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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Pesach B'Chtav 5777

Parshat Pesach B'Chtav 5777

Compiled and Edited by Rubin Kolyakov

TorahAnytime B'chtav Pesach 5777 | April 2017 Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik Transforming Torah She’baal Peh Into Torah She’bchtav With an e

Bchtav 3

TorahAnytime B'chtav    Print Version

Pesach 5777 | April 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Transforming Torah She’baal Peh

Into Torah She’bchtav

With an ever-increasing number of more than thirty thousand video and audio lectures, TorahAnytime is dedicated to providing viewers and listeners like you the most inspiring and engaging Torah content. Yet now, you can hold your favorite Torah lectures in your hand and read it and reread it.

TorahAnytime B’chtav aims at taking one of the many insightful audio lectures and bringing them to life in their entirety in written form. Transforming Torah She’baal Peh into Torah Sheb’chtav, the opportunity is now available to enjoy your favorite TorahAnytime lectures anytime and anywhere on paper. It is hoped that this added feature will enhance your learning experience and provide another avenue for you to continue growing as an inspired Jew.

In this special edition of TorahAnytime B’chtav, join Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen as he takes you on a remarkable journey in recounting the unbelievable story of his son’s birth. After reliving every part of this riveting journey to the greatest of detail and depth, Rabbi Kelemen will surely leave you fully convinced, just as he was, of one of the greatest truths of life: We are never, ever alone.

Team TorahAnytime


Chapter 1

As I stood outside the surgical theater of one particular hospital in Jerusalem, I noticed a nurse moving briskly in my direction. Before I knew it, she was standing right before me. “I think this is yours,” she said, as she handed me my newborn baby boy. Taking hold of the baby, I proceeded to follow the nurse to the back of a little room where she gave him eye drops and suctioned out his nose.

I continued overlooking the baby as they cleaned him up, wrapped him up in a little towel and gently placed him into a rolling bassinet. With tears in my eyes, I rolled my newborn son down the hall to my wife who was still resting in recovery, having just undergone an emergency caesarian section. When she took hold of the baby, all we could both do was laugh and cry. Baruch Hashem, a newborn baby boy.

I remained with my wife for a few more hours, after which I told her that I needed to head home to take care of the other kids and fill out some registration paperwork for our newborn. “Take it easy,” I said to Chana. “Feel good, and I will be back tomorrow.” And with that, I took off.

The next morning when I returned to the hospital, I was met by a surprise. My wife, who had just undergone a cesarean section several hours earlier, was standing in the corner of the room, holding our baby in her arms and rocking back and forth. “Chana,” I uneasily said, “what are you doing?” “I’m rocking the baby.” My question, though, was not what she was doing, but how she was doing it. “How are you standing up?” “I feel great!” she exclaimed. “The scar is healed!”

As I continued standing at the entryway to the room incredulous, I begged to differ. “Chana, I think you should sit down on the bed and take it easy.” “No, no,” she repeated, “really, I’m telling you, the scar is healed. I feel fine.” As she repeated herself, my mind began to wonder if in fact the anesthetic had yet to wear off. “Let me get the doctor,” I told her.

“She’s doing what?!” the doctor screamed. Running into my wife’s room, he was even more shocked than I had been. “What are you doing? Get back in bed!” While Chana finally relented, her opinion didn’t change. “I really am fine; my scar is healed.” And so, as I had done the day before, a few hours after remaining with Chana, I told her that I should head home.

When I returned to the hospital the next morning and began heading towards her floor, I heard what sounded like screaming. Pushing open the double doors on her floor, as I approached my wife’s wing, the screaming began getting louder and louder. And then it was piercing. I then realized what the source of the screaming was. It was the doctor standing in the doorway screaming at my wife. As soon as I appeared and the doctor understood that I was the husband, he turned to me and began screaming as well. “Get your wife out of here! We take no responsibility for her! Your wife just had a cesarean section and she is running all over the hospital. This is very dangerous. She is out of here!” And so, they threw us out.

Sending our baby for a well-baby checkup, we were told that the baby was healthy and fine and ready to be taken home. Amazingly, within three days after the cesarean section, my wife had healed and was ready to return home. We were both happy to leave and begin planning the next step, that of the bris milah.

Moving on with making all the necessary preparations for the bris went relatively smoothly. It was now the night before the bris, and Chana and I were sitting in the living room talking. Abruptly, Chana turned to me and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I decided that I do not want to give the baby a bris.” “What are you talking about?” I confusedly asked. “I don’t think the baby is well,” she gently replied. I knew that besides for Chana being an intuitive mother, she had taken first-aid and was familiar with medical conditions. If she was concerned about something, I knew to take it seriously. “What is the problem?” “I don’t know exactly; I cannot put my finger on it.” So I began asking a series of questions. “How’s the baby’s muscle tone?” “Fine.” “Pulse?” “Fine.” “Eye dilation?” “I checked.” “So what makes you think something is wrong?” “I just have this feeling,” she told me.

At this point, all I could think to myself was, “Nothing is wrong. It is just the night before the bris and she is panicked.” So I thought of a solution. “Chana, I’ll tell you what. Let’s go to Shaare Zedek or Terem, one of the other medical services, and let them do another well-baby checkup. If they detect that something is wrong, they will pick it up. If not, we have nothing to worry about, and we can go ahead with the bris.” But Chana did not like the sound of that. “They will not catch anything, and I still do not want to go ahead with the bris. The bris is off.”

Now I realized we had a problem. “What about Jules,” I said, hoping that this last proposition would work. “Would it be okay if Jules said we can proceed with the bris?” “Jules I would trust,” she said. Jules is my brother-in-law, an astute cardiologist who, besides being an ingenious researcher, is a real mentch with tremendous bedside manner. Incidentally, Jules, routinely the head of a hospital in California, was on Sabbatical conducting research in Microbiology at Albert Einstein. I figured that he was six thousand miles away and we had twelve hours. Let us see what we could do.

Picking up the phone, I thankfully got through to him. “Leib,” he said, “why are you calling so late?” “Jules,” I said, “it’s the baby.” “The baby! What’s the matter?” “I don’t think anything is wrong, but Chana does. She is panicked and will not let me go ahead with the bris tomorrow.” “Sounds serious,” he said, “put her on the phone.” Handing Chana the phone, for the next few minutes, I heard only half the conversation. “No, Jules, no. Pulse is fine… muscle tone is good…” Chana then handed me back the phone. “The baby is probably fine,” said Jules, “but you cannot give the baby a bris when his mother is worried. You need to calm her down.” “Jules,” I said, “I am trying, but I don’t know what to do.”

“I have a plan,” he said. “I have a friend, Dansey Voney, who is the head of cardiology at Shaare Zedek. This guy is so amazingly impressive that Chana will take one look at him and feel comfortable. He will tell you that the baby is fine and Chana will then be at ease.” I was sold by the idea. “Put her back on the phone,” Jules said. Handing the phone to Chana again, now all I heard was, “No! No! No! I think it is a bad idea! Okay… oh, okay…” Chana then gave me the phone and I put it to my ear. “Go, now!” Jules yelled.

Chana and I ran downstairs, hopped into a taxi and shot over to Shaare Zedek. Now, I knew this was not going to be easy, because we had no appointment and there was little chance we would just be allowed in. “Chana,” I said, “let me take care of this.”

