“As a father has mercy on his children, so too the Lord has mercy upon those who fear Him.” (Psalms 103:13)
So we plead over and over again on the days leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which starts this year on the eve of October 8. For those of us who grew up in a loving home it’s not too hard to imagine The Almighty as a loving parent. What about those who were not blessed with a happy childhood?
Thankfully there are people like Chaya Weiner, an extraordinary mother, in the heart of Israel. A diminutive woman, she’s a powerhouse of serving G-d while helping others. Her motivation, she says, is her appreciation for all the good she’s been given.
Among that good is a supportive husband, Yossi, whom she met when they were serving in a Nahal unit of the IDF in Ein Tzurim. It was after they were married, during his army service, that he was injured stepping on a landmine in the Jordan Valley. He lost an eye, has a bad leg, and spent a year in Rehabilitation. Those challenges didn’t keep him from raising six biological children and six foster children together with Chaya.
Chaya is extremely grateful for her family, grateful that all her children are observant of the commandments in the Bible and are all living in Israel. All her biological children are married, as are three of her foster children. The other three are still at home and Chaya hopes they will stay there until they marry, as the other nine did.
Through the years Chaya and Yossi have welcomed all sorts of people in need into their home. There were addicts, those on probation, and petty thieves. They’re still in touch with the once-seventeen-year-old pickpocket who came to live with them instead of going to jail. Now he’s married with a successful job and the father of twins. How wonderful that he was able to gain forgiveness for his mistakes and turn his life around. We learn from Chaya how powerful a loving and welcoming home can really be.
Chaya probably gets much of her strength from her family. She’s very proud of her Sephardic heritage. Her mother’s family lived in Hevron for generations until the riots of 1929. Her father’s family fled Spain for Safed where they lived until the earthquake of 1837. They then settled in Turkey where her grandfather was a respected rabbi for a number of years. He left all that behind to bring his family to Israel and build the village of Be’er Yaakov, located near Rishon L’Zion, in the early part of the twentieth century. Chaya can eloquently describe the harsh conditions of life in Israel at that time. She cherishes the letter sent to her grandfather from the Chief Rabbi of Turkey begging him to come back. Despite the poverty, her grandfather refused, citing our teacher, Moses, who always had a longing to enter the Land of Israel, and inviting the Chief Rabbi to join him in the Holy Land.
With that heritage, it’s no wonder Chaya’s committed to Israel. She and Yossi began their marriage living in Kibbutz Ein Zurim. She was a social worker but the kibbutz needed teachers. After a few years teaching there, they left the kibbutz for Kiryat Arba, another pioneering community, when it was just beginning.
She was then recruited by Rabbi Sholom Wach who needed teachers for new immigrants from France. That’s how Chaya became a teacher in Ulpan, a Hebrew school for immigrants. Through the years she has taught in a number of ulpans, helping new immigrants to learn many things besides just the Hebrew language.
After several years Chaya and Yossi realized that Kiryat Arab was becoming a city and not for them. They joined other pioneers in starting the village of Ofra, northwest of Jerusalem. It has been their home for over four decades.
There were two years, though, from 1984-86, when they left Ofra to help begin Eli, a village eighteen kilometers to the west. Living in a mobile home with five children and transporting those children daily to their schools in Ofra, they taught their children just how deep their concern for the Land of Israel is.
Between her family, teaching, and community work it would seem Chaya would have time for little else. Nothing could be farther from the truth. She devotes hours each week to introducing singles to their marriage partners.
It began when she introduced her brother to his wife. Intuition and friends helped her make more matches. Now she has established a total system and has been a respected, volunteer matchmaker for thirty years. Fearing prideful thoughts, Chaya doesn’t keep count of the marriages she’s arranged but she knows it’s many. She derives much joy knowing that she is doing all she can to help G-d’s children.
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we read in Jeremiah 31:14, “A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping, Rochel weeps for her children, she refuses to be comforted, for they are gone.”
Like our matriarch, Chaya continues to weep for her children. She longs for them to come home. She longs for all of them to be part of a loving family. She longs for each and every one to find their soul-mate and be able to serve the Almighty in the Holy Land, which He has given to us. As we blow the shofar, the ceremonial horn, at the close of Yom Kippur may we all be signed and sealed for Chaya’s dreams to come true.