July 18, 2024
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Rutgers Student, Active Member of OU-JLIC, Creates Chesed Initiative

When I met Chayah Rivkah recently, and learned of her struggles, it moved me with concern. And when I learned what one caring Rutgers college student is doing to help her, I was inspired.

Chayah Rivkah Blank is an 8-year-old who has pontocerebellar hypoplasia, a rare neurological disease that makes her unable to speak. She’s restricted to a bed or a wheelchair. I met Chayah and her mom, Tzivia, at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick, where Chayah has been for five and a half months.

The Blanks are from Borough Park, a long way from the hospital. Tzivia spends as much time with Chayah during the week as possible, while still looking after her other three children and supportive husband, Aryeh, at night. It’s not easy. Leaving Chayah at the end of the day is hard.

At the beginning of their stay, knowing that the OU’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC) had a presence in nearby Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Tzivia reached out for help. Could anyone volunteer to visit Chayah in the late afternoons? Could anyone keep this charming young girl, who silently sits with a smile, company?

Ahuvah Strauss, a Rutgers student and active member of OU-JLIC, rose to the challenge. Under the guidance of OU-JLIC Director Rabbi Avi Schwartz, Ahuvah created a WhatsApp group of OU-JLIC students to sign up for visitation shifts. In fact, many students not only visited Chayah, but stayed the night.

I asked Ahuvah, “What did you do all night?”

“I read to Chayah. I sang to her. I hummed. She loves songs. My visit often ended with my saying ‘Modeh Ani’ to Chayah while she smiled.”

The gratitude of Modeh Ani, as a prayer, was palpable throughout my visit. Tzivia Blank is the mother of four, including an older son Moshe, who also has pontocerebellar hypoplasia. She told me that it is a privilege to take care of all of her children. She also told me that it is not uncommon to be contacted by other families who face daunting medical challenges and offer them chizuk, strength.

I left my visit thinking the “Blanks” are ironically named. They are filled with so much faith. They inspire others.

I also left thinking about Ahuvah and Chayah, two young women intricately connected without ever a normative conversation. One hums a tune, and the other beams a smile.

This is OU-JLIC at its best.


Jeffrey Korbman is the director of foundations and strategic partnerships at the Orthodox Union.

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