“Excuse me,” I said as I approached the front desk secretary, “I need to speak to Dr. Voney immediately.” The secretary looked up at me, all the while noting the late hour of a quarter to midnight. “Do you have an appointment?” “No, I don’t have an appointment, but I need to see him now.” “Is this an emergency?” she continued to ask. Now, I was a bit stuck. I knew that if I would say it was, she would send me down to the emergency room. “It’s not an emergency, but I need to see him right now.” “Okay, that is not a problem,” she said. “If you will come back tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, we will get you an appointment for some time within the next ninety days.” By this point, I was exasperated. “I need to see him now,” I reiterated. “I am sorry, but he is doing rounds.” For the next five minutes, I tried to finagle my way in, but to no luck. I could see that we were not going to get in, so I turned around and started to walk away.

But then I turned back around and walked to the front desk again. “I am going to leave now,” I told the front desk lady, “but if you could just page Dr. Voney that Jules Garden’s brother-in-law is here to see him, that would be much appreciated.” Although she did not in the least wish to page Dr. Voney, that was her job, and she could not refuse. It worked. Two minutes later, out came running a man with a white coat looking around the room. I realized that it must be him. “Are you Dr. Voney?” I asked. “Yeah, that’s me.” “Who are you?” he asked me strangely. “I am Jules Garden’s brother-in-law,” I said. I then figured that the secretary must have botched the message and said, “Jules is here,” instead of, “Jules’ brother-in-law.” So I quickly clarified. “Jules is not here, but he sent me here to see you.”

Dr. Voney was known to be a brilliant diagnostician, and after a physical exam, which lasted for just a few moments, he could tell that I was not about to drop from a heart attack. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “It’s not me,” I said, “it’s my baby.” I then gestured fifteen feet behind me to where my wife was standing and clutching the baby. Dr. Voney took one look at Chana and the baby. “Your baby! Your baby has a heart problem? Quick, get that baby an echocardiogram!”

Dr. Voney immediately raced across the waiting room, grabbed my baby and sped down the hallway, while Chana and I followed behind. All I could hear was Chana saying, “This is a bad idea! Bad idea!” By the time we reached the room where Dr. Voney was, the secretary had called for an emergency echocardiogram. “This is great,” Chana mumbled. “How are we ever going to get a well-baby checkup?” “Don’t worry,” I tried reassuring her. “When they are done in there, we will explain that it was a mistake and that we were not asking for an echo, but simply a well-baby checkup.”

Meanwhile, Chana and I peered through the window in the door, and saw our baby’s heart on a big screen accompanied by a pounding noise. Thump, thump, thump, thump… Five minutes went by, ten minutes went by, twenty… and there we still stood outside. Since Dr. Voney had ordered this echo, the doctors could not stop until they found something. Forty minutes later, Chana and I still remained standing outside as a group of doctors stood inside trying to find a heart problem with a healthy baby.

Forty-five minutes later, the doctors finally flipped off the switch and filed out of the room. One chief echo cardiographer remained inside the room, and motioned to us to come in. As Chana and I entered inside and sat down, the doctor rolled over in his chair next to us and said, “Mr. Kelemen, your baby should be dead. He has dozens of holes in his heart. He has a blocked aorta and the only reason he is alive is because of a fluke. The ductus arteriosus, an artery which is usually only open in utero and closes when a baby takes its first breath, for some reason did not close. It therefore looked like there was normal circulation going through the baby’s body, but the truth is that the aorta is completely blocked. The ductus arteriosus will not remain open as it is oxygen sensitive, and every time the baby inhales there is a risk that with that breath the ductus arteriosus will close and your baby will die.”

“Okay,” I said, “so what are we going to do? Does he need surgery?” As I said this, the doctor became very upset with me because I was not listening. So he started again in a very frustrated voice. “Mr. Kelemen, your baby needs emergency surgery now.” “Fine!” I interrupted him. “Give me the paperwork and I will sign.” But I was still not understanding the doctor. “No, no, no, Mr. Kelemen, you don’t understand. These babies never make it. Normally what happens is that when a baby is born, it inhales to take its first breath and that closes the ductus arteriosus, and it looks like a stillborn. The baby never even cries. The moment that artery closes, all the blood is cut off to the brain and the baby is dead. Mr. Kelemen, there is no doctor in this country who is experienced doing this surgery. And these babies never make it.”

At this point, I wasn’t sure what to say. But I didn’t give up so easily. “That’s fine,” I said, “we will transport the baby to Europe or America, or whatever else it takes!” “Mr. Kelemen,” firmly said the doctor, “even if you would want to transport your baby, you can’t. There are three doctors in the world who would probably be willing to do experimental surgery and save your kid’s life. There is one in Boston and one at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. The best guy, though, is in Los Angeles by the name of Hillel Lax. But you are not going any place, because in order for this child to survive, he has to be placed in a special incubator. And that incubator is not mobile, nor do we have a mobile incubator.”

“So let’s get one from another hospital!” I piped up. “Mr. Kelemen, the kind of incubator you need does not exist in this country. And even if you want to get another one from a different country, it’s not worth it, because these children are oxygen sensitive. If you take your baby and put him in a ventilated incubator and then put that incubator on a plane where the oxygen level is very dense, the high-density oxygen will seep into the incubator, your baby will take one whiff and it will kill him. The only option you have is to seal the incubator. But if you do so, there is no oxygen entering the incubator, which means that you would need a separate oxygen tank pumping low-density oxygen into the incubator. And Mr. Kelemen, there is an FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) rule that you cannot fly over American airspace with an oxygen tank on board, because if, G-d forbid, the airplane loses air pressure, the oxygen tank will explode like a hand grenade. And therefore, Mr. Kelemen, I am sorry, but your baby is not going anywhere.”

Chapter 2

As the reality began to sink in of what was happening, I somewhat despondently turned to the doctor. “So what do we do?” “Right now, we are going to take your baby to the pediatric ICU and put him into a special incubator. If you would like, you can wait or come along.” Since my wife and I were both the “let’s help” type, we replied that we would like to follow behind the baby.

As we arrived at the pediatric ICU, the doctor explained that since the newborn was so small, he could not simply be given an IV, for that would blow out his arteries. So there I was, holding my little boy for around an hour as the doctors attached small tubes to his head one by one. After he was completely wired and taped down, they placed him into a small incubator and sealed it. That was it. All I could make out from the little window on top of the incubator was the shadow of a child. The head of the pediatric ICU then approached me. “I think you should call a rabbi now.” The truth was that I had never experienced anything like this before, and I was not sure how I would react. But I agreed with the doctor that I should call a rabbi.

Although it was now 12:30 at night, a secretary answered the phone. “Hello, how can I help you?” “Yeah,” I said, “I need to speak to Rabbi Firer; is he available?” “Just a minute please.” Waiting on hold for a minute, soon enough, on came Rabbi Firer. “Rabbi, I have a really sick baby at Shaare Zedek. I was told to call you.” “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Well, they told me that he has dozens of holes in his heart.” “Hmmm,” muttered Rabbi Firer, “multiple VSDs (ventricular septal defects). Anything else?” “Yeah, they also told me that he has a blocked aorta.” “Okay, multiple VSDs and a co-arc (coarctation of the aorta). Anything else?” “No Rabbi, I think that’s all.” For a few seconds, there was silence. “Multiple VSDs and a co-arc. Your baby needs emergency surgery.” “That is what they mentioned to me here,” I replied. “But there is no one in the country who will do the surgery. There is a doctor in Boston and New York, but the best guy is in LA. I don’t think you are going to make it that far, though.” “Yeah,” I said again, “the doctor also mentioned that.”

