Mystery ailment in Belmonte and fascinating means of recovery
The Sages say, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief.” (Proverbs 14:13)
Sadness is not that different from joy; they are two sides of the same coin. The rains of blessing bring up mud and dirt; joy in the world is always mixed with sorrow.
Rabbi Shmuel haNagid, who lived in the period of the Book of Zohar (Golden Age) gave a great allegoric analogy appealing to the animal world: “The shepherd takes the sheep to graze against their will, but when he tries to return them to the paddock from the field, he also does it against their will”.
The conclusion is to relax, watch and enjoy the beauty of the world.
I’m going through a very exciting experience. In June-July 2017 I was invited by the community of Belmonte, Portugal, to teach Hebrew on behalf of Shavei Israel.
The community of Belmonte consists of the Anousim descendants whose ancestors kept their devotion to Judaism in secret for almost 500 years, married only among their community and have recently decided to return to Judaism fully and officially.
Apart from being a teacher, I’m a doctor, which helped me to identify an ocular disease in the Belmonte community.
More than 30% of the community members suffer from visual impairments. Their disease is genetic and caused by closely related marriages during many generations while guarding their Jewishness.
No wonder the Belmonte community wants to see and enjoy the beauty of the world. However they needed qualified assistance.
Luckily for me, I had a chance to lend a hand using all means I had at my disposal.
After my return to Israel, on behalf of the leaders of the Belmonte congregation, I sent letters to hospitals in Israel (Tel HaShomer, Hadassah, Ichilov, Rambam) and to the Israeli Ministry of Health in order to raise awareness of the existence and current problems of the community and to find a cure for their illness.
Actually I understood that if the Belmonte community didn’t receive medical treatment, their illness could lead them to complete blindness.
To my surprise and joy, shortly after the letters were sent, Dr. Yishai Falik responded to me:
Good morning, Shoshi
Thank you for the noble conduct and initiative to contact us on behalf of the community of Belmonte where you volunteered to be a Hebrew teacher.
Please see below Prof. Benin’s answer:
… Prof. Sharon recalled that this special community and the genetic cause of retinal disease that was common among them has already been studied in the past by Prof. Kaplan from France. It is worth to assume that this specific mutation of the gene causes the disease of their descendants until today. We recommend that you verify this by examining the DNA samples of affected community members, and in this case they could be provided with genetic counseling to prevent the continued birth of children with the disease. Prof. Sharon is ready to do this without payment.
We are sure that you contributed a lot to the community and promoted not only their conversion and absorption in Israel but their health as well.
We wish you more power to continue doing your job.
Dr. Yishai Falik
Director of the Department of Procedures and Standards
As a result of this connection, the Belmonte community members, from old to young, are currently receiving medical treatment in a professional and dedicated way. Treatment is provided in Israel and Belmonte, Portugal, by 31 medical teams.
Shavei Israel is grateful to Shosh Hovav for her great contribution to the community, for her devotion to Belmonte and awareness of the pain of others, and not only for identifying a serious medical problem but also for helping to find a suitable and dignified solution.