From Tragedy to Blessing – Barry Shapiro, Controller at Fairmount Temple, July, 2018

This post on “If Not Now, When?” the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple is a personal story from Barry Shapiro about a special tallis.

From Tragedy to Blessing, A Personal Reflection on a Special Gift

When I was about nine or ten years old, my older sister, Robbie, became very involved in USY (United Synagogue Youth), the youth group at my synagogue. I became intrigued by the group, and loved watching the teens dance after services on Friday nights.  When I became a freshman, I couldn’t wait to attend USY meetings and events myself. I became very involved, including serving in regional and chapter President and Officer, going to conventions and attending Camp Chusy at the end of the summer in Conover, Wisconsin. By my senior year of high school, I was spending every free moment of my day on USY. It’s a good thing that high school was easy for me and I didn’t need to spend much time studying!

During my sophomore year of high school, I starting dated a girl named Sharon I met at USY.  She knew that, although I had my silk Bar Mitzvah tallis, I really wanted a woolen tallis. She bought a lovely one for me while we were dating and ended up giving it to me after we broke up as she still wanted me to have the tallis.

That summer, Sharon attended National Camp USY and became friends with another friend of mine, Gayle, who I would eventually marry. The three of us continued our friendship and we stayed in contact over the years.

In 1989, Sharon was living and working in Minneapolis. She left work one day to go to lunch, and never returned. Her parents called us a few days later to see if we had heard from her. Ten days later, Sharon’s body was found 25 miles outside of town in a corn field. It took 11 years for her murderer to eventually be indicted and sent to prison.

Gayle and I were devastated at the terrible loss of our friend. We just did not know how to process such a senseless tragedy. After many months of trying to console each other, we came up with a plan to try to make meaning out of what had happened. We decided to become foster parents. In the face of one Jewish life taken away, we would bring love and support to another one. We worked with the Jewish Children’s Bureau in Chicago for a dozen years, fostering many children who came and went from our home. We were even honored one year by the agency as being the “Foster Parents of the Year.”

Our first foster child, Karen, came to us when she was 4 ½ years old. Although many other foster children passed through our home over the years, Karen became a constant in our family. When she was 10 years old, we adopted her and she became our third child. From this terrible tragedy, we ended up with a blessing. We are forever grateful to have Karen in our lives.

My tallis has gotten much wear in the 48 years since Sharon gave it to me. Gayle has lovingly mended it many times. Gayle also made for me a beautiful tallis bag, which I absolutely love.

Nothing can make up for Sharon’s brutal murder, but wrapping myself in the tallis she gave me, and enjoying the daughter that we would not have had were it not for our need to make sense of Sharon’s loss, provides us with comfort and meaning.