“But you have a problem,” said Rabbi Firer. “In order to fly the baby out of the country you will need a mobile incubator, but there is none here in Israel.” “The doctor mentioned that too.” I felt as if Rabbi Firer had been in the room with me hearing everything the doctor said. “You know, however, there is a mobile incubator in France. I think I can get it to Paris by tonight, and have it in Tel Aviv by tomorrow morning. We will then shoot it over from Tel Aviv to Bnei Brak and from Bnei Brak to Jerusalem. You will then be all set and ready to leave to America tomorrow night.” That sounded good to me. “But you still have a problem.” “What that’s Rabbi?” “Your baby cannot fly without oxygen and it is illegal to fly over US airspace without an oxygen tank.” I was aware of this too. “I cannot help you with the oxygen,” said Rabbi Firer, “but I will get back to you about the incubator.” Dial tone.

Chapter 3

As I hung up from the phone with Rabbi Firer, I turned aside to Chana with a confused stare. “What happened?” she asked. “I really don’t know.” Telling Chana to follow alongside me, we proceeded to quickly make our way back to the pediatric ICU as I tried repeating the conversation I had with Rabbi Firer. As we pushed open the doors to the ICU, we were met by the head doctor. “Mr. Kelemen, what did Rabbi Firer say?” “He said that he is going to get us an incubator shipped to Jerusalem by tomorrow. We should be all set to fly out tomorrow night.”

The doctor looked back at me disturbed. “Mr. Kelemen, I have seen people try this, and trust me, you don’t want to do this. It will cost you tens of thousands of dollars and these kids never make it. Your son will never arrive in America. Are you sure you want to do this?” As he repeated these words, I looked at Chana and Chana looked at me. We both felt the same way. “Yes doctor, this is what we would like to do.” “Okay Mr. Kelemen, but let me warn you, you will most probably be unable to fly out tomorrow night given the amount of electrical equipment required to transport your child. You will need to use an entire back row of a 747. Why don’t you call El Al and see if they have that many seats available?”

At this point, it was one in the morning. Quickly getting on the phone, I called my travel agent, Sassi Abramowitz. I had no other choice than to wake her up in the middle of the night. “Sassi,” I said, “it’s Leib Kelemen.” “Leib, why are you calling so late?” “My son is sick,” I said. “Your son is sick? What’s wrong?” As I began to detail the entire situation, I finally got to the part where she could help. “I need to book an entire back row of a 747 out of Jerusalem tomorrow night. Can you help me?” “Leib,” she said, “don’t worry about it. I will call you back shortly.”

Forty-five minutes later, she called back. “Leib, I got you two back rows of 747s.” “What do you mean ‘two back rows’?” “Let’s be honest,” she explained. “Both you and I know that this baby cannot fly without an oxygen tank over US airspace. There is no airline that will be willing to simply take him on board. I contacted El Al and they offered me the following arrangement. If you bribe them, they said, they might think about waving the regulation against flying with an oxygen tank over America. But, seeing as that will likely not be the case, as soon as you land from Jerusalem in New York, they will need to arrest somebody on the spot for taking along the oxygen. What El Al therefore wants is that you claim you smuggled the oxygen on board and they didn’t see it. Then they then will arrest you. Aside from that, there is going to be a $50,000 fine, which you must promise to pay.”

As I heard Sassi relay this information, my mind began to race. In no way did I have the means to afford this. “Sassi,” I half-jokingly said, “$50,000, that’s no problem.” “But you still have another problem,” she continued. “The second-best doctor is in New York, while the best doctor is in LA. If you take tomorrow night’s flight, which is what Rabbi Firer suggested, El Al flies from Tel Aviv to New York. You are going to get arrested in New York, and the kid is never going to make it to LA.” “So what are we going to do?” I said in a cry of exasperation. “What I therefore did was book you on a second flight to LA. There is a second flight which leaves twelve hours later and goes through Tel Aviv direct on a Swiss air flight to LA. It is a great flight because you will not get arrested until you are in LA. Which do you prefer? Leave twelve hours earlier and risk getting arrested in New York and not making it to LA, or twelve hours later and getting to the very best doctor in LA?”

I had no idea what to say. The doctor had clearly told me that my son could drop any minute and that time was of the essence. On the other hand, if I would get to the best doctor, it could make a big difference. So I took both options. “Sassi,” I said, “can you hold both reservations?” “Leib, don’t worry about it. You got two reservations. Just let me know what you decide.” “Very good,” I said, “thank you very much.”

Heading back to the doctor, I informed him of my options. We were then told that Shaare Zedek required that the baby fly with a surgeon on board, in case, G-d forbid, an emergency situation would arise. “We cannot release the baby,” the doctor said, “until you find such a person who can accompany the child. We can help with that if you would like.” Both Chana and I nodded our heads. And with that, we bid the doctor good night and headed out the door of the pediatric ICU.

By the time we arrived home, it was 2:30 am. My wife, who had recently given birth, was exhausted and almost instantly fell asleep. I, though, couldn’t sleep. Instead, I kept pacing back and forth in my hallway. But then the phone rang. It was 3:00 am. Running for the phone, I immediately picked it up in a panic. And then I heard a woman scream. “Give me Kelemen! Give me Kelemen!” “This is Kelemen,” I said, “what’s wrong?” “Don’t you have a sick kid?” said the voice on the other end of the line. “Yeah.” “Aren’t you trying to fly out of the country tomorrow night?” “Yeah,” I said again. “Well, don’t you know that you cannot fly out of this country without a passport.” “You’re right,” I said. “By the way, who are you?”

After telling me her name, she went on to explain. “I am the Head of the Misrad Ha’Penim, Department of the Interior, and I am the one who issues passports. Tomorrow morning, my office opens at 8:30 am. But when it opens, I have to go to Tel Aviv. If you can therefore come to my house at 7:30, we will be able to complete all the passport paperwork by 8:30 and you can then fly your child out of the country tomorrow night.” “Okay,” I said, “thank you very much.” “But don’t be late!” she shouted, “and don’t forget to bring all your paperwork, because if I do not issue this passport, it will take you three days.” “We will be there at 7:30,” I assured her. Click.

Chapter 4

A few hours later, after Chana and I had slept for just a short while, we shot over to the hospital to check on the baby. As we began making our way towards the ICU, I noticed a familiar man walking down the hall in our direction. It was the doctor who had checked us in the night before. As soon he made eye contact with us, he froze. “Mr. Kelemen,” he said, “you are a very lucky man.” “Why am I lucky?” “Last night when we checked your baby in, we did an echocardiogram. Yet, later last night after you left, we replayed the echo here in the ICU, and noticed that with every beat of your child’s heart, the ductus arteriosus was closing.” “So what does that mean?” I panicked. “Since we started your kid on IVs, the ductus arteriosus has frozen half open and half closed. Your son is in critical condition, but at the moment is stable.” At that moment, all I could ask for was one thing. “Can I see my son?”

As the doctor allowed us in, Chana and I walked over to what appeared to be a big box with the faint shadow of a baby. Although we couldn’t see much, we sat there until 7:10 am, at which point we told the doctor we were going to leave. Heading downstairs, we got into a taxi and wound our way over to the Department of Interior.

