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To Make A Difference: Carried by Angels

Malkie Shulman

Sarah Berger, Lakewood, NJ // Nominated by Malka Rosenzweig

Thursday, September 20, 2018

 Mishpacha image

I

’m a social worker and my job title is Director of Resident Services at the Lakewood Courtyard. Basically, I’m a liaison between the community, the families, the residents, and the Courtyard. I love my job because I am interacting with the residents and families on a daily basis — I’m here to make sure everyone is happy and everything runs smoothly.

Why did I think of nominating Mrs. Berger?

Mrs. Berger has an incredible life story beginning with childbirth and continuing to the present. She has not let her disability stop her from living a fulfilled life and she has raised a beautiful family who frequently come to visit her at the Lakewood Courtyard. In fact, I believe she has accomplished much more than the average person without a disability. Mrs. Berger is an inspiration to me and to those that know her. I wanted to give her the opportunity to share her story with all of Klal Yisrael.

Mrs. Sarah Berger continues to make a difference in the lives of her friends (and in her own!). How? By running a seminary here at the assisted living home.

 

The textbook description of cerebral palsy is daunting. The term refers to any one of several neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination. The most common symptoms are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements, stiff or tight muscles, and exaggerated reflexes.

In some ways, Mrs. Sarah Berger fits the description, with facial grimaces, unstable neck muscles that make her head wobble, weak core muscles that cause her torso to lean to the right, tightly clenched fingers, speech that is sometimes incoherent because her voice is often inaudible and her diction is unclear. At present she is confined to a power wheelchair and is able to take only a few steps with a walker.

I meet Sarah in her cozy and homey studio apartment in the Lakewood Courtyard. Tastefully attired in a light colored, summer outfit with matching jewelry, Sarah sits opposite me as I make myself comfortable on the couch. The vibrant hues of the couch throw and the various flower arrangements attest to her love of color. Many pictures of family and ancestors adorn her wall.

My eyes take in her physical handicaps, of course, but what really catches my attention is her endearing crooked smile, almost like a grin, that lights up her eyes. She is making great effort to enunciate her words clearly but I still have to crane my neck to make out what she’s saying. As we speak, a weekly visitor stops by to say hi. A little while later her grandchildren run into the room like they own the place. She tells them to quiet down so we can speak but smiles at me and sighs in resignation as they continue bouncing around. We end up finishing our conversation in the quiet hall.

“Sometimes people will stare at me — or look and then quickly avert their eyes,” she says.

But when it comes to the most important things, Sarah Berger doesn’t let her cerebral palsy define her. She is a fulfilled and busy mother and grandmother, beloved by relatives and friends, a college graduate, and the author of two Holocaust books. Clearly, she is a fighter — a person who never let her disability limit her dreams. And today, at an age and stage when many would relish their accomplishments, she’s taken on a new, ambitious project. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 728)

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