Shani (not her real name) was sound asleep and safe in her crib, oblivious to the fact that her doting parents had just been pronounced dead at the scene of a devastating car accident. Shani was just five months old, a first and much-loved grandchild to the proud maternal grandparents who, while they were babysitting for her, received the tragic news that their gorgeous grand-daughter had now become an orphan.
Shani, a happy, contented baby who had a big smile for everyone, had just started to attend the local WIZO Day Care Center, the same day care center that her mother and aunt had attended when they were small. It had always been a source of pride for Savta (grandma) Annie, herself a WIZO Israel Chavera who volunteered there. She explained, “The WIZO Day Care Center takes me back to the good old days, and it keeps me young to be around the little ones – and having my own grandchild there is just an extra bonus!”
The funeral and the week of the Shiva was a blur through tear-filled eyes for Shani’s savta and the family. The house was full of mourners and visitors. The parents and family of their dear late son-in-law, a new immigrant from America, had flown in from New York. Every morning, the director of the WIZO Day Care Center, Sigalit, came specially to pick up Shani and take her to the nursery, and Sigalit would bring her back home in the afternoon and stay with the family to help with the baby chores well into the night.
“How could I not do this?” Sigalit asked. “Savta Annie is, to me, part of the family – and Shani is one of our WIZO babies. Our work does not stop at the gates of the WIZO Day Care Center. It embraces the entire family and extends to their homes."
Sigalit went on to explain how the staff at the day care center and many of the parents had rallied around her when her own son had been killed in active service in the IDF some years ago.
“In Israel, we do for each other. We are all one community. It is this that defines us, not wars and conflict,” she said.
Sigalit was also very instrumental in advising the procedures required for Shani’s grandparents to file for the adoption of their precious granddaughter and every step of the way, she held the hand of Savta Annie. Now, Savta Annie is back volunteering at the WIZO Day Care Center, and Shani thrives in the embrace of her
loving grandparents who have now legally adopted her.
“No, of course, she does not remember her parents, our beautiful children, but when she is older I will tell her how lovely they were, how much they loved her and how much we loved them,” Savta Annie explained, a tear glistening in her eye. “But for now, we just enjoy her and give her that piece of our hearts that was once broken. Through Shani, our beloved daughter and her husband ,Josh, of blessed memory, live on.”
Shani has just started to walk. She toddles around clutching her teddy bear. Her grandfather follows her, his outstretched hand hovers over her head to protect her from banging into the furniture. “She certainly keeps me on my toes. In fact, she keeps us both young!” he said.
Their youngest daughter, Shani’s aunt, comes in with Savta Annie. They had been for a fitting for her dress for her wedding next month. She sweeps Shani up in a big bear hug. “Who’s going to be my best and most beautiful bridesmaid?” she asks.
Savta Annie is in no doubt that her experience of many years’ volunteerism at the WIZO Day Care Center, and the support of Sigalit and her team have given her not only the strength to cope with such a tragedy of losing her daughter but also the vitality and energy to bring up baby Shani.
(Names changed to preserve anonymity)
(Photo for illustration purposes only)