Knock, knock. A second later, Chana and I heard a very nervous sounding voice. “Come in! Come in!” I proceeded to open the door, only to find a lady sitting at her desk fidgeting anxiously. “Come here quickly!” she urged. “We have very little time!” Since I did not know which paperwork I would need, I just about brought along my whole life in a file. She began to request numerous different papers, all of which I handed her one after another. As my wife and I tirelessly worked on signing one paper after another, the woman all of a sudden looked up at me. “Okay, please give me the Certificate of Life and Birth from the hospital.” I began to sift through my large file for the certificate, but I didn’t see it. I looked again, but still nothing. “Give me the Certificate of Life and Birth! Give me the Certificate of Life and Birth!” she anxiously yelled.

At this point, my eyesight was blurred and I couldn’t see straight. “Chana,” I said, “could you please look through this?” Chana went on to look through all the papers herself, but came up empty-handed. “Leib,” she whispered, “it’s not here.” “Chana, it’s got to be there.” “Leib, I’m telling you, it’s not here.” As the lady heard us going back and forth, she once and for all screamed as loud as she could, ““Give me the Certificate of Life and Birth!” I now felt that there was no other option. I leaned over her desk and simply dumped the entire file out. As countless papers scattered all over the place, Chana and I continued to look through everything, but still couldn’t find it. And then I remembered.

The night before we checked the baby into the ICU, I had turned over all my son’s files to Shaare Zedek. “Ma’am,” I said, “if you just call Shaare Zedek, they will give you all the information you need.” As I said this, the woman leaned back in her chair. “Mr. Kelemen, I am sorry but I cannot help you.” “What do you mean?” I said. “You can call Shaare Zedek; they have the certificate.” “Mr. Kelemen, I told you to bring all the papers. I have to see the hard copy of this certificate. I am sorry.” But I did not give up. “That’s not a problem. They can fax it to you.” “Mr. Kelemen, I am sorry, but I have to see the original.” At this point, I could take it no longer. Leaning over the desk, I said, “Do you understand that if you fail to issue this passport, you are killing my kid?” She looked up at me. “Mr. Kelemen, I told you to bring all your papers. Don’t be dramatic.”

By now, it was useless talking to her. We were getting nowhere. It was now eight minutes to 8 am, and she planned on leaving at 8:30. “Let’s go,” I told Chana. “Where are you going?” interrupted the woman. “We are going to Shaare Zedek to get that certificate you need.” All the woman could do was stare at me with anger and frustration. “We have eighteen minutes to get there and twenty minutes to get back. Maybe we will make it.” But the woman was not in the least amused. “I don’t think you understand. I am walking out the door at 8:30.” “Fine,” I said. And with that, Chana and I bolted out the door. Baruch Hashem, a taxi within moments pulled up to the curb and we hopped in. “Quick, Shaare Zedek!” I yelled.

Chapter 5

As the taxi driver glanced over his shoulder and took one look at my wife, his face paled. And I understood why. He thought that my wife was about to deliver a baby, and in no way did he wish for that to happen in his taxi. Slamming on the gas, he sped his way over to Shaare Zedek a mile a minute. Coming to a screeching halt in front of the emergency entrance, he turned back around and started yelling, “Quick, get out!” I then turned to Chana and said, “You stay here while I go in for a minute.”

I jumped out of the taxi and took off running towards the emergency entrance. But that only left the taxi driver tremendously confused. Getting out of the car, he began yelling at me, “No, no! You forgot your wife! You forgot your wife!” I continued running towards the hospital and up five flights of stairs. When I finally reached the top, I was tired and winded. Forcing myself to run down the hallway, I finally pushed through the metal doors and ran to the first doctor I saw. “Quick!” I said. “I need to get the Birth Certificate for my baby.” The doctor gently placed his arm around me and said, “Shhhh… come with me, Mr. Kelemen.” He then walked me to the point where I stood outside the entrance to the pediatric ICU. “Mr. Kelemen, you see these doctors over here. These are visiting doctors from abroad. They should be done in about an hour, after which they will be with you.” He then grabbed hold of the pediatric ICU door, closed it and locked it.

At this time, I did what many people would have done under the circumstances. I started to bang as loud as I could and scream. The doctors must have thought I was insane, which I was in fact at this point, so they ignored me. But then I broke down. Leaning against the ICU door, I hung my head low. That was it. I could not get the Certificate of Life and Birth, so I could not fly my son out of the country, which meant no surgery and something else very tragic. Tears began to roll down my face as I kept on repeating, “G-d, please save my son; G-d, please save my son.”

Standing a distance away was an elderly yerushalmi lady. She was at the moment mopping the hallway when she noticed me desperately banging on the door and crying uncontrollably. Walking over to me with her mop, she said, “Don’t worry; it will be okay.” If there was anything she could have said to comfort me, that was not it. “It’s not going to be okay!” I said. “I need to get the birth certificate for my baby and fly him to America for emergency surgery.” After I quickly caught her up with all the details, she immediately burst out, “Zeh nora (this is astounding)!” Throwing down her mop, she took off down the hall. She immediately headed to the information desk, where a young lady was sitting, and began retelling my story. Within minutes, the front desk lady jumped up and disappeared around the corner. I soon noticed the pediatric ICU door open. It was the front desk lady who began rummaging from file to file. Within a minute, she grabbed hold of a paper, and began running back to her desk. She then handed the paper to the elderly lady, who started walking in my direction.

Knowing what had happened, I ran towards her and grabbed the paper. “Thank you so much,” I said. And with that, I headed back down five flights of stairs and ran outside. From a distance, I looked up and saw the taxi driver with his car door wide open trying to explain to my wife as if she was a foreigner, “Baby – hospital!” Running back to the taxi, I quickly hopped in, closed the door and yelled out to the taxi driver, “To the Misrad Ha’Penim!” The taxi driver then lowered his head and look straight at me in bewilderment. “Ata meshuga (are you crazy)?” Not wishing to argue, he once again slammed on the gas and sped back to the Department of Interior. Coming to a screeching halt, he turned back to my wife and me and with a white look on his face and in a tough, Israeli accent, yelled, “Don’t pay; just get out!”

Chana and I hopped out of the taxi, ran back up three flights of stairs and quickly rounded the corner towards the woman’s room. But then we saw exactly what we didn’t want to see. The woman closed the door and began walking out with her purse. Looking down at my watch, I noticed that it was now 8:28. “I got the certificate!” I said to the woman. “Mr. Kelemen,” she replied, “I told you. I have to leave at 8:30.” “That’s fine,” I said, “but here is the certificate.” “I cannot finish up all the paperwork in two minutes. I am very sorry, but you will now have to wait a few days.”

She began to walk past me when I jumped in front of her. “Please,” I said, “my baby is going to die.” This lady was a Jewish woman and she had some rachmanus. “Okay, quickly,” she said. “Get your papers and come with me.”

Chapter 6

Running into her office, we quickly gathered all our papers off the desk and followed her down the hall to her secretary. Handing her all the information she needed, we continued to wait a few more minutes as she filled the form which would allow us to head to the American Consulate and be issued an American passport. We then sped off to the American Consulate.

As soon as we entered inside, I wasted no time heading directly to the front desk. Standing a few feet away was an Arab looking man. “Excuse me,” I said, “I have a medical emergency and my wife and I are both American citizens who need to fly our child out of America. Could we please be issued an American passport for him?” The man turned around. His name was Muhammad. “Mr. Kelemen,” he said in a thick accent, “it’s not a problem. Fill out this form and I will have it ready for you right away.” “Great!” I said. My wife and I filled out all the paperwork as quickly as we could and had everything ready to go. “Mr. Kelemen, you are all set. Just go to this next aisle and pay and I will give you the passport.”

