November 21, 2003
Last fall, when we were in Israel for the year, my wife Ursula decided that we should do something prosocial for the Israeli soldiers. Several calls to various units produced nothing. But, one day, while walking in the neighborhood, I happened upon the office of the Organization of Israeli Handicapped Soldiers. I went in, identified myself, and added that I and my wife would like a soldier to visit -- just to be of general moral support. After some hesitation, they gave me two numbers and Ursula and I went to visit Ronny Gozlan and his family. For the nine months we were in Israel, we visited them about once in ten days, getting to know Ronny, his wife Shira, and their three children. In the interim, Shira became pregnant and they now have a fourth child, all under the age of 5.
Ronny Gozlan was with the Border Police serving in the Jerusalem district. One day, on his way home, he saw a suspicious person approaching a very crowded bus stop at the very busy intersection where the road leaves Jerusalem toward Jericho. Ronny pushed him away from the crowd saving many lives and pursued the terrorist who blew himself up, killing 6 people, wounding over 50, and seriously wounding Ronny in the left leg, and severing his right foot. Ronny had the presence of mind to put a tourniquet on his right leg and, when the ambulance came for him, he reminded the medical team to be sure and bring along his right foot. Ronny was taken to the Hadassah Hospital where his foot was sown back on and he spent four months in the hospital. He was then released to go home and a young man, Eli, was assigned by the Defense Ministry to help him.
Our meetings with Ronny during the year were always joyous. We did not dwell on Ronny's disability; he did not seem anxious to talk about it. Ursula practiced her Hebrew on Ronny and Shira, and they practiced their English on her. The children always knew that Ursula would arrive with gifts, a kind of Jewish Mrs. Santa Claus though, being of Moroccan origin and Israeli sefardi culture, that would not have been their metaphor. Their third child, Hodaya, the only girl, took to me and allowed herself to be cuddled which, having no grandchildren and no girls, I much appreciated.
I did go to see Ronny at the hospital during rehabilitation a few times. It was very painful and the therapists lightened up their work with him. Throughout, Ronny was in significant pain and, often, when we visited him, his eyes were glazed over from the narcotics he was using to control the pain. Remarkably, Ronny was always in good spirits. He was father to his children, husband to his wife, and maintained contact with his and Shira's large families often going to them for Shabbat and holidays. He had a wonderful support group in his extended family and among his buddies in the Border Police. Eli maintained a continuous presence and helped Ronny with his personal needs, transportation, and even did baby-sitting and shopping for the family.
During one of Ronny's hospital visits, I met his mother, a very concerned Middle-Eastern mother. I noticed that they were hesitant to press the doctors in charge of the case. This was due to the very hierarchical nature of medicine in Israel, there being only two "professors" at the top of the chain. So, using my own professorial title, I left a message that I wanted to speak to the doctor about Ronny's case. I received a return call very quickly and, even though it didn't take more than 15 seconds to determine that I was no professor of medicine, they shared the details of the case: a severed foot that had been sown back but was not growing together. They had tried metal braces, which I had seen, but these had proven too painful. They had tried other methods but to no avail. They suggested physiotherapy and patience.
Last May, however, the pain became so great that the doctors recommended amputation of the right leg. Long consultations showed that the doctors just were not sure what to do. Some wanted double amputation; some wanted amputation above the knee, some below the knee. For lack of consensus, they decided to wait and rescheduled the amputation for September, the time when Shira was scheduled to give birth to their fourth child.
In June, I spoke to Ronny and he told me that there was to be a memorial ceremony for the people who had been killed at the site of the terrorist attack. I canceled my appointments and went to be there, Ursula already being in Europe. When I arrived, I wanted to be sure that Ronny would be properly recognized so I introduced myself to the woman who was clearly in charge. She turned out to be Libby Bergstein with whom I had been in school from 8 th grade through high school. I had heard that she was in town but had not made contact. Libby saw to it that Ronny was seated between the Mayor and the Rabbi of Jerusalem.
In September, I received an email from Libby that the amputation had been called off and that Ronny was coming to the United States for further consultation. I tried to get the information on arrival and appointments from Ronny but was not successful.
Meanwhile, completely independent of Ronny's story, I received a call from Rabbi Samuel Stern, a director of Bayith Lepleitot. This organization is an orphanage for orthodox girls in Jerusalem which I had visited in 1963 and with which I had been so impressed that I have been helping to raise funds for Bayith Lepleitot for the past 40 years. Rabbi Stern told me that his sister had lost a son and grandson in a terrorist attack on a bus in Me'ah She'arim in Jerusalem. During the mourning period, someone had called from the States saying that she was part of the Reform movement and offering money. The family, in its grief, had misplaced the name and number; all they had was the area code and the name "Sari." Could I help locate this person. I recognized the area code (914) as that in which I had lived for several years and began to place calls to Reform synagogues in the area, but no luck. Finally, I called Rabbi Gordon Tucker of the largest Conservative synagogue in Westchester. Gordon, a personal friend, promised to do what he could even though it was just before Rosh Hashana. Right after the holiday, Gordon's secretary called me with the name and number of Mrs. Sari Singer who does, indeed, belong to Shaaray Tefila, a Reform synagogue in Bedford, NY. I called and re-established contact for the family of Rabbi Stern and the family has received a grant.
