Hello everyone. This is my first blog post on the Times of Israel. I appreciate them approving my application and I look forward to contribution to their news page.
Like many of you, I am still reeling from the loss of Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal. I joined in with the nation, and Jews worldwide, in prayer and included tehillim during my davening. There is, and will be much commentary from people so instead of talking about that, I would like to share my story and my miracle with you in the hope that it will help give you comfort.
First let me tell you a bit about myself. I grew up in an affluent neighborhood in California called Agoura Hills. I grew up Conservative and went to Hebrew school from preschool until i graduated high school. My family is Zionist and we always had an understanding of how important Israel is, especially since my family had been in the holocaust. I was living a very good life. I worked in my family’s insurance agency for over 10 years. The plan was for me to take it over. I had a nice car a future, really everything. But it all changed suddenly.
9 years ago, while playing water polo, I got my 3rd right shoulder dislocation. So like before, I went to the doctor, got my tests back, and went to physical therapy. During the therapy I started experiencing an extremely intense burning sensation in my shoulder. It actually felt like it was burning whenever anything came into contact with the skin there. Clothing, water from a shower, bed sheets, ect. all caused equal agony. So I went to more doctors who conducted more tests, including X-rays, contrast MRIs, and a triple phased bone scan. Eventually after countless doctors visits and tests I was diagnosed with a disease called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It’s a very rare condition characterized by intense burning and constricted blood vessels, eventually leading to osteoporosis. My doctors told me that it was likely that it would spread to other parts of my body and that there really want too much they could do for me, aside from trying to make me more comfortable. They were right about it spreading. Over a period of 4 months the pain and skin discoloration (due to the constricted blood flow) had spread from my right shoulder to the fingertips of my right hand. 6 months later it spread to my left arm to my fingertips. It was awful.
To deal with the pain I was given an assortment of narcotics, sleeping pills, and other things to help me cope with day to day life. Imagine for a moment being in constant pain, even with the Percocet and fentanyl, in a state of drug induced pain relief and add the fatigue of lack of natural sleep. Then add the constant haziness that comes from waking up after taking sleeping pills. All of that, along with knowledge that your body is slowly breaking down was how I lived for years. Still I was committed to trying to live as normal of a life as I could. I continued school and working full time, while trying to maintain a normal social life.
Fast forward a couple of years to age 21. I knew eventually that my condition would make it difficult to travel and I had never been to Israel. I filled out an application for Birthright and was excepted shortly afterwards. When my plane landed I knew right away that I was in a special place; in a special land with special people. In fact the first encounter I had with an Israeli was an elderly man who asked me where we had come from. I told him “America” and he responded by giving a huge hug and said to me “welcome home!”
So most of us know how Birthright works now. They took us all around the country and it was really amazing. That said, I was completely unprepared for the awesomeness of the Kotel! I went up to the Kotel and touched it, and was surprised that instead of pain, it felt cool and soothing. I closed my eyes and asked G-d for a miracle. I promised that if I got better I would give up my life in America, become religious, make Aliyah and join the army if I was called. I promised to spend the rest of my life in Israel. After that I got a call to rejoin my group and the trip progressed. I returned to America some days later hoping that I would return again to fulfill my promise. Shortly after I returned, I discovered I was actually getting worse and that the pain had spread to my right leg. Every morning after I returned from Israel I hoped would be the day I would be healed.
Fast forward 2.5 years and it’s the morning of Rosh Hashana. I woke completely pain free and without any discoloration! It was amazing and I immediately remembered all that had happened in Israel. After Rosh Hashana I went to the doctor to tell them what happened. The had a hard time believing me but they were open enough to run through the tests again. This time my tests were negative. I was really cured! I was also spared the agony of withdrawal from the drugs and in one month, I was completely drug free. Unfortunately my body was not in good shape. A lot of my muscles had atrophied and I lost a lot of dexterity in my hands. It was clear that I would not be useful to the army in this condition. In an effort to keep my original commitment, I decided to train hard and get strong. I thought that eventually I would get a sign that it was time to return to Israel.