Following Muhammad’s lead, I hopped into the next line, got the receipt for the passport and then ran back to where I stood before. I then handed the receipt to Muhammad, whereupon he glanced at me and said, “Okay, Mr. Kelemen, you’re all set. Just give me the picture, have a seat and in fifteen minutes, it will be all ready.” Staring back at Muhammad perturbed, I said, “I don’t have a picture because the baby is in an incubator.” “Oh, Mr. Kelemen,” murmured Muhammad shaking his head, “no picture, no passport.” But I was not going to let this go by.

“No, no, Muhammad, you don’t understand! This is a medical emergency. Both my wife and I are American citizens and we just want to fly our kid out of here.” Within seconds, Muhammad grabbed hold of what looked like a telephone directory and started pointing to a specific line. “Mr. Kelemen, it says here as part of the regulations that if there is no picture provided, no passport can be issued. I am very sorry.” For the next fifteen minutes, I tried arguing with Muhammad, but nothing helped at all. And so there we were. We were not going to be given the passport and fly our son out of the country.

At that moment, a thought popped into my head. Although I didn’t learn much in school, I still remembered quite clearly learning one piece of information during Social Studies class in 4th grade, which I found to be particularly neat. It was something I never forgot. American law states that if an American citizen is in a foreign country and makes it to an American embassy, he can demand that an American consulate general come before him. I now knew what I needed to do.

Grabbing hold of my passport, I held it up against the glass and said, “Muhammad, I want to see the American consulate general now!” Muhammad looked up and me. “Oh, Mr. Kelemen, I’m very sorry, but he is in Tel Aviv at the moment.” “Muhammad,” I said firmly, “I know the law; I want to see him now!” Muhammad then stared at me as if he was helpless. “Oh, don’t do that…” “Now!” I said with a strong undertone of anxiety and frustration in my voice.

With little choice, Muhammad headed to the back of the office and picked up the phone. All the while, I remained standing where I was, closely watching Muhammad’s every move. And then he walked back out and approached me. “Mr. Kelemen, I am sorry; he is not in Tel Aviv.” “It doesn’t make a difference where he is,” I tried explaining nicely, “I just want to see him!” “As a matter of fact,” continued Muhammad after my interjection, “he happens to be on his way here right now. He will be here in fifteen minutes. You can sit back down until then.”

Fifteen minutes later, in walked this tall, Caucasian, clean-shaven gentleman with his hair combed to the side. Walking up to the window, he called out, “Mr. Kelemen, Mr. Kelemen, come here please!”

Quickly making my way over, I made eye contact with the consulate general. Now with the same book open in front of him as Muhammad had just minutes before, the consulate general explained. “Mr. Kelemen, as Muhammad was telling you, we cannot assist you because we cannot issue a passport until you have a picture. We would like to help you, but we are bound by American law. We are very sorry.” As I heard him go through the same recitation of laws Muhammad had, I began to get unnerved. And so, I reemphasized the importance of the matter at hand. “This is a medical emergency! I need this passport.” “Mr. Kelemen,” repeated the consulate general, “I am very sorry, but there is nothing we can do for you now.” That was it. We could not be issued the passport and my son would be going nowhere.

As I began slowly backing away from the office window, the reality of what was actually happening hit me. And then I lost it. It had been a long couple of days and I emotionally broke down. In not the nicest tone of voice, I looked back helplessly at the consulate general and said, “I cannot believe that I am an American citizen and my wife is an American citizen and all we want to do is fly our kid out of the country and you will not let us!” The consulate general picked up his head. “You didn’t say that.” Now, I was confused. “What didn’t I say?” “You didn’t say that you want to fly your kid out of this country?” As I heard this, I could not believe it. “What are you talking about?” “You said you wanted a passport,” he replied. For the next few seconds, I remained completely lost. I had no idea what he was talking about.

The next thing I knew, he opened a book, started flipping through dozens of pages and then came to a pause. “Aha!... Aha!... Aha!...” “What is ‘aha’?” I said. “There is a law here which says that we can write the Israeli government a letter telling them that your child is a visiting American diplomat. That will get your kid out of the country! The next law down says that we can write the American government a letter telling them that your child is a visiting Israeli diplomat. That will get him into America.” If I could not believe what I was hearing just a moment before, I certainly could not believe this. But I wasn’t interested in contesting his word. “We’ll take two please.” On the spot, the letters were drafted, the American consulate general signed them and handed them over. And with that, we ran back to Shaare Zedek.

Chapter 7

As we made it back and walked through the front entrance, I had a sick feeling. In fact, it was more than a sick feeling. I had clarity that I knew what had happened. But I couldn’t bear to tell Chana, so I delayed saying anything. I also had yet to daven, so I turned to Chana and said, “Chana, I haven’t davened and I think now would be a good time. I have my tallis and tefillin here. Would you mind if I do so before we go upstairs?” The truth was that I was trying to buy time because I did not know how I was going to help Chana cope when she discovered what was going on. “Yeah, no problem,” she said. “I’ll take a seat at the other end of the lobby.”

As Chana made her away across the room, I put on my tallis and tefillin and stepped up next to a wall. It was the most unusual tefillah I ever had said in my entire life. As I began to pray, I started sobbing and begging G-d over and over again, “G-d, please save my kid.” It was the first time in my life that I thought I had absolute and total clarity. I felt as if no one was listening. I was completely abandoned, and if there was a G-d, He wasn’t listening to my prayers. It was a palpable feeling of utter abandonment and loneliness. I never had the feeling before or since.

I stood there motionless, with my eyes closed and tears streaming down my face. “Please G-d, not now, please, please, don’t abandon me now, please.” Yet it was a dead line.

About half an hour later, I completed my Shemonah Esrei and headed back to take off my tallis and tefillin. Walking in Chana’s direction, as I neared closer, I saw what had happened. She had melted into the chair and she was bawling. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I know what’s going on with the baby,” she mumbled between her tears. “I know too,” I said. I sat down next to her as she remained panicking hysterically. “I cannot believe what just happened,” she repeated amid tears and sobbing. “I know,” I soothingly told her, “I think we should go upstairs.”

Neither of us, though, could bring ourselves to actually do so. We were too afraid to see or hear what had happened. Eventually, we both gathered the courage to enter the elevator and head up to the 5th floor. Walking down the hall to the pediatric ICU, we soon noticed all the doctors crowded in a circle around something. There was some emergency taking place there, and both Chana and I knew what it was. I proceeded to walked straight towards the room and open the door. As I did so, one of the doctors noticed me as the father of the baby and moved out of the way so I could be allowed into the circle. And then I saw what everyone was looking at.

Chapter 8

Sitting in the center of the circle was a woman, the assistant head of the pediatric ICU. She was seated all hunched over with a telephone on her lap, screaming into the phone, “No, I am clearing the line, you got it? Is it clear? The oxygen is a go? Okay fine!” She hung up the phone and then looked at me. It was as if she just saw the Red Sea split. “What is going on?” I innocently asked. “That was the FAA representative who is responsible for oxygen.” My heart was now beating quite rapidly. “What did she say?” “She said that your mother was on one line, your sister was on the other and I was on the third line. If I would get off the phone, she could order the oxygen. But you got the oxygen. It has been cleared. You can fly straight to New York, and then transfer from New York to Los Angeles. You can leave at one o’clock tonight. It’s all a go.” “Thank you so much,” I said with a sigh of semi-relief.

