream is to learn to drive to be even more independent than he is already.

       

      The Jewelry

      The most poignant moment in the meeting with Bruria was when I realized that she – and all those around Naor – fulfilled the role of his hands and arms. Without them, he may have been almost helpless, like a baby. The rings I’ve created for her resemble fingers, giving whoever wears them some superpower, enabling them to look after and help others.

      Photo: Zohar Ron