Shaaray Tefila, led very ably by Rabbi David Greenberg, sponsors a fund to aid Israeli victims of terror. They single-handedly support over 50 families. The rule is 100% in - 100% out; that is, all funds raised are sent to the victims and all expenses are absorbed by the volunteers and the rabbi's discretionary fund. When I contacted Sari to check on the status of the gift to the Stern family, she said she could not see Rabbi Stern, who was in New York at the time, because the Temple was bringing to New York an Israeli soldier who was to have his legs amputated for further medical consultation. To my utter amazement, it turned out to be Ronny Gozlan. Sari Singer had gone to Israel to search for victims of terror and happened (!) to be in the halls of Hadassah Hospital when he was a patient there. Unknown to me, she had been following his case -- much more aggressively than I -- all along. Two threads had been woven together. Sari had generated the funds to bring Ronny to America and was personally the one who picked him up from the airport, together with his brother Avi. Sari saw to his housing, took the boys on a tour of New York, and then drove them to Ronny's appointment in Philadelphia with a well-known doctor. She also arranged for the third thread.
In searching the web, Sari Singer found out that the Kemp Mill Synagogue, a congregation in Silver Springs, MD, had also adopted Ronny. Susan and Alex Weinberger had gone to Israel and, working with the social services of Hadassah Hospital, had identified Ronny Gozlan as someone who needed support. Sari arranged for Ronny and Avi to be met in Philadelphia by the Weinberger's from Silver Springs and to be brought to that community for Shabbat. The Weinbergers, in turn, arranged for an appointment with a well-known orthopedic surgeon in the Washington-Baltimore area and, together with Sari, they got through to the grandfather of the field of RSD studies, Dr. Schwartzman, in Philadelphia who also agreed to see Ronny.
If I understand correctly, the medical problem is twofold: The bones are not healing properly but the pain comes from RSD, a condition in which, as a result of trauma to nerve endings, an enzyme is secreted by the nerve endings which causes great and sustained pain. Dr. Schwartzman recognized the condition immediately, said he had seen much worse, and offered to begin treatment right away. The orthopedic surgeon said he, too, had seen much worse and, with 2-3 months of intensive physiotherapy, Ronny would be walking again, albeit with a limp because one leg is shorter than the other.
Two things have been amazing in this story. First, there is the energy and care that Sari Singer and her community, and Alex and Susan Weinberger and their community have put into this young Israeli soldier. They have been to visit him and his family in Israel. They have paid for his transportation here, together with his brother. They have taken him to sightsee in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. They have picked him up and transported him. They have provided kosher food and synagogues. They have arranged venues in which he talks. And, most important, they have generated medical appointments to evaluate and treat his condition. They have called doctors, pressured hospitals to give treatment at cost, kept careful track of the medical diagnoses and treatments and, of course, have raised the funds to do all this. A veritable network of people has sprung up whose sole motivation is to do something good and caring. It has been my deep privilege to have met the people in this "conspiracy of goodness." In these days when the conspiracy of evil against the west and against Israel is at work full force, it has been an act of God's personal kindness to me that I have been able to witness and participate in this network of caring.
Second, as a religious person, the sense of God's guiding hand in all this has astounded me. I happened (!) upon the office of the Organization of Israeli Handicapped Soldiers. I happened (!) to receive a call from Rabbi Stern about his family tragedy. Rabbi Gordon Tucker happened (!) to find Sari Singer. She happened (!) also to have found Ronny Gozlan. The Weinbergers also happened (!) to have found Ronny. Ursula and I happened (!) to have been at Ronny's when the Weinberger's son, Ariel, happened (!) to be there. I happened (!) to contact Sari at exactly the time that she was bringing Ronny to America. I happened (!) to have run across a high school classmate who happened (!) to be the organizer of the program to honor Ronny. I happened (!) to have a meeting at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at exactly the time Ronny was in Washington, DC, and so I was able to see him and meet the Weinbergers. The Israeli doctors happened (!) not to agree on amputation and, in their hesitation, left open room for action. Those setting up the medical appointments happened (!) to get through to the doctors who happened (!) to recognize the problem immediately. If the Hahnemann Medical Center treats this as a mercy case for financial purposes, that too will be one of the small miracles that make up the story. Praise God for the miracles He does for us daily.
As I write this, Ronny has begun the first treatment for RSD in Philadelphia. The costs of the treatment are still under discussion and, of course, the results are not yet known. The matter of his coming to the US for 2-3 months of physiotherapy has also not yet been decided. Meanwhile, the Jewish community of Philadelphia is now in the loop providing housing, hospital visits, and kosher food. Friends from Bedford and Silver Springs are coming to visit. Plans to talk to the hospital board are being coordinated. And prayers, which have been said at the Wall all along, have been intensified by a phone call. The "conspiracy of goodness" is at work. May God continue to bless the work of the many hands engaged in this task.
Note: Not all the names and dates are accurate; verification of the details seems not important. My apologies, too, to those whom I have left out.