“But,” she added, “you better call and make sure that that equipment you are flying with is electronically compatible with the plane you are flying with.” I immediately called Rabbi Firer. After he confirmed that we would be able to have the mobile incubator transferred from Paris to Tel Aviv, from Tel Aviv to Bnei Brak and from Bnei Brak to Jerusalem ready to fly with tonight, I asked what I myself needed to know. “What is the currency the mobile incubator runs on?” “250 Hertz,” he said. “Great,” I replied, “thank you very much.”

With no time to delay, I called up El Al and asked to speak with their chief engineer. “I am the one who is flying with the baby tonight…” I said, trying to ascertain as to whether he was already aware of the situation. “I’m glad you called,” he said. “What is the currency of the unit you are flying with?” “250 Hertz,” I told him.


“Mr. Kelemen, our planes do not run on 250 Hertz. We cannot handle that.” As he said that, I lost my breath. “There is nothing you can do for me?” “It’s a long shot, but is that incubator from France?” “Yes, it is,” I confirmed. “We flew that incubator once before,” he said. “I remember that we had to build a whole conversion board from 250 Hertz to match the currency of our planes. Let me see what I can do. I’ll call you back soon.”

Half an hour later, I was back on the phone with the chief engineer. “Mr. Kelemen, I wasn’t expecting this, but when I went down to the hanger, I found leaning up against the wall the old conversion board we built. You are set; you can take the unit on our plane. But, I would just urge you to call TWA (Trans World Airlines) and tell them that you are planning on doing a transfer in New York to head to Los Angeles. You better make sure TWA can handle the conversion board.” “Okay,” I assured him, “I’ll do that right now.”

Now getting on the phone with the chief engineer of TWA, I explained my situation. “Mr. Kelemen, I have bad news for you. Our planes do not run on 250 Hertz, and even worse, our planes do not run on the same currency as El Al planes. I am afraid that we cannot even handle the El Al conversion board.” As I listened to this further complication, I was lost with words. “So what can we do?” “Before you arrive in New York,” said the TWA engineer, “you have about 14 hours. Call back El Al and ask them if they can fax the blueprints of the unit they built to our New York office and we will send out an engineering team to construct a conversion board which will work on our TWA plane.” That seemed simple enough. I called back El Al, they faxed the blueprints to New York and we were set. Or so it seemed.

Next, we needed to gain clearance from the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital and UCLA, if we could make it that far, that we could bring the baby in. We needed to confirm that they could assemble in advance a special team to perform the surgery. Columbia Presbyterian said that it was not a problem, providing that we would inject the baby just before landing with a certain drug, which would allow for the surgery to be done immediately. That sounded fine.

UCLA mentioned that they didn’t care about injecting any drug, but they made one request. If we were planning on sending only one parent, which we did because one of us had to stay home with the rest of the kids, send mom. At the time, UCLA came up with a novel insight that nursing helped cardiac recovery, something which today is accepted worldwide. This meant that my wife, who had undergone a cesarean section just more than a week ago, would be the one flying from Israel to Los Angeles.

11:30 at night, Chana and I were standing just outside the pediatric ICU of Shaare Zedek trying to give each other encouragement. “Don’t worry,” I told Chana, “whatever happens, it is all for the best.” “Okay,” she said, “don’t forget to feed the children.”

A minute later, we heard the utility elevator doors open and the sound of men scuffling around. The next thing we knew, we caught sight of four men with big black hats and long black coats running towards us pushing a stretcher with an immense glass box strapped down. As they entered the ICU, one of them, the chief rabbi, yelled out, “Where’s Kelemen? Where’s Kelemen?” “I’m here,” I softly replied. “Where is the doctor flying with you?” he asked. “He is in the ICU.” Before I could get out another word, the rabbi ran inside, grabbed the doctor and brought him out.

“Have you ever seen a system like this?” said the rabbi to the doctor, pointing to all different sorts of clasps with lights and meters flashing and moving. Underneath the stretcher, all types of electronics were going on and off. The doctor took one look at it and said, “I have never seen anything like this in my life.” “Okay,” said the chief rabbi, “listen carefully.” For the next several minutes, the rabbi showed the doctor how exactly every piece of equipment worked to the last detail. Here was this top doctor looking at a man with a long black beard and peyos, without the slightest idea who he was, yet taking in every word.

After about 35 minutes of training, the chief rabbi said to the doctor, “Do you understand how everything works?” “Yes, I think so.” “Great!” enthused the rabbi. “Just stand by while we transfer the baby now into this mobile incubator.” “Whatever you boys say,” went along the doctor. The rabbi proceeded to take the mobile incubator into the ICU and open the larger incubator where the baby was now situated. Connecting all the pumps and tubes to the mobile unit, the baby was transferred, everything was strapped down and they were set to go. And with that, the four rabbis burst out of the ICU, with my wife and I running behind.

Getting into the elevator, we went down to the basement and took off running across the parking lot. We then finally made it to a parked van, which I assumed was an ambulance. It sure was. Mobile electronics hung from one end of the van to the other and all across the celling. It looked like a NASA control center. The rabbis pushed the stretcher up into the back of the ambulance, after which the rabbis, myself and the doctor piled into the back. The chief rabbi then got into the front seat, Chana hopped into the passenger seat and the rabbi sped out of Shaare Zedek and hit the Tel Aviv highway at 120 mph. It took us twenty minutes to make it from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion airport, as Mordechai ben-David music blasted in the background.

As the van sped down the highway and all the rabbis were heavily engrossed in checking and making adjustments to the incubator unit, the doctor and my wife and I were holding on to our dear lives. The doctor, intrigued by the proficiency and skills of these rabbis, turned around and yelled over the blasting music to one of the rabbis, “Where did you ever learn how to do this?” Without even turning back around, the rabbi yelled out, “UCLA.” Asking the other yerushalmi-looking rabbi the same question, the rabbi called out, “Harvard.” “And you?” he yelled out to the third rabbi. Where did you learn to do this?” “University of Paris!” Surprised to hear of this information, the doctor had one last question. “How much do you guys get paid for a run like this?” Without even looking back, one of the rabbis said, “How can we know?” The doctor was very confused by this answer.

Under the impression that the rabbi must have misunderstood the question, the doctor tapped the rabbi on the shoulder and clarified his question. “No, I mean, how much money do you get?” As soon as the rabbi realized what the question was, he swung around and let out a big smile on his face. “Money?” blurted out the rabbi. “We do this for fun!”

As it turned out, these rabbis were part of Rabbi Firer’s Kollel in Bnei Brak. Anyone can join the Kollel providing that beforehand they receive emergency medical training. Among the number of people learning in the Kollel, there are various emergency teams which are competent to deal with medical emergencies. Whatever type of emergency arises, Rabbi Firer has a team ready to take care of the need. This was the cardiac team.

The ambulance we were currently in had been built the last time they flew in the incubator from France and did not have the electronics to handle it. Rabbi Firer thus decided to build a special cardiac ambulance just for this incubator and we were the first ones to use it.

As was needed, Sassi Abramowitz clued in El Al that we would not be able to undergo a normal security check. And so, as we finally arrived at the airport, we headed to where we could receive a curb-side check by El Al’s security.

