On March 22, 2020, as we were all just starting to fathom the new reality we were about to enter, hundreds of Israel Story fans went online to hear an update from an ultra-Orthodox woman from Tzfat. Six years ago, Chaya Ben Baruch’s inspiring story brought listeners around the world to tears. It was the story of a trailblazer who wouldn’t let life, and the many obstacles it presented her, dictate reality.
Chaya grew up as Enid, in a “Conservadox” Jewish family in Far Rockaway, N.Y. Like many women of her generation and from her background, Chaya’s life seemed to be preordained – she’d go to school, marry a nice Jewish boy, raise a family, and be active in the community. But Enid had different plans: midway through college, she left that structured world behind and ventured off to far-away Fairbanks, Alaska, to study the mothering patterns of sea otters.
A decade, three children, and one failed marriage later, Enid met Stan – a tall, Catholic salmon fisherman from the Gold Stream Valley. Together they had three more kids, the last of whom – Angkor – was born with Down Syndrome. While many parents – especially at the time – might have viewed this as a devastating misfortune, Enid and Stan saw it as an opportunity. They were determined to find Angkor a partner; a soulmate. That wish of theirs kicked off an incredible journey that led the family from Alaska to Tzfat, in the north of Israel, and – on the way – precipitated a return to Judaism. Mishy Harman brings us a tale that unfolds in courtrooms, hospitals, Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, immigration centers and wedding halls.
In today’s episode we hear the original story that aired in 2014, followed by a short update from Chaya. Did her Angkor ever find his soulmate? What happened to the young couple? And what is it like to parent special needs children who leave the nest? All this and more in an edited conversation between Chaya and Mishy at the end of the episode.
The original episode was scored by Pejk Malinovski with music composed and performed by Rob Burger. Julie Subrin, Yoshi Fields, and Zev Levi edited the episode, which was mixed by Sela Waisblum. Additional music by Broke for Free. The end song, “Nekuda Tova” (“Good Point”) is by Shuli Rand, and features vocals by Ehud Banai.
Thanks to Kitra Cahana, Jodi and Gary Rudoren, Rina Castelnuovo, Me’ira Weiss, Norman Gililand, Basya Shechter, Avi Heller, Charles Monroe-Kane, Caryl Owen and all the team at Wisconsin Public Radio’s To The Best of Our Knowledge.
Project Kesher is a non-profit organization that empowers and invests in women. They develop Jewish women leaders – and interfaith coalitions – in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Israel, deliver Torahs to women who’ve never held one before, broadcast women’s health information on Ukrainian Public Radio, and help Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel advocate for equal rights.