While most parents would describe their children as special, Robyn and Jeff Safier of Fair Lawn have more reason than most to be proud of their 12-year-old daughter, Anny.
Anny was born legally blind.
Not only is she an honors student, but ““ despite her own medical struggles ““ she has created a bat mitzvah project designed to benefit others.
Nearly two years ago, doctors discovered that Anny had multiple brain tumors.
“They removed a lime-sized tumor from her head,” Robyn Safier said, explaining that the doctors could not get to the remaining tumors, which sit on her pituitary gland and optic nerve.
|Anny is blessed with “an incredible voice and perfect pitch,” says her mother.|
“Her vision went from bad to worse,” Safier said. “Now she can’t read at all. I’m not sure what she sees and what she doesn’t see.” Anny also must undergo two more cycles of chemotherapy to keep the tumors from growing.
Anny now walks with a cane and is learning to read Braille. She also recently became a bat mitzvah.
Anny was determined to do something positive to mark the occasion. Blessed with what her mother describes as “an incredible voice and perfect pitch,” the 12-year-old recorded a CD, “Anny Sings for Chai Lifeline.”
Her goal is to raise what she hopes will be several thousand dollars for Chai Lifeline, an organization that helps children with cancer.
“Anny is an incredibly talented young lady who can do whatever she wants to do, given the ability to do it,” her mother said. “She is also a young lady who is happy giving things to people.
“She’s always looking for the positive,” Robyn Safier said, calling her daughter “extremely spiritual. People used to stare at her in amazement when she buried her head in a large-print siddur and didn’t take her head out until the prayers were finished.”
While Anny is the only legally blind child in her seventh-grade class at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, “she is fully mainstream,” her mother said. “She’s brilliant. She listens and she has an absolutely incredible memory. She has a thirst for knowledge and absorbs it.”
Calling RNJ “marvelous, with supportive teachers,” Safier said that Anny is helped by two aides, one who shadows her in the morning and the other in the afternoon. In addition, she receives some assistance from the Commission for the Blind and has a special Braille teacher.
Recently, Anny became a bat mitzvah at Fair Lawn’s Congregation Ahavat Achim. During her speech, she talked about being diagnosed and thanked the community for its support, Safier said, adding that “her delivery was quite impressive.”
So impressive, in fact, that fellow congregant Melanie Kwestel, the director of communications at Chai Lifeline, said the speech, laced with humor, “had people wiping their eyes from laughter and the poignancy of her situation at the same time.”
“Anny comes from a very giving family,” Kwestel said. “Her mom and dad are very involved in our synagogue, and it’s clear the apple did not fall far from the tree. She is the type of person who is always concerned about how the other guy is feeling. She is also amazingly intelligent, perceptive, and funny.”
Anny has been a camper at Chai Lifeline’s Camp Simcha since she was diagnosed with the brain tumors two years ago, Kwestel said. “She loves camp, and camp loves her. She is always upbeat, friendly, and fun. Chai Lifeline feels privileged to be the beneficiaries of Anny’s hard work, talent, drive, and tzedaka. She’s a very special girl in so many ways.”
Safier said her synagogue has been “incredibly supportive.” When Anny was undergoing surgery, “there were nonstop calls to the hospital. “I was told that tehillim [psalms] were recited for her, and there was not a sound other than people davening.”
Fellow congregants raised funds to help the Safiers with medical expenses and people in the community provided meals.
“We set up a blog where we could let people know what was going on and reach out for help,” Safier said. “We needed to learn to ask for it and then to let people help.”
“People have really risen to the occasion,” she continued. “Our house is filled with people. Friends come every Shabbat to make sure she has company. And the gifts that came in were incredible.”
While Anny clearly cannot do many of the activities others her age enjoy, she loves to play with her hula hoop.
“It’s her exercise and it works,” her mother said. “She also listens to TV and has audio-read all the Harry Potter books and the Percy Jackson series.”
Anny also loves spending time with her 16-year-old brother Justin, a junior at the Frisch School. “They adore each other,” their mother said. “They can sit together and talk all afternoon.”
They also share a love of music.
“There was never a time Anny didn’t love music,” Safier said. “When she lost her first tooth, my mother gave her money and she bought a plastic keyboard. In three or four days she was playing the theme song from ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,'” which her parents had taken her to hear many times.
Anny’s songwriting career began last year, when she was told to write a song about a vocabulary word for a class assignment. She chose the word “designated.”
“She wrote a song and then wrote the music,” said Safier, noting that “Designated” is the first song on Anny’s CD.
The nine-song album, produced by a family friend who has recording equipment in his home, features pieces in both English and Hebrew, including not only Anny’s original composition but also music by Shlomo Carlebach, Shalsheles, the Yeshiva Boys Choir, and Benny Friedman.
“For the past six months she has been in his basement singing songs and harmonies,” Safier said, pointing out that while Anny received some coaching, she often conceptualized the harmonies herself. Hers is the only voice on the album.
Proceeds from the sale of the CD are earmarked for the rebuilding of a bunk that burned down at Camp Simcha just days after Anny left the camp.
“It will cost $360,000 to rebuild,” Safier said. “We’re looking to raise $5,000. We’re already at the $2,500 mark. We’ve sold about 200.”
To order a CD, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is a minimum donation of $10 to Chai Lifeline.