Out came the El Al security guard, a 4’6”, 90-pound balding guy, flanked by his newly hired 6’3” broad-shouldered army man whose neck looked like my legs. To my uncomforting surprise, the 6’3” thug yelled out in a deep and confronting voice, “Who’s flying?” “My wife,” I said. “Tell her to get out of the ambulance!” Slowly, my wife crawled out of the van as the security guard commanded, “Spread eagle!” Knowing that this would be an uncomfortable situation for my wife, I turned to the head of security and indicated that she was a religious woman and would rather not be patted down. The big guard looked at the head of security, who motioned that my wife was fine to proceed along.

Next, the thug turned to Chana and said, “Where are your bags?” Chana picked up her backpack, her only piece of luggage brought along. Quickly rummaging through everything inside, the neophyte security agent soon handed the backpack to Chana as he confirmed, “No bombs!”

“Who else is flying?” yelled out the security guard again. “The doctor,” I said. “Tell him to get out of the ambulance!” The doctor then jumped out of the ambulance, put his back against the ambulance, went through the eagle spread check and was good to go. The security guard then turned around to me.

“Who else is flying?” he said. “My son,” I said. “Tell him to get out of the ambulance!” Knowing that doing so was not an option, I said, “He cannot get out; he is in the back.” “I want to see him!” Compliantly, I opened up the back of the ambulance as the security agent looked on in astonishment. “Everything looks like a bomb!” he cried out.

The head of security quickly ran over and took one look at the back of the ambulance. There was no way he could examine every piece of equipment and he was not going to even try. Clearing us, he directed us to the tarmac, whereupon Rabbi Firer’s men loaded the baby onto the plane as the El Al engineers stood by and plugged in all the mobile electronics into the circuit board they had built. Click. Snap. Everything was now up and running. The baby and incubator were strapped down, Chana headed inside, the plane door closed and the plane took off.

Chapter 9

10 hours later…

I received a phone call. The plane had safely landed in New York and El Al did everything correctly without mistakes. The plane in fact stopped on the runway where they allowed two doctors along with my sister and brother-in-law, Jules, to board the plane. My sister ran over to my wife to comfort her as Jules ran over to the baby to make sure he was fine.

“Leib,” said Jules, “the ductus arteriosus which was half open when they left Jerusalem is still half open. The baby is still stable. It’s worth it. Transfer to TWA, go all the way to LA and get the best doctor.”

Signaling the gate in the JFK airport, the gates opened, Rabbi Firer’s men in New York drove up in an ambulance and loaded the baby into the TWA plane, where one hundred passengers were already seated and waiting for takeoff. They all knew why they were waiting as they had heard the story of the baby.

As Chana and the baby made their way onto the plane, TWA’s engineering team who had been up all night building a conversion board, strapped everything down and plugged in all the necessary equipment into the incubator. Meanwhile, as heard in the background, a bunch of Christian missionaries on the flight kept crying out, “L-rd, save the child! Save the child!”

Ten minutes went by, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, as the engineering team tried setting everything up. Yet, as my wife looked on over at the battery meters on the mobile incubator unit dropping, she began to panic. She knew that when the needle reached zero, the pump would stop and the baby would die. This was of concern. Even if the baby was to be transferred to Columbia Presbyterian and not be taken to LA, enough power was needed to get him there.

Thirty minutes went by, forty minutes… Chana then overheard the chief engineer say to the assistant engineer, “We blew it! It’s not going to work…” As soon as Chana heard that, she knew there was a serious problem. “Get the baby off the plane!” she panickedly yelled.

As soon as Chana said that, word spread like wildfire throughout the plane that the baby was not going to survive. An audible groan was let out by the passengers as they realized that the kid would not be making it to LA. That was it. The TWA engineering team was unimaginably upset. After all, it was their fault that the baby was not going to get any farther.

All of a sudden, one of the engineer members who had been standing in the back lost it. He was not the chief engineer, but had been working on the project the entire night, and could not deal with the fact that it was not working. Pushing his way through from the back to where the baby was, he pulled out his pocket knife and started hacking away at the arm rest next to my wife. Everybody was in shock looking at this guy. Reaching deep into the hole he had just made in the arm rest, he pulled out a number of wires and began examining them and moving them in all directions. At this point, Chana felt that even if the plane would take off, she didn’t want to be on it.

The guy took hold of the wires and began fidgeting with the back of the incubator unit. All of a sudden, all of the buttons and lights began ticking and flashing. Getting up, the man turned around to the other engineers and began yelling, “You idiots! You idiots! The audio system runs on 250 Hertz!” They ended up plugging the baby into the audio system. Suffice it to say, there was no movie that flight.

When the plane later landed in Los Angeles, the UCLA emergency team met the baby at the emergency transport, immediately took the baby off to UCLA as Chana and the doctor soon followed behind to the hospital. Twelve hours later, the doctors came out of the emergency room and reported. “We were able to take care of the blocked aorta which was killing the baby, and he is now on his way to the ICU. He still has dozens of holes in his heart though. If he makes it through the next 24 to 48 hours, he is going to need another emergency surgery when he is strong enough, which could be three to four months down the line.”

Three months later, the doctors held a meeting and determined that the baby was strong enough to undergo surgery. After telling us that they wanted to go through with it, Chana and I donated all the necessary blood and platelets and signed the release form. We then carried the baby down to where they planned to perform the surgical prep. I handed over the baby to the doctor, after which he looked at my wife and me and gently said, “Can you please leave the room now? The surgical prep is very unpleasant.”

Neither Chana nor I could leave. These were potentially the last few minutes we would have with our child and we weren’t going to leave him alone. We didn’t mind if the child cried; we just didn’t want to leave. The doctors, though, could not allow us to remain inside the room. Ushering us outside, Chana and I stood a distance away as the doctors worked on the baby from behind a screen. The baby screamed and cried, but that was sweeter to our ears than silence.

A few minutes later, we heard the doctors’ voices. They sounded considerably concerned about something. And then they came out from behind the screen and gave us very bad news.

Chapter 10

Allow me to pause and tell you another story before continuing.

Concurrent to all this taking place, my father, after going for a standard doctor checkup, was told by his doctor that something seemed wrong when checking his heart. He had detected that something was off. After being sent for an echocardiogram, the echo indicated that he had a faulty mitral valve, something which was not terribly serious, but eventually would need to be repaired and require open heart surgery.

“What are my options?” asked my father. “Well,” his doctor said, “you have two choices, which are really one. There is a top doctor at UCLA named Hillel Lax. He does the most amazing surgery, but unless you need some esoteric operation, it is extremely difficult to get through to him. All you need is a standard mitral valve replacement, and most likely, he will not be able to do it. Your next best option is to be administered a standard procedure which entails putting in a plastic mitral valve. If you choose to do so, there is a good chance that within twenty years you will need to put in another one and have open heart surgery.” Although my father would have preferred Hillel Lax to do the surgery and not resort to the alternative placement of a plastic mitral valve, he had little choice.

As this episode crossed my mind, the doctors began sharing the bad news. “Mr. Kelemen, we cannot perform this surgery for your son.” “Why not?” I asked, quite confused. “Your son has a fever.” I could not believe it. “We will have to wait until he gets rid of the fever.”

