Yudit Raizel Sukkat Shaleym was born on September 28, in Budapest, Hungary, in 1944. When her mother Yitte was in the delivery room, she became terrified when she saw the doctor. He was dressed in full SS uniform. The doctor could see the horror in the eyes of the expecting mother, he bent down and whispered in her ear “I am a doctor first.” Yudit was born while bombs where falling on the city. In the cruel war, there was a doctor with a heart. The war ended early May 1945.
The story of her own birth, into the arms of an SS officer followed Yudit during her young years. She herself gave birth to three children and had four “bonus” children. When her first grandchild was born, she was present in the delivery room. She thought “I know how to do this. I can help deliver Jewish babies.” The family moved to Israel in 1994. Almost immediately we became substitute parents of many people young people whose parents were abroad. Often my husband was officiating when it was time for them to get married. When they became pregnant they asked me to be with them at the birth of their baby and I gladly went. That’s how I became a birth coach.” Yudit naturally fell into the role, although she had no formal training.
The common name for this kind of work is “doula,” but Judith doesn’t like to be called by that name, because it’s a Greek word, it means “a slave women.” As a Jewish woman she doesn’t want to be called by a Greek name. It can also be described as labor companion or birth assistant, providing spiritual, emotional and physical support.
From the first time I heard that my neighbor Yudit is a birth coach, I immediately thought of Yoheved, the mother of Moses and midwife in Egypt. This is how she must have looked like; petite and beautiful, righteous and frum. The Torah tells us that 70 souls came to Egypt from Jacob’s household and the Midrash adds that Yoheved was born at the entrance to Egypt. At the gates she became the 70th soul of Jacob’s descendants. She also gave birth to three children; Miriam, Aaron and Moses and they became great leaders of the Exodus generation. All her life, Yoheved was a midwife, helping Jewish mothers in Egypt, together with her daughter Miriam. They practiced their trade during a time where the very existence of the Jewish people was hanging by a delicate thread.
“A woman in labor is in a special kind of state, sometimes she can’t think straight, she is in stress and needs help making the right choices that is most beneficial to her and her baby. Hashem created a woman’s body perfectly to give birth, but she needs to surrender in faith and let her body work. My role is to offer whatever kind of support the woman needs. It might be a hug, it might be a massage, anything to help the woman relax and allow herself to trust in the process. I feel so constantly and continuously grateful to Hashem. I have the best job! I am helping souls to come to this world. Each birth is a huge gift and each birth is so special and miraculous. It is my mission to assist women, so that even when things do not go according to plan, the mother remains supported, calm and in control.”
Yudit has no plans of slowing down. In addition to running from childbirth to childbirth, she also teaches young brides family purity, preparing them for kosher, Jewish marriages. In Jewish tradition, there are three commandments, especially reserved for women; lighting Shabbat candles, taking challah — setting aside a piece from the dough, (before benefiting from anything in this world, we set aside an offering for God) and thirdly, family purity — intimacy as a natural and necessary aspect of life, but within the right framework and context.
In 1941, Budapest had about 246,000 Jews. Nearly 50 percent of them died during the holocaust. Raoul Wallenberg came to Budapest as secretary of the Swedish Foreign Ministry in 1944, a little bit late in the war. He had instructions to save as many Jews as possible. He issued thousands of Swedish identity documents, saving as many as 100,000 people in different cities. Yudit’s life was spared at least twice. During the war, the family lived in houses marked with a yellow star. One time, SS men came rushing in to the building to round up Jews for the concentration camps. Yudit’s mother told her later that one SS man came to their apartment. He stood at the door, looked at the mother and then at the little, few month old baby in a box, which was Judith and he just left, without saying a word. “I don’t understand why some were taken away and I was saved. I owe everything to God and I have no explanation, except we who were saved have work to do in this world.” Yudit Raizel Sukkat Shaleym certainly has work to do and she is busy working in a worthwhile and meaningful mission. Babies are being born straight into the arms of a loving Jewish mother, grandmother and great grandmother.