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The Last Word: It Could Happen to Anyone

Chananel Shapiro

How do you acknowledge a grieving father who, by his own admission of having a “memory blackout,” forgot his infant daughter in a steaming hot car?

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

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A WAKE UP CALL TO THE COMMUNITY What words of comfort can one give in such an unfathomable tragedy? (Photo: Shloimi Cohen)

Standing outside the Feldman shivah house in Beitar Illit last week, friends and neighbors were nervous and apprehensive — what words of comfort can one give in such an unfathomable tragedy? How do you acknowledge a grieving father who, by his own admission of having a “memory blackout,” forgot that his one-year-old daughter was still in the back seat of a steaming hot car — only to remember an hour later when it was too late, when the malach hamaves, decreed to don the cloak of “angel of forgetfulness,” had already struck?

Reb Yedidya Feldman, a pillar of the Breslov kehillah in Beitar and proprietor of the town’s upscale fine-wine store, told Mishpacha during the shivah that not a minute goes by when he’s not battling the overpowering forces of pain and guilt. “There’s this constant war going on between the head and the heart, between the emotions and the seichel,” he confesses. “The heart wants to pull you into that pit of black, infinite guilt, while the brain understands that such a thing could happen to anyone. The most painful thing was after the funeral, when I saw people’s reactions — ‘You’re a murderer,’ and the like. It was a decree from Shamayim that this tragedy should happen through my own hand — I couldn’t have prevented it. It was as if part of my brain had a blackout.”

Reb Yedidya is acutely aware of those who point blame at parents — caring, loving people who would never willingly do anything to hurt their child — who’ve forgotten their own children in vehicles. “It’s like a knife in my raw flesh,” he says, explaining that our busy lives and brain overload cause this phenomenon, especially when routine has been changed. Character assassination, he says, is not going to make the plague go away. Still, he says, he’s sure there is some reason this horror happened to him.

He tries to make sense out of what happened Friday morning two weeks ago, after putting Chana Rina a”h — the princess of the family after three boys — in her car seat.

“I never took Chani to the babysitter on Fridays, as my wife never works on Fridays, but that day she was called in. Then, when the babysitter saw that she hadn’t come, she called — but dialed the wrong number.”

According to Avital Appel of the child safety nonprofit Beterem — Safe Kids Israel, new research indicates that indeed, the phenomenon of forgetting children in cars is related to the way our brains are wired. We multitask on autopilot when it comes to routine, familiar activities, but when we’re tasked with something new, our overloaded brains don’t always remember. “What US researchers discovered,” she told Mishpacha, “is that in almost all of these cases, there was a difference from the routine — like the parent driving wasn’t usually the one to take the child.”

Chana Rina Feldman, a”h

Reb Yedidya is determined to use his own tragedy to promote awareness and vigilance among parents because “believe me, it can happen to anyone. I believe Hashem dished out this personal gehinnom for me to strengthen others, and to raise awareness and help prevent this too-prevalent curse. And if He put me through it, it means He knows we’ll somehow be able to weather this crisis. He gave me kochos I never knew I had, and I feel that He’s holding me up and showing me a new way — otherwise I would have literally gone crazy from the blackness of pain and guilt. No more living life on autopilot. He wants me to get to a different place, to think, to be aware of every minute. Hashem loves us and doesn’t slap us for nothing. If I can be of help in preventing even one more such incident, it will be a zechus for Chana Rina a”h.”

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