How she got to this place, even Charlene herself would not have believed had you told her six years ago. At that time she was a regular stay-at-home mother of a growing family in the Persian community of Great Neck.
Her life changed forever on Tu b’Av, July 26, 2010.
Tu b’Av is the day when we can see and receive the most nissim. It was on that day that Charlene witnessed and received a neis of such magnitude that it has catapulted her life, her family’s lives, and the lives of countless others into the grateful and loving service of Hashem.
The entire family was down in their summer home in Miami Beach. On that day, the Aminoffs, two of their children, and Charlene’s brother decided to go wave running. Charlene’s husband, Jonathan owned and managed a hedge fund, and the most important hours of the day for him were between three and four o’clock, right before the stock market closed. They headed out in the morning, sure that they would get back in time for Jonathan to be available for trading hour, and left their younger daughter Gali napping by the pool in the housekeeper’s care while Mrs. Aminoff’s mother watched their newborn inside the apartment.
After riding the waves and enjoying themselves, they were ready to head home. However, Charlene’s brother begged to go out on the water one more time, and because he was not yet an adult, Charlene’s husband had to go with him. When the wave runner broke down far from the shore, and Jonathan and her brother had to wait a long time for help, it was clear that they were going to miss the stock market hour.
Hours earlier, while she and her husband were out wave running, a non-Jewish man Richard realized that today, unlike most days, he actually had time to go swimming. He made his way down to the pool and began doing laps in the deep end. When it was time to get out, he realized he couldn’t use the ladder in the deep end because he had pulled a tendon in his knee the day before. He had to swim across the pool towards the shallow end and take those gentle stairs.
Months and months before wave runners and pulled tendons in Miami, Charlene had been in the midst of a small battle with her daughter Gali’s doctor, who had been pushing her since the two–year–old was born to have her tonsils removed, as they affected her sleep apnea. Right before they left for Miami, the ENT begged her to go to surgery, and she pleaded with him to wait until they returned to New York.
How do a mother’s reticence to do surgery, a man’s torn tendon on a lazy day, and a broken wave runner connect to form a sparkling gift from Hashem?
When the Aminoffs finally returned from their late day out on the water, they decided to stop by the pool. As they approached, instead of the calming silence of a warm, relaxed afternoon, they heard screaming. A man was holding a limp, lifeless little girl in his arms, and someone was screaming to call 911. The scene would be burned in Charlene’s memory forever.
Her immediate thought was to comfort the poor mother of that child. She took another step towards the pool. Her heart began to beat slower. Her eyes slid, almost of their own accord, from the little girl by the pool, who was beginning to look horrifyingly familiar, to the place where her own little girl had been sleeping when they had left. The housekeeper was still there, but she was sleeping. Her little girl, her tiny Gali, was not.
Gehennom. Utter fear, a hideous tightness in her chest and a stinging behind her heart. How can I wake up and live tomorrow, she asked herself, if my Gali is gone? Her husband lunged forward and snatched up their daughter. He had twenty years of Hatzalah experience, and he immediately began to preform CPR. Charlene stood, watching, shaking, crying, screaming. Her precious daughter’s eyes were open, staring upwards, unseeing. Her face was blue. Her nails were purple. How can I wake up tomorrow and live?
Her husband continued to perform CPR, and words of Tehillim immediately sprang to her lips. She had always felt a kesher with Tehillim. But which perek to say? Which pasuk would burst open the locked doors of heaven and retrieve her little daughter’s soul? Something bigger needed to happen. She could feel it. She needed to give a korban. But what could she give? She kept mitzvos – everything except for covering her hair, and some other laws of tznius. But her hair, her beautiful blond hair, was her identity.
Charlene watched her husband breathe air into her stiff, blue child, and she grabbed a blue pashmina scarf laying nearby. She began wrapping – wrapping and screaming. She gathered her hair into the scarf, screaming to Hashem: This is my korban. Take my hair. She kept wrapping, and wrapping, and her tears mixed with her cries to Hashem. The thought solidified deep and true in her mind that if she lost Gali, no other gashmius would ever matter to her again. She kept wrapping.
In the background, she heard her husband begging Hashem as well. She heard the sounds of his cries as the fabric of the scarf wisped across her forehead. She tucked the last strands of her hair into the scarf, and she met her husband’s eyes. He was screaming.
“I have a pulse!”
What followed was a blur of dancing, crying and smiling. The security camera in the building later confirmed that Gali had been clinically dead for three minutes and ten seconds. Gali’s father had saved her life, as many doctors subsequently told him. The beaming parents couldn’t stop crying.
