When the news that Ayelet Galena, an adorable two-year-old from Manhattan, lost her fight with a rare bone marrow disorder on January 31, one could nearly hear the collective gasp of shock as hearts broke around the world. The news spread fast and thousands of condolences began to pour in. Her blog followers and facebook fans, fondly referred to as Ayelet Nation, could hardly believe it. The previous status update posted on her blog (which boasts over 14,000 unique followers per month) seemed stable… almost hopeful. The sudden turn of events was like a swift kick to the gut, leaving so many of us who prayed for her speechless and tearful.
The kind of mass response that swirled around Ayelet’s passing felt in many ways unprecedented. She was born into the age of social media and during her short life became its darling. Over 1,500 people, many who never knew Ayelet or her parents, Seth and Hindy,attended her funeral the following day, sobbing beside family members and friends. Many thousands more listened to the audio feed of the service around the world, crying for her in their cars, their kitchens, their offices.
Every person who came to know Ayelet through her pictures, her parents’ blog posts, the bone marrow campaigns to find her a match felt in some way she was their own
Every person who came to know Ayelet through her pictures, her parents’ blog posts, the bone marrow campaigns to find her a match — all those thousands of people — felt in some way she was their own. And all of us opened our hearts to her inspiring family.
I am one of Ayelet’s faithful followers who knew her father Seth years before Ayelet’s struggle became the center of his life, igniting a social media frenzy. And one can understand how the child of Seth Galena might have a few followers. Seth himself is a fixture on the Upper West Side; the co-founder of a popular website (bangitout.com) that caters to a young Jewish audience and the type of person who draws people into his orbit effortlessly, claiming hundreds of friends, each of whom feel close to him. He is warm and funny and effusive, and as we came to see through his posts and updates, devoted, loving and resourceful like his wife.
Word spread this way in families and Jewish communities all over the world, and day by day, week by week, heartfelt messages were sent, prayers rolled in, her story disseminated, her “nation” multiplied. But there was something miraculous about Ayelet in and of herself. Yes, she was blessed to be born to Seth and Hindy, who are not only “connectors” in the Malcolm Gladwell sense of the word, but even forge connections where they seem the least likely (managing to convince A-list celebrities like 50-Cent, Enrique Iglesias and Leighton Meester to tweet about Ayelet’s plight to their own massive followings), but she could also truly claim her own sphere of influence. There was a light about Ayelet that emanated even through the pictures her parents posted. The humorous anecdotes they shared about her love of Elmo, sticker peeling, straw unwrapping and simply her ability to fight like a champ against every blow dealt to her, compounded our sense of who she was and kept us rooting in her corner. After she received her bone marrow transplant, I began to see that it was not only myself and the Galenas’ extended social circle who felt connected and emotional about her progress. Estranged third cousins and long-lost friends began to contact me to ask only about the little girl whose posts I shared. What more could I tell them, they wanted to know. How was she doing? Did it look like the transplant was taking? When will she be released?
At a time when the Jewish people are plagued by schisms, infighting, a growing religious/secular divide; at a time when bitterness, skepticism and the lines that divide seem to define us most, Ayelet united thousands of disconnected, unrelated Jews all over the world
It became clear to anyone who was touched by Ayelet’s story that she was more than just a sick child. She was a unifier, a catalyst for love and prayer and positivity. At a time when the Jewish people are plagued by schisms, infighting, a growing religious/secular divide; at a time when bitterness, skepticism and the lines that divide seem to define us most, Ayelet united thousands of disconnected, unrelated Jews all over the world. We found connections to each other through her. We remembered that we are one people above all, one nation, and one community responsible for each other. We remembered this thanks to her.
And as the shiva period of mourning has ended, and Ayelet’s brokenhearted parents struggle to fight every day, as Ayelet’s grandfather said in his eulogy, “to choose life, to choose joy,” we must remind them that they are not alone. They have all of us, Ayelet’s team, Ayelet’s nation, to lean on. We are all in this together. We learned that from Ayelet.