Suddenly, the door burst open and in walked a man. It was Hillel Lax. “What is going on?” he said. “The doctors just told us that the baby has a fever and we cannot go through with the surgery until next week.” “Why can’t you do the surgery?” questioned Dr. Lax. He was clearly upset just as we were. “Dr. Lax,” clearly reiterated the other doctors, “the baby has a fever and cannot go through with the surgery.”

Dr. Lax then turned towards me. “Kelemen…Kelemen… Wait a minute, doesn’t your father need open heart surgery?” “He does,” I replied. “How did you hear about that?” “I go to the same Daf Yomi class as his doctor does. Why don’t you call up your father and have him come here right now?”

With all the blood and platelets already donated by my wife, myself and my sisters, my father made his way over to the hospital. Hillel Lax proceeded to open up my father, only to discover that a mistake had been made in the echocardiogram they administered. My father did not just have a faulty mitral valve; he had four valves, all of which were 99% blocked. My father was a walking time bomb who would have dropped within a week. Hillel Lax performed four valve replacements, closed up my father, and off my father went into the ICU.

One week later, the doctors informed us that our baby was ready for surgery. We signed the release forms and in went the baby. Twelve hours later, the doctors came out with news. “Mr. Kelemen, you are a very lucky man. Your baby is fine. He is on his way to the ICU.”

As Chana and I caught up to where the baby was, we entered alongside him into the ICU as my father, who himself had just spent a week in the ICU, was on his way out. “Bye Dad,” I said, “see you later.” As my Dad exited, my son entered. The nurse was even slightly confused. “Who is this one?” she asked. “Kelemen,” we said. “No, no, Kelemen just left; who is this?” “His grandson,” we explained.

Our baby was in the ICU for another week, after which he was released and placed in the northern segment of the UCLA hospital. At the end of two weeks, a special meeting was held between the doctors who were involved in the surgery, after which Hillel Lax said to Chana and me, “Mr. Kelemen, a hospital is a place for sick people. But your child is healthy. I think you should take him home. Go check out.” That was it. They handed me some papers, and there Chana and I were with our baby, walking down the hall. I could not imagine that I was now on the other side of the story, but in fact, I was.

Chapter 11

But then I started to think. “Check out? What does that mean? They didn’t ask me to check out last time.” Realizing what perhaps it was, I headed downstairs and handed the papers I was given by the doctors to the office. “I will be with you in just a minute,” the lady said. Type, type, type… The computer spat out thirty pages of paper, listing every band-aid my son had used along with every tube and needle. At the bottom of the page, it said, “Please pay this amount – $749,000.” I laughed. “Would you like my arm?” I asked the lady. “Mr. Kelemen,” she replied, “don’t worry; we have a financial aid department. Take these forms and walk downstairs.”

Taking hold of the papers, I began walking downstairs to the financial aid office, all the while thinking, “This shouldn’t be a problem. $50 a month for four hundred years… I’ll pay this off.” When I arrived at the office, I handed the papers over to the lady, who began trying to find some sort of loophole to help me out. Type… type… type. “Are you Puerto Rican, Mr. Kelemen?” “No,” I said. “Are you African American?” “How do you mean that?” I asked.

She continued looking for some type of legal loophole, until she asked, “Did your child have open heart surgery?” “Yeah,” I said. “That’s great!” she yelled out. Type, type, type. “Okay, here’s a long shot; by any chance, did you fly the child in from out of state for this surgery?” “Yeah,” I replied. “Great! Just a minute.” Type, type, type. “Oh boy, you are not going to like this last question. By any chance, are you a California state citizen?”

I had always been a fanatic when it came to elections. Even while living in Israel for more than a decade, I voted for the water pressure in Santa Monica, California. “Yes!” I said to the lady. “I am a California citizen and I even have the voter tabs in my pocket from the most recent election.” “You take those voter tabs and this form and go down to Children’s Services in East LA!” enthused the woman.

The minute I was told to head to East LA, I knew what I was getting myself into. East LA is sort of like Vietnam. Asking my father to borrow his station wagon, I headed down to the Children’s Services Office located in the Welfare building in East LA, carefully parked my car and looked around in all directions. When the coast was clear, I hopped out, said goodbye to the station wagon as I had my doubts if I would ever see it again, and ran into the building.

I was the only man in the building wearing a button-down shirt, let alone a suit and a tie. Heading for the Children’s Services department, I handed over my papers and began to wait. A few minutes later, the woman handed me back some papers and said, “Okay, you’re all set. Take this back to UCLA.” “What do you mean, ‘I am all set’?” “Your bill,” she replied. “What about my bill?” I asked for further clarification. “Your bill is paid.” I could not understand what she was saying. “Which bill is paid?” “The one for $749,000.” I was not sure if she was being serious. “Who paid it?” “They didn’t tell you about State Senate Bill 180B?” “What is State Senate Bill 180B?” I asked.

The woman went on to explain that in order to encourage people to fly in for esoteric medical emergencies, the research hospitals in New York lobbied for a law to be passed that if you fly into New York for one of these unusual cases, the city of New York would cover the cost. As this happened, UCLA and USC hospitals in California began losing all their best surgeries. They therefore petitioned the state of California to pass a similar law. The state of California refused to do so, however, because it would cost too much, causing UCLA to come back with the proposal that only a select few surgeries would be included under this categorization and only if the patient was a California state citizen. The state of California still refused to pass the law, until UCLA gave it one last try and proposed that only if the case was one where it involved a California state citizen who was out of state and flew back into state for the surgery, would the cost be covered. To this, the California state legislature agreed to sign off on, confident that it would never happen.

“Mr. Kelemen, the law was passed ninety days ago; you are the first to qualify.” All that was left for me to pay was a five-dollar parking ticket at UCLA.

Chapter 12

Five months after this child was born, we brought him back to Jerusalem to perform the bris milah. Finally, we had come full circle. The entire pediatric staff from Shaare Zedek was in attendance at the bris. The doctor who had attended to my baby was even wearing a kippa with tzitzis strings dangling from his pants. “What’s this?” I asked. “I saw,” he said, “I saw.”

Many different people were affected by this miracle. There were individuals who started saying Birchat HaMazon because the child survived and going to the mikvah for the first time at age sixty-eight. It slowly became somewhat clear to me why this had happened. But there was one thing which I did not understand.

There was one morning when I stepped up to a wall at Shaare Zedek to pray and I felt abandoned. Later discussing the matter with my rebbe, he explained that we do not know much about G-d. Yet the very little that we do know, He reveals to us so we can copy Him. G-d is kind so that we will know to also be kind; G-d is merciful so that we will know to also be merciful. G-d’s most obvious and dominant trait, though, is that He is hidden. G-d hides so that we should know to do kindness… shhhh… quietly.

No fanfare, no labels, no big plaques, no award ceremony. Just do it to make the world better and then quietly disappear. “When an omnipotent G-d tries to hide,” explained my rebbe, “He can do a very good job. Sometimes in the world, the reality of G-d’s existence is silence. And that is what you experienced that morning. But you know, just as you saw and you heard and you experienced, even while you were so panicked and feeling so alone, G-d was taking care of all the arrangements.

“Leib,” my rebbe said, “that is probably not going to be the last time in your life that you feel abandoned. There might be some other times in your life when you feel totally alone. But the next time you feel alone, remember all that you have heard and remember all that you have seen, and know that you are never alone.”

I consider this to be a blessing that I know I am never alone. If, G-d forbid, at some point during your life you feel alone and abandoned, think back throughout your entire life and remember everything you have heard and everything you have seen and know that you are never, ever alone.

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