This past Shabbat Shuva I was davening Musaf outdoors with my shul’s youth minyan when I got a tap on my shoulder from a walking miracle. I know that doesn’t happen to most people every day or ever, and certainly not on any average weekend in Teaneck. The walking miracle was my friend Micah Kaufman.
I have been waiting 9+ months for him to return and visit our youth minyan as he recovers steadily from his near-fatal accident last year. When I turned around and saw him, I had to resist the strong urge to give him a hug because I had been unsure if and when he would ever visit us in the youth minyan again. (For the record, I would have hugged him if we weren’t wearing masks and social distancing.) The fact that he had simply walked into the backyard where we were davening was an actual walking miracle, no joke. I couldn’t stop smiling.
You see, before his accident and injury, Micah would always visit our youth minyan to say Good Shabbos to his many friends in our minyan and to say hello to my son Zev, and if davening permitted, he would always like to tell me something he liked or didn’t like about that week’s edition of The Jewish Link. After the accident, I wondered if he would ever be able to return, and with the onset of COVID-19, I also wondered if our minyan would ever return. Thankfully, our youth minyan just restarted a week or so before Rosh Hashanah and I had heard that Micah had started attending shul last week, but this past Shabbos was his first time fully back in shul.
As committed Jews we believe in miracles, but it’s still not that often that we see them with our own eyes. Or at least, to see and know one of the direct beneficiaries of a miracle. One of my favorite lines about Jews and Israel is the following quote from David Ben Gurion, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles” or alternatively: “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.” This comical borderline-absurd quote is certainly true of the many situations the Jewish people have found themselves in over the past centuries. It’s also true in the case of Micah. His doctors were ready to give up on him in the week or so after the accident but he never gave up, nor did his family and the many who were davening for him. When I visited him back in early 2020 at the rehab hospital before COVID-19 hit, it was clear he was healing and recovering but he had a long way to go. It was hard to see then if the old Micah would fully return.
He really has come so far. It was a joy and pleasure seeing him standing upright, speaking clearly and confidently, and walking with only a slight limp.
So what did Micah ask to do after tapping me on the shoulder? He asked if he could speak to our minyan, which is definitely something that the old Micah would not have asked me. He rarely spoke in public and was not a fan of speeches in general. Of course, we agreed to allow Micah to speak, and after Musaf ended, he addressed the group. He talked personally about the doer and giver that he used to be pre-accident, and how much he was looking forward to returning to all of his many community roles. But most of all, and quite powerfully, he asked everyone there to consider doing more chesed and actively seek out and grab any and all opportunities to do mitzvot and help others.
For those who knew Micah a bit, we always knew that his commitment to acts of chesed was incredibly strong, more so than most, but he was always relatively quiet about it, even when he donated his kidney, if you can believe it. He never really made a big deal of anything and was quite happy to exist out of any spotlight. I also don’t think he would have been able to speak as passionately and as powerfully back then as he did now about doing chesed. Listening to him speak at our minyan (and again, the following day, at a special online pre-Yom Kippur inspirational program put together by our shul; see our article by Pearl Markovitz on page 24. It’s a great read!), I couldn’t help but think that the accident and his miraculous recovery had brought out this special aspect of his core personality and also induced him to speak passionately about it.
For me, Micah could have stood there and said nothing and still been an inspiration, but his heartfelt and plain requests for all of us, to reach out to one another to find out how we can improve the lives of others, were heard loud and clear. It was such a powerful way to go into Yom Kippur and I know it helped me—and many others who heard him live and on the videos circulating online—get through what was not a typical Yom Kippur for any of us.
A Note and Request for Help on Housing for Adults With Special Needs in NJ
Exactly two years ago I wrote a column in this space about the rising need in the northern New Jersey community to open up and increase housing opportunities for the growing numbers of teens and adults with special needs. My wife and I have since made it our mission to ensure that progress is made on this front, and fundraise as needed, and although numerous meetings, phone calls and emails have occurred in the interim, the process has been very slow.
However, I am proud to announce that we are finally on the cusp of a major breakthrough and it is my hope that we will be able to announce the first new home for adults with special needs in our community within the next few months. Unfortunately, as with most important communal achievements, it’s not as simple and straightforward as I would have preferred, and I am looking today for a few partners to help make this first home, and potentially others in the near future, a clear reality. I will certainly write more about this in future editions, but for now I am asking for our readers’ (your) help.
If you have the ability, the means and the interest in helping us acquire and purchase a home relatively quickly and be a full partner in giving so many special young men and women in our community a home, please contact me at [email protected] for details.
By Moshe Kinderlehrer, Jewish Link Co-Publisher