“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
I first heard about Chaya Ben Baruch from my sister, Shelly Feuer (Rivka Yarvachty), who met Chaya at an adult study class in Tzfat, Israel. Shelly suggested that I watch a poignant wedding video of Chaya’s son and adopted daughter, who also happen to have Down syndrome. Then I listened to a podcast about Chaya’s life, which includes raising several children with special needs, and even donating a kidney. I contacted Chaya via email, and when she sent photos of her children with Downs, I was overwhelmed by the intrinsic happiness and inner beauty of each child.
After Chaya gave birth to her sixth child, Avichi, in 1991, she began bonding with him, before learning he had Down syndrome. While it’s often true that most parents experience emotional turmoil when a special needs child is born, once they start to parent their baby, these children engender a humanity that could only happen because of these children.
“If people knew how really great these kids are: how funny, loving, unpretentious, and savvy about reading others – but needing protection from people who might want to take advantage – parents would think twice about aborting or giving them up for adoption. So many women who birthed babies with Downs, were given ultimatums. I know women who were told by their husband: ‘It’s either me or that baby.’ Would it have been better to have aborted these babies, or kept them and ruin their marriage, or their other children's lives? Not that I personally think a special needs child destroys marriages or the lives of the siblings.”
Concerned about raising children with Down syndrome in the remote woods of Alaska, combined with their search for spirituality, Chaya and her family relocated to Israel. When they first arrived, people would cross the street to avoid eye contact with Chaya’s children who experience Downs. Now, the reverse is happening: people will cross the street, just to say hello. Chaya and her husband, Yisroel, have raised five children with Downs, saving abandoned babies from life in a hospital or institution. Studies prove that physically healthy newborns, fed and bathed, but without any nurturing, die. (See Appendix.) Chaya also launched an organization that keeps a list of families, who are committed to fostering babies with special needs, whenever a newborn is left at a hospital by its parents. Chaya’s altruistic donation of a kidney, to save the life of a stranger, was another test she had to do, for herself.
There are few people who have Chaya’s combination of character traits: brilliance; bravery; altruism; honesty; and her ability to love, whether it's her own family or other people’s children. It is our aspiration for the reader to appreciate the uniqueness and joy that Chaya and her husband, Yisroel, have experienced as parents of children with Downs, and to open the hearts of people, across the globe.