Jews are Freakin’ Awesome

Just sit right back and your read a tale, a tale of a bunch of amazingness. This story, which I don’t need to embellish or exaggerate in any way, is totally true. My son Shua is spending the year in Israel learning at the world famous Aish HaTorah in the Gesher program. He’s been having an amazing year, with kids he loves and rebbe he admires and Torah and Hashem and Shabbos and everything great. It has been a start to the year that far surpasses our wildest expectations. This past Friday, Shua and his yeshiva were on a tiyul (a day trip) in northern Israel near Tiveria (Tiberius). The boys hiked and were repelling down the mountain. Shua, being Shua and rather full of bravado, was the first down. And then was helping others with their harnesses and so forth on the bottom. It seems like at some point he decided to run back up to the top of the mountain with his madrich (counselor) for another round. On the way up he missed a rope or a hand hold and he slipped and he fell 60 feet.

I’ve seen the picture of where he fell from. He fell a sheer drop of 20 or 25 feet, bounced off the mountain, fell another 10 or15 feet and then rolled and bounced the rest of the way. Like in a cartoon, but with actual, real life bones and stuff. His madrich saw him fall and was sure he had died. “Shua, Shua, can you hear me?” he yelled running back down.

“Oh man, my legs are sooo broken. Ow. I’m never going to be able to climb back up now.”

First the good news. His brain was still in his head and was uninjured. His left femur was less lucky, being neither uninjured, nor completely still in his leg. we’ve seen the video of his airlift off the side of this mountain. He was transported to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and was immediately operated on. His head and spine are fine. His legs, not so much. He has breaks in both legs, besides the femur, and a cracked rib. A lot of cuts and bruises and a terrible but amazing story. He’s still here in Haifa as of this writing and at the moment, so am I. Because when you’re a dad, and your son breaks both his legs, that’s what you do.

The amount of chessed that we have been the recipients of defies my ability to even describe. We had help buying a ticket so I could get to Israel right away. We had help getting kosher food on the suddenly booked ticket. I was met at the airport by an old friend who saw my Facebook post. He and I went to high school together, we were chavrusahs for a year at YU and then we haven’t seen each other in over 20 years. Stopped what he was doing on a Monday, drove from Zichron Yaakov to Ben Gurion, picked me up, drove me an hour and 20 minutes to the hospital in Haifa. I’m sleeping in a lovely room two blocks from the hospital, free of charge, in a facility prepared by the Ger Hassidic community for situations like this. I’m eating food delivered to the hospital by members of the Haifa community, and groceries delivered by my sister in law who lives in Jerusalem. It’s hard to describe the extent to which I am taking from others right now. I shower using soap I did not buy and I drink coffee from a paper cup that someone else thought to make sure I had. You know why? Because Jews are freakin’ awesome.

My wife came to Israel on Wednesday and she will be here for a few days, mostly because she’s a mom, and she just needed to see him. She gets to the little window at passport control and the gentlemen droned his regular mantra, “What is the purpose for your visit?” So she tells him, our son fell, his in the hospital, etc. etc. He stamps her passport and says, “Give me his name so I can daven for him.” Because you know why? Jews are freakin’ awesome. (#onlyinIsrael.)

At the beginning of this week’s Torah reading Avraham, so typically the provider of comfort for others, find himself in need of help. He has to bury Sarah, but despite his riches, he doesn’t actually own any land. It seems as though a type of ordinance might have prevented him from being able to bury Sarah nearby since he was not a native. He needs a variance from that ordinance to be able to bury here. And Avraham has his own, mystical reasons, for wanting a particular cave to bury her and he needs the owner to sell it to him, despite his being a foreigner. The whole episode is filled with Avraham being dependent on others. I’m not trying to compare my family and our situation to Avraham Avinu’s. We’re just regular folks, and most of our energy is focused on our kids and work and ordinary stuff. We’re not one of those super, mitzvah families who organize the school’s auction at the same time they are making shevah brachos for an orphan they raised, in between hosting parlor meetings for a yeshiva and chair the shul’s dinner. I know those families and we’re not them. We mostly do homework and go grocery shopping and drive carpool and try to find time to learn a bit of Torah. But the comparison is that we have seldom seen ourselves as so dependent on others. In my work at school there is as aspect of leadership for my team and my self-conception involves my ability to work with people and make creative, insightful decisions. Here, I’m totally dependent on the decisions of others and their creativity and care.

Since we’ve been in the hospital 20 or so of Shua’s friends have come to visit him here in Haifa, even though this requires a tremendous amount of effort on their part. For your typical Yeshiva or seminary student Haifa is far off the beaten path. Even more noteworthy, the helicopter team that rescued him from the mountain side and another first responder who drove an ambulance to the scene came to visit him. Because you know, Jews are freakin’ awesome. Also, that first responder said that Shua actually had come to rest on a ledge, not on the bottom of the mountain, and that if he had rolled a few more centimeters he would have fallen the rest of the way. That was the first time Shua said, “oh yeah, my hand was hanging off the ledge.” So that was cool.

Students in my school sent cards. Most of them were quickly scribbled get well notes hastily done on the way to lunch, I’m sure. A few stood out, including the freshman who wrote something like, I hope you get better soon so that everyone here will stop talking about you already. That made us laugh out loud. My school has been amazing about everything. I haven’t even thought about the work I’ve dumped on other people. Sorry about that guys.

Being in Israel on Thanksgiving is hard in the sense that it is a day my family always gets together. There is always great food and at my brother’s house there is always plenty of booze. We always do that hokey thing where you go around and say what you’re thankful for. Most people rarely have anything insightful to share, instead going with the banal, “I’m grateful we’re all together.” But this year, it’s like, not a joke. I’m grateful my Hebrew is improving and now I can understand things like, “you have to go to reception to get his stickers,” and “this medicine is to control the nausea.” I’m grateful my wife made it to Israel to be part of this experience too. I’m grateful my son is alive, that his spine and brain are uninjured, that eventually he will walk again. I’m grateful to be part of a people that sees itself as one big family and works hard to take care of each other. I’m grateful the Jews are freakin’ awesome.

About the Author
Rabbi Mordechai Soskil has been teaching Torah for more than 20 years. Currently he is the Director of Judaic Studies for the high school at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. He and his wife Allison have 6 children that range from Awesome to Fantastic. And now one precious granddaughter.