Shortly afterwards I took up exercise to get fitter. I took up shooting to get proficient and received training from amazing instructors from the LAPD, ex-Marines, and other professionals in tactics, combat mindset and resiliency, and other subjects which aren’t necessary to go into here. I also took up knife fighting and Taekwondo. It was hard, but it was incredibly rewarding!
2 years later, I got a message from someone on Facebook, whom I had never met or spoken to before, about some orthodox rabbi in LA who puts on a program to bring young professionals to Israel, even if they had been on Birthright before. I instantly felt that this it! This was my time! I quickly signed up for an info session to learn more about it.
I got there and watch a video about the trip. It was a sort of kiruv trip involving 10 mandatory learning sessions on Sundays, each lasting around 4 hours and 2 shabbotot. It all sounded great to me! I had loved attending Hebrew school growing up and the classes, and my plan was of I become religious. It seemed like a win win, if I got accepted. I found out that there were about 30 spots open for this trip, yet there would be hundreds of applicants.
A couple of weeks later I get a call from the rabbi saying that I had been accepted! I tried to contain myself after I got off the phone with him but I was literally jumping and down in excitement after the call!
The program was really fantastic! The rabbi had such an incredible way of explaining things. The other people selected were young men and women of good character. It was a real pleasure getting to know them. During the program, I became shomer Shabbat and much more strict with kashrut. As we got closer and closer to the trip I became more and more excited! I knew that something was going to happen in Israel but I had no idea what to look for.
We got to Israel December of 2012. I got the same amazing feeling that I got last time I was here. Once again the trip took us to many amazing places. This time around was much better because of the rabbi and because I got the chance to get to know the members of my group ahead of time. But the highlight of the trip was when we reached Jerusalem.
The program ended for the day around 22:30 and the rabbi said he wanted to go daven at the Kotel. I volunteered to go with him along with 3 other men from the group. I arrived at the Kotel and once again felt its power. After we davened we split up to take it all in. I went back to that spot where I had first made my plea with G-d and once again placed my hands on the wall. It was as if a bolt of electricity shot through me, both physically and emotionally! I fell to the ground in tears as the memories of everything that had happened to me all came back in one instant! This was the sign I was looking for. At that moment, I knew I would fulfill my promise and make Aliyah.
Up until this time no one knew the entire story, not even my parents. I did this purposely because I didn’t want anyone to interfere or try to talk me out of it. I wanted it to be between G-d and myself. The first people I told were the members of my group. On the last night we were together as a group we sat for dinner and took turns talking about how amazing a the trip was. I took the opportunity to tell my story for the first time. When I finished, I told them I would be traveling back to America as planned to tell my parents and friends and to help find a replacement for me at work.
So I returned to LA and I had dinner with my parents and sister. When we finished, I told them that I have some news. I told them the entire story, filling in many blanks for them. From their perspective, I was sick for years and got better on Rosh Hashana. They were shocked! My sister was crying, my dad seemed upset, and my mom was also crying. That said they accepted it in the end. The next day, I filled out my application for Aliyah through Nefesh b’Nefesh. I made Aliyah on April 10, 2013.
I spent my first 3 months at what I found out was the wrong yeshiva for me. Not only was it anti-Zionist, but their “line” of Judaism wasn’t for me. There were some very unpleasant moment there but all in all I learned a lot about Judaism, made some friends, and am still in contact with some amazing rabbis. I learned a lot about myself and my Judaism while I was there, despite it being very different from what they were trying to shove down my throat. A few weeks after I left the yeshiva, I was introduced by a matchmaker to my future wife. 23 days later we got engaged. We got married in January of this year and are off a expecting our first child. I’ve been here for a while and the army hasn’t called yet. But we are happy now, and if they call, I will go.
I realize now that many direct miracles occurred during these past several years. I am thankful for these miracles and I think of them every day. I thank you all for reading and for allowing me to share my story with you.