By Devorah Benchimol
The Talmud says: man fears his fellow man more than he fears God.
This article was written by Sholem’s mom, Devorah and translated by Anna Frieman.
A simple Sunday night, during the crazy COVID quarantine. A family readying itself for just another week to come. Me, preparing, doing my things, hearing my son, Sholem z”l, say:
“Wait Menajem, I’ll come bike riding with you.”
It’s 9:00 pm; there’s only one hour left until curfew. These two brothers, accustomed to riding through life together, go out for a spin; it’s a mundane scene, until one doesn’t come back.
Instead, he teaches everyone that life is finite, and, in the blink of an eye, it can disappear.
At 10:32, there was a knock on the door of my house. I opened it. A police officer handed me Sholem’s driver’s license and told me, “He’s badly hurt.”
I started yelling like crazy. “Iosi, Iosi, they ran over Sholem.”
On the way to the hospital, my heart thumped like I was walking into a nightmare, one that, for over a month, I begged G-d to wake me up from. The worst thoughts a person could haveraced through our minds. We saw him when we arrived at the hospital, but they told us he was going straight to the operating room.
During the surgery, as we sat in the waiting room, we knew there was almost no hope, but, there we were, together, holding on tightly to our faith and our fortitude.
I called a woman I knew to start the Tehillim chains. I called my daughter, my sister, my brother.
I called everyone I loved and everyone who loved me to join forces and help Sholem.
My son Menajem finally made it to the hospital. I didn’t know where he had been or how he was after such a horrible experience. Shneur, my other son, had gone to pick up Menajem from the site of the accident and brought him in confused and disoriented. Menajem lost his phone at some point, adding to the overarching sense of chaos and confusion.
I hugged him and thanked G-d that he was alive. Menajem told me, “Mom, don’t worry,” and hugged me tighter. No-one knew how to console me from the depths of the grief that consumed us all. I didn’t know what to do either. I just knew I’d have to accept whatever happened, with the same faith as always.
One chain of Tehillim began, then another, followed by more and more. The entire world, friends and strangers alike, had come together to fight for my son. I just told G-d, “Do what you have to do, I trust you.”
There were three days of prayers. Three days of pleas. Three days of doing good deeds in honor of a Refuah Shlema, a full recovery. Thousands of people were mobilized like reserves during a war, a war for my 17-year-old boy.
There were some miracles. In the middle of the pandemic, we were able to bring my daughter from Argentina, and Sholem waited for her. He wasn’t going to leave this world without seeing her, without seeing his family together, without seeing the people he so loved and respected holding each other once more. Even though we were living all across the globe, we were able to be together for this final goodbye.
Those three days were a blur; I barely remember them. I don’t know if I ate, but I do know that I slept. At some moment, from within the deep pain of knowing I might lose my son, my soul, incomprehensibly, had peace. It had a certain tranquility that I can’t explain. I had faith in G-d, and that’s what held me together.
At 7:00 am on Thursday, the phone rang while my husband and I were sound asleep.
“You should come to the hospital now.”
We knew what was happening. Sholem was leaving this world. And, as I stood before my son’s body, I promised his dreams would become a reality.
Sholem was born into a family of Chabad Shluchim (missionaries), and my husband is a synagogue rabbi, so we lived in four different countries. Sholem was always religious, and the kippah on his head was his shining light and emblem. When he was three years old, his biggest passion became soccer, and as he was going into ninth grade, he asked us to allow him to switch from Yeshivah to a Modern Orthodox day school so that he could devote more time towards fulfilling his dream and playing soccer.
His fight was playing while being the only person on the field with a kippah, and although he knew it wouldn’t be easy, he never gave up.
After his accident, I decided to find a solution to this internal battle that Sholem had fought for so long, and we began the Sholem Corazón Valiente foundation to remove the barriers religious children face while pursuing their athletic dreams.
Today, I can say with pride that our first goal has been achieved; we formed a soccer team that won’t play on Shabbat. Sholem is a part of it, and it’s a relief to me to know I was able to do something to make his dreams come true.
Off of the field, I want to make Sholem’s personality an eternal guiding light for us all. He was one of the most loving, kind, humble souls that a person could know. Always fighting for what he thought was right, Sholem was a big inspiration for all those who knew him, even in his short 17 years.
And, because his accident caused thousands of people to be awoken from routine, to stand up, and to fight for him, his death has to have a meaning greater than what our minds can comprehend. Understanding it like this alleviates my pain.
G-d has tested me. I went to shivot and consoled so many families. Now, it’s my turn, and life is telling me: “Devora, this is your challenge. What are you going to do?
And, I respond, “I want to live, and live a life with meaning.”
In the middle of the coronavirus, when many people were scared of the unknown plague, my son died in an accident.
Only G-d controls our lives. He is the only One we should fear. He gives and He takes, and His logic is beyond our comprehension.
Today I think Sholem is in a better place, calmly resting, and this relieves my soul. The pain is with me and my family because we love and miss him. But, I have faith that everything is a part of something bigger, and that His light and his mission will flood our days here in this world, helping us make his dream and the dream of many others like him — people who want to live in what seems like two incompatible worlds — a reality.
With love, faith, and dedication, we are allowing Sholem’s legacy to live on and form a new world for our community, one that he is still a part of.
Sholem Corazon Valiente aims to extend Sholem’s legacy by promoting his values and character traits: leadership, compassion, confidence, resilience, and pride. It aspires to teach kids to be proud of who they are, even if it means being different, and to enable Jewish teens to play soccer by creating a club team that doesn’t compete on Shabbat.
Learn more at sholemcorazonvaliente.com.