When the judge gave the Jewish community of Cordoba, Argentina, ten days to find a home for three abandoned children or they would be given into the care of a local church-run children’s shelter, Chabad representatives Rabbi Yossi and Chana Turk made a decision that altered the course of their lives.
They adopted Gavriel, 6, Nicola, 4, and Candelaria, 2.
Now instead of eight children, the Turks have eleven.
When the Turks went to pick up the Perlmutter children, state shelter workers had one request. The sneakers the children were wearing should be returned. They were shelter property.
At the doorway of the shelter, the children were apprehensive. The children had never met the rabbi, but what captured their attention was the Turk’s twelve-year-old son. In their short lives, after their father died and their mother had abandoned them, after being jostled from aunts to uncles to distant relatives who could not care for them, the three children had never seen a young boy wearing a kippa and tzitzit. They stared, but with him in sight, the children were willing to accompany the Turks home. Little did they know that this young boy would soon by one they would call “brother.”
First stop, the shoe store.
Basic hygiene was unknown to the children. All three were still in diapers. Regular baths, hair combing, thrice-daily meals, all that children take for granted was new. Even the existence of children’s books was a revelation. Leaping from neglect to care seems a fairy tale ending but the challenge has only begun.
“The difficulty is not in quantity of children,” said Rabbi Turk who welcomes 40 people to his Shabbat table each week, mostly poor Argentine families and Israeli backpackers. “It is caring for three children who have been abused and neglected. It takes a lot of time and dedication. Trying to keep a tranquil home is not easy.”
Tantrums are to be expected from children who have been through such upheaval, and Gavriel, Nicola and Candelaria throw plenty. Stressed but resourceful, the Turks noted that the children possessed a gift for music. They have hired music and art teachers to draw on their strengths and a tutor for Gavriel who has never been in a normal school setting. Weekly consultations with a psychologist have helped, too.
Not only do the new Turk children require special handling, the Turks’ biological children have had to adjust. “They cannot be made to feel like they have been replaced,” said Rabbi Turk. Story-time and tuck in time are twice as long at the Turk home now. The couple has rearranged their schedule to give each child one-on-one time.
Government aid for the children amounts to $50 per month–total. When the Turks’ adoption of the three children was mentioned during a speech at the International Shluchim Convention in November, some support rolled in through Chabad representatives in the States. But more is needed, and donations earmarked “Turk Family” can be sent to Machne Israel at Lubavitch World Headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213, which will be forwarded to the Turk family.
Talk to Rabbi Turk and the focus is not on his family’s sacrifice, nor on the stunning generosity of spirit required to take in and raise three children, shaken by unknown repercussions of abuse and emotional trauma. Rabbi Turk recounts the miraculous providence that helped him receive official sanction to bring the children home.
Before the three children could start their new lives, the Turks had to pass an evaluation by a state-sponsored psychologist. With eight kids of their own, doubtless the Turks had plenty of experience. But would they, an already large family, qualify? Chana Turk worried.
On the appointed date, the psychologist greeted them with a warm smile. “Rabbi Turk, don’t you remember me?” she said. Rabbi Turk drew a blank and asked the psychologist to fill him in on the connection. Six years ago, when the Turks celebrated their tenth year in Cordoba, Argentina’s second largest city, a ten hours’ drive from Buenos Aires, the Jewish senator who was attending the banquet brought a guest, who was none other than the psychologist.
“Six years ago, the divine providence that brought the children to us was already begun,” said Rabbi Turk.