Charlene had decided, in those moments by the pool, that she would cover her hair for the rest of her life. Other members of her family, too, decided to take new mitzvos upon themselves in the area of tznius. Top neurologists were flown into Miami from different parts of the country to evaluate Gali. They were floored. There was not one trace of brain damage, no sign of lung damage. She had been dead for three minutes, and she was completely normal.
“Avigayil is not science,” one of the neurologists told Charlene. “She cannot be explained by clinical science. She is a miracle.”
The doctors were confused, but Charlene was not. She pointed to her covered hair.
“Do you believe in G-d?” she asked the doctor.
“Before today,” he said. “I wasn’t sure. Now, I know He must be there.”
Gali was released from the hospital, and Mrs. Aminoff and her husband finally had time to talk. She told him that she was firmly committed to covering her hair for the rest of her life, and that she would be completely tznius from now on.
“When I saw you covering your hair with that shawl,” he said, “I knew exactly what you were doing. I knew you were giving a korban, and I knew immediately that I had to give my own. I knew that we could only do this together.”
While she had been wrapping her hair, her husband had been holding their daughter, praying that Hashem would accept all of his twenty years in Hatzalah. He wanted to cash it in. All the late nights, all the emergency calls. All of it for his daughter. And if he could have Gali back, he promised twenty more years in Hatzalah.
When they started to review the story, everything fell into place. Gali never would have been saved if Richard had not torn his tendon and needed to swim over to the shallow end, where Gali was drowning. Gali never would have been saved if the wave runner hadn’t broken, delaying her parents, who otherwise would have been upstairs during stock market hour, unaware that she was dying and unable to save her. And finally, the doctor in New York told Charlene later, if she had elected to remove her daughter’s tonsils before going to Miami, Gali never would have survived. Her tonsils saved her life.
Hodu l’Hashem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo.
Stories like this are once in a lifetime, and Charlene knew it. In New York they held a seudas hodaa for two thousand families, and invited many tzaddikim to join them. The tzaddikim told them that when a person receives such an obvious, open neis, they should share it to increase mitzvos in the world. They told Charlene to find a way to encourage women to cover their hair. Thus was born Gali’s Couture Wigs, a project (as Charlene calls it) that is dedicated to helping women find ways to cover their hair, to realize and understand the greatness of this mitzva, with good prices and derech eretz.
But this isn’t just a sheitel “company.” It’s not even just a celebration of Gali’s miracle. Because the reward for a mitzva is another mitzva. It’s so easy to get caught up in gashmius, Charlene says, and Hashem sends wake–up call after wake–up call to get our attention. All she had to do was give Hashem her hair, and He listened to her prayers.
Charlene works on dedicating herself to gratitude to Hashem, to emuna, and to spreading the story of her neis. Through this event, she has been given the opportunity to speak all over the world for pirsumei nisa and to inspire thousands of women to take on mitzvos. Just as she and her husband took on mitzvos, so too do people all over the world come to new spiritual heights after listening to her story. Every time she speaks, she encourages her listeners to take on a new level in their service of Hashem, and often people will send her emails about their new mitzva. She keeps all of these emails in a folder that she calls her Rough Day folder, and she reads through each one when she needs a pick-me-up. Women in South America have stopped eating treif. Women in Europe have started covering their hair. Gali’s story and Gali’s Couture Wigs have reached every corner of the earth where the Jewish neshama yearns for something higher.
Charlene has spread the story of Gali’s neis far and wide, and most notably by making beautiful sheitels for Gali’s Couture Wigs. Charlene states that this never would have happened without being steered by the tzaddikim to do so. Through this she is also able to give meaningful tzedakah by providing wigs for people with alopecia, cancer patients, and many others who are in need. The thing she cherishes the most about her project and telling her story is all of the precious mitzvos she is able to encourage. People have often asked her if she could go back in time, would she stop the same incident from happening? And she responds: No. She wouldn’t change a thing. Too much light has come from her darkness.
As we approach Chanukah, it is time to bring our own light out of this darkness. Hashem makes miracles every day, if we are only able to open our eyes to see them. Charlene emphasizes that Hashem doesn’t want you to stress, He only wants you to stretch. She stretches herself far and wide and is able to bring endless light into this world. Every day we are given the opportunity to stretch ourselves a little further and bring a little more of Hashem’s charity into this world. This Chanukah, challenge yourself to one extra mitzva, one extra neir in the darkness.