PROVIDENCE – On Nov. 4, Batya Feigenbaum inspired women attending the Tichyeh Schochet Memorial Conference for Jewish Women with her keynote address about how she rises above immense hurdles and how she has grown in her faith.
Today, Feigenbaum is a glowing woman with vibrant auburn hair, a cheeky grin and a red scooter that she uses to get around. And, she will tell you with a wink, she sometimes uses that scooter to run over “some very important people.”
But at birth, the Israeli-born Feigenbaum sustained a spinal-cord injury that rendered her a quadriplegic. She could not breathe on her own, she could not even lift her hand. And then, suddenly, to the bewilderment of her doctors, she could!
When she was 2½, her family moved to Toronto, and through extensive therapies, hard work and prayer, and the constant love and guidance of her family, she gained partial use of her limbs.
In her address at the conference, held at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, Feigenbaum credits not only her faith, but her exceptional parents and five older siblings for her success as a speaker, Bible Studies teacher and director of student affairs at the Tiferes Bais Yaakov High School in Toronto. She also credits her attitude, which she spoke of extensively, for her decision to “not become a handicap, but to have one.”
Feigenbaum spoke with tremendous humor and candor about her disability. In one memorable moment, she said that while poking fun at other people is minimizing, poking fun at oneself can somehow render a personal challenge smaller.
A great example of her boundless humor is a prank she pulled on the afterschool activities organizers at her high school. She was handed a sheet of paper and told to make two choices among activities such as theater, sports, music and dance. She circled “dance” several times and wrote next to it “ONLY DANCE!!!” She giggled while recalling the confused faces of the committee members.
Feigenbaum eventually enrolled in theater, and today she directs a school play every other year at the Jewish high school where she works.
While she cherishes her irreverence toward struggle, Feigenbaum pointed to self-care and empathy as equally important.
“It doesn’t mean it’s not hard, you have to cry sometimes, it is normal. Dealing with your pain is very normal. You can’t get over something without dealing with it,” she said.
In closing, Feigenbaum challenged the women at the conference to remember and consider that: “God’s the one running the show. The one thing we have 100-percent control over is our attitude toward our struggles. How do you take your struggle, and be happy in spite of it?”
The Tichyeh Schochet Memorial Conference for Jewish Women, sponsored by the Providence Community Kollel, also featured two rounds of workshops on the theme of “Living Life to the Fullest.” Some of the workshops, like “EZ Shabbos Dinner,” offered practical advice, while others, such as “Prayer: The Path to Self Discovery” and “Becoming the Person You Wish to Be,” focused on growing as Jewish women.
The conference ended with a dessert reception and plenty of socializing.
LEAH BOURAMIA is an educator who lives in Warwick.