Twenty-two years ago life was good for Sara Argaman, her husband, Baruch, and their six children. They lived in Mevo Horon, a cooperative village north of the Ayalon Valley. All that changed when they discovered their youngest son, Michael, then three years old, had a growth in his head. Life turned upside down for the family. Sara took a leave of absence from her job as a PE teacher to devote herself to Michael’s recovery. For a year and a half the family stayed optimistic until the bitter day when Michael died.
How does one get out of bed in the morning after losing a child?
“Choose life, so you will live, you and your offspring.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
In the beginning Sara took baby steps. She didn’t have the privilege of hiding under her covers. She had five other children who needed her. She went back to work but spent much time crying in the teachers’ lounge. It wasn’t working and she decided she needed to learn something new. Her choice was therapy and in the course of her studies she discovered Jahara, a method of therapy in warm water.
Part of her program included undergoing therapy for herself. Her first session of Jahara totally wowed her. Coming home with shining eyes she told Baruch,
“This is what I want to do.”
Thankfully, he was able to connect with her vision.
Their first step was to build an indoor therapeutic pool. Of course it would be built in Mevo Horon. That’s where Sara came to do National Service at the age of eighteen. It’s where she met Baruch when he was serving in the army. That’s where they made their home immediately following their wedding in 1974.
It took three years to raise the money with donations and all sorts of loans. On the seventh anniversary of Michael’s death, the cornerstone was laid. The following year the pool opened for therapy of all kinds (physical, special education, emotional) for all ages. There’s group therapy as well as individual treatment. One hundred people come to the pool daily.
Heated at 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit) Sara has a staff of twenty-eight. All the counselors, including Sara’s daughter and daughter-in-law, are certified as special education teachers or physical therapists. Baruch learned the technical aspects of running the pool and that’s his responsibility. Sara oversees it all.
“As water reflects the image of your face when you look into it, so are the hearts of two friends.” (Mishlei 27:19)
Sara loves this verse. She’s seen over and over again the healing powers of water. How the autistic child appreciates the quiet. How the ADHD child can be as active as he wants and not break anything. How the physical impaired can move more easily in the water.
She’s happy to share some success stories. There was the woman who after being expelled from Gush Katif was in a car accident. She came to the pool originally in a wheelchair. Over the course of six months this woman progressed to crutches and from there to walking on her own.
Another woman, also a refugee from Gush Katif, had complications with her pregnancy. Although the problem was physical it was aggravated by unresolved trauma from The Disengagement. When she first came to Sara she could walk only in water. By the time she was ready to give birth she was again walking normally.
Not all the stories have happy endings. Over the years there were two young children with the same problem Michael had. Although it was emotionally hard to work with them, Sara gave them all she could. It’s still difficult for her to talk about their deaths.
Michael has been gone for two decades and the pain doesn’t go away. It’s there when Sara lights Shabbat candles. It’s there as she sees his playmates grow and pass milestones. It will never go away. Sara keeps going, though. Her baby steps guided her as she married off her remaining children, became a grandmother and even a great-grandmother.
She believes she does not have the choice to let her grief overcome her. She believes she doesn’t have a right to waste what The Holy One has given her. She believes she must choose life. She does so every day as she helps dozens of others.
The therapy that the pool provides gives strength to Sara every day and helps keep Michael’s spirit alive. May we all learn from Sara’s undeniable power to turn her grief into a way of impacting the lives of many people.