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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Loving Southern Life and The Medical Miracles that Came with it!


23 Av, 5777

If you've been reading this blog and its associated book over the years then you're aware of several upheavals in my life: Being struck blind and almost dead by a benign brain tumor called a Petroclival Tentorial Meningioma, emergency life-saving brain surgery, extraordinary efforts to regain health and vision, and relocating from one city to another in order to achieve several other goals.

It's enough to leave a person feeling winded.

And yet, I caught my breath, time after time, looking toward goals and steeling myself to reach them as I limped to the finish line.

I earned certification in ICD10 medical coding that way, plus certification in counseling skills, including Spiritual Chaplaincy (end of life issues), and rescue credentials from Israel's Homefront Command. I wrote a book to help other people to better cope with medical or mental health setbacks (kids, too!).

I've experienced an extraordinary life. As I indicated in the book, whenever I feel frightened or endangered, I pretty much focus on happiness, grab life by the collar and holler (inwardly or outwardly) "I want more!"

A person in daunting circumstances needs to strengthen themselves to face difficulties.

That mindset helped me to reach a miraculous milestone. I marked it with festivity. 

This past Shabbat, I'd prepared a kiddush, a celebratory party, in my synagogue. Here is the speech I gave to my friends, neighbors and fellow congregants about why I'd bothered to share my happiness with them. I share it in the hopes of strengthening your resolve to deal with your setbacks in optimal fashion:

Parshat Eikev Dvar Torah

Throughout chumash, we learn to love GOD, to walk in His ways. Moshe Rabenu (Moses) emphasizes this imperative in Parshat Eikev. Generations later, Mikha tells us that justice and kindness as we “walk humbly with HaShem (GOD)” are critically important. He rhetorically asks what sort of sacrifices we ought to make to show our closeness with HaShem, but then specifies that being fair, just, a practitioner of kindness, and walking “with” GOD humbly is the perfect recipe for achieving that closeness.

Now let’s look at what impresses me deeply as I continue my Beershevian life: I’ve only been here a bit over two years. What strikes me most is the compassion here, the genuine dvekut  (attachment) to Torah values. I can’t recall ever hearing the slightest hint of lashon hara (gossip). No idle musings, no diatribes, nothing. That reality sums up the wonder and beauty of Beer Sheva: You take morals seriously. The sweetness of character among all of you is remarkable. I keep picking up on it in other ways, too.

In your zekhut (merit), I’d like to share a story from the Chafetz Chaim with you.  He once mentioned that map makers indicate important cities with stars or special colors, perhaps special lettering. “But,” the Chafetz Chaim remarked, “that’s not how HaKadosh Barukh Hu (the Holy One) looks at the world. He/She is impressed with the holy lights of kedusha (holiness) coming out of specific locations. You think or Rome and Paris are important? Not in heaven. They don’t light up. It is the places where Jews practice compassion, where mercy and unconditional love are the stuff of daily life, that look large in Heaven. They light it up!”

I’ve obviously paraphrased the Chafetz Chaim, but you get his drift.

I came to Beer Sheva legally blind due to a medical mishap. I’ve dealt with it since 2006 by adhering to an organic diet, avoiding synthetics, and indulging in innovative vision therapies. But I’d hit a plateau in 2014-15. My eye wear prescription had fallen about 20 times by then. But no improvements followed. Doctors and I accepted the fact that I’d reached my potential for recovering sight after having been blinded by a benign brain tumor. I prayed every day for more medical miracles, did alternative healing techniques new to me, and prayed harder. I knew that it would take a miracle to gain “normal vision.” What would it be?

I learned to see life more sweetly by living in Beer Sheva. I learned it from you. I am grateful to each person standing here, as you have done something that touched me deeply. We can speak privately about that if you wish.

I’ve prepared this Kiddush (party) to thank you for your accepting me, physical disabilities and all, into Beer Sheva. I’ve experienced some heart-breaking discrimination elsewhere, and each day of my life here is a menukhat hanefesh (spiritual comfort)

You’ve made Beer Sheva shine in heaven. And you made a medical miracle by relaxing my heart and soul. After extensive, sophisticated vision exams from February to June this year, exams on equipment you could never imagine to exist, my medical team found astonishing proof that I am no longer “legally blind.” Yes, I have the wandering eyes of strabismus/pazila; I still need to be extra careful when descending stairs or curbs, but my vision is almost certifiably normal. It’s a miracle, and I credit you for making it happen. I have found deep, meaningful happiness in Beer Sheva, and much of it here in this synagoge. 

This Kiddush is my way of saying a big “Thank you.” You are beautiful to my eyes.

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Fill your mind, heart and soul with a sense of an ever-better future. Then ask GOD to help you to make it happen!

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