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Publication: THE JEWISH STANDARD
Date: December 2004
Writer: JACOB BERKMAN


CHAIM NOAH GETS A TORAH

Chaim Noah gets a Torah” could start some Jewish nursery rhyme, but Chaim Noah’s story
is more epic than lyrical, and more miracle than anything else.

When the Valley Chabad finishes and dedicates a Torah for the 2 1/2-year-old cancer survivor on Sunday at the Holiday Inn in Montvale, the story of the early part of his life gets something of a happy ending.

His mother noticed that something was wrong with her baby when he was about 3 months old. His head was tilted and his gaze was slightly off. A physician, she suspected a brain tumor, but when doctors at New York University Hospital started shaking their heads while
looking at his first MRI, she had to sit down. “I didn’t realize that it could be malignant,” she said in her family’s home last Thursday, as Chaim Noah giggled and played with an aide at her feet. “My brain just wouldn’t go there.”

Though medical journal reports about her son’s type of tumor were disheartening, “I knew that whatever it took, we would get through this,” she said. “We would do whatever possible to fight this disease, and come out better for it.”

She also knew that her family would need a community surrounding it to help them not only care for Chaim Noah but for his twin sister and his older sister, who was 6 when he was diagnosed. While the family belonged to a Conservative synagogue at the time, it was the frum community that stepped forward as her son spent almost two years in the hospital.

From the time that he was admitted, when he spent almost a year living in NYU’s pediatric intensive care unit following his many surgeries, to the summer that he spent at Sloan Kettering Memorial receiving radiation therapy, to the six months that he spent at Hackensack University Medical Center for chemotherapy, a network formed around the family. Volunteers would prepare meals for them during the week and on Shabbat, others
would help pick up the oldest daughter from school, and others would baby-sit. Some would provide respite care so that either Lisa or her husband –- one of whom stayed at Chaim Noah’s bedside around the clock — could leave the hospital or see their other children.

“Little did I know that the entire Jewish community from Brooklyn and the Lower East Side to the Pascack Valley to Passaic and Teaneck, Englewood, and Washington Heights — people from all over those places — would come to our rescue,” she said.

And since Chaim Noah returned home last spring — at least part time because he still is an occasional inpatient because of various surgeries, infections, and treatments — the local community has really stepped up its efforts.

About 20 teenagers from the Chabad community volunteer with the family every evening, according to Valley Chabad’s Rabbi Dov Drizin, and some Chabad women have formed a group called Homaydloch (helping out meals at your door, ladies of Chabad) to shop and cook for the family and others in need.

Last Thursday, as Chaim Noah’s mother spoke with this newspaper, volunteers came and went, a couple of women delivered a portable island countertop for the family’s kitchen to help them keep kosher, and another two stopped by simply to play with Chaim Noah and his
twin. “They haven’t left our sides. Not for one moment did we feel like we were alone,” the child’s mother said. “Most of them were strangers at the time, but now I feel like I have the largest family of anyone.”

And those who volunteer say that they do it out of joy, because they simply love Chaim Noah. “People who meet him are totally taken by him,” said one volunteer as she cuddled with Chaim Noah. She first met the boy when he was hospitalized in Hackensack. “I was there visiting with other patients, and I walked into his room and fell in love instantly. It was his smile, his kiss. He was just unbelievable. He’s the cutest, most loving boy you’ll ever meet. You’d walk into the room and he just blows you a kiss.”

Chaim Noah is now tumor-free, and though he has years of rehabilitation ahead of him — he’ll need surgery to help repair muscles in his throat that were damaged by the brain surgery, and his body needs to catch up developmentally with others his age — but aside from his bald head, tracheotomy, and feeding tube, he behaves just like any other normal 2-year-old. He has his hands in everything, quarrels with his sister over who gets to play with
Elmo, and is a little shy around reporters. Even though he is still learning how to speak and walk, he has no problem getting his messages across, and scooting about his living room after a ball.

But, his mother says, Chaim Noah is not yet out of the woods. About a year ago, Drizin and Valley Chabad started a drive to write a Torah for Chaim Noah. Other members of the community, including Rabbis Andre Ungar and Andrew Bloom of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake and Rabbi Peter Berg of Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, also joined the drive.

“Throughout Jewish history, in tragic times, the Jewish people have displayed strength by getting together and writing a Torah,” Drizin said. ‘This was written on his behalf. Every letter written in it, every time someone participated, conferred upon him a spiritual merit that he should be healthy and well.” Chabad also used the Torah to help raise money for the family to help them deal with the incredible cost of caring for a child in Chaim Noah’s condition, compounded because his mother had to leave her practice to stay with her son through his treatment. It has raised funds by allowing community members to donate letters and words in the Torah.

The last few will be etched into the parchment on Sunday in a ceremony including music, food, and dancing, a joyous event, which Drizin hopes will be the first of many for Chaim Noah and his Torah. “He’s come so far,” said Drizin. “We hope and pray that this will be the Torah that he will read from for his bar mitzvah, and the one that he will be called up to for
his aufruf. We hope it will always be a merit for him.”

 
 
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