July 23, 2024
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July 23, 2024
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Oleh Faces Major Health Crisis, Sees Hope and Sings Israel’s Praises

I really don’t want to share this story with you.

It involves a good friend who is a role model to me, who made aliyah with his growing family then became a paragon of Torah learning and chesed. Now, he faces months of discomfort, pain and worry, along with an uncertain future. It seems deeply unfair, where you want to shake the heavens in bewilderment and cry out, “Zu Torah v’zu schara?”

Yet my friend doesn’t see it quite that way. He wants to share his story. And his tale offers solid advice and chizuk to others in similar circumstances.

Avi Mandelbaum grew up in Teaneck, where his family was a member of the Beth Aaron community. He attended the Yeshiva of North Jersey (now RYNJ), then MTA. After high school he spent a year at Keren B’Yavneh Yeshiva, then majored in chemistry at Yeshiva University. His wife, Michal, grew up in Linden, New Jersey, where her dad was the chazan at Congregation Anshe Chesed. She attended Bruriah High School in Elizabeth, then Orot College in Israel. She graduated from Stern College with a major in speech pathology and audiology.

When Avi and Michal dated and married, “Aliyah was always a goal of ours, from the get go.” They got married in August 2002 and served as the youth directors at the Young Israel of Teaneck for two years, before moving to Highland Park in 2004 where they became youth directors. They made aliyah with their three daughters in August 2011 and moved to the community of Moreshet, north of Haifa, where they remain.

The move was challenging professionally, with a few unexpected twists and turns. At different points Avi worked as a telemarketer, ran an afternoon day care, taught 10th grade chemistry and AP chemistry online, served as an administrator in the online teaching company, and then finally got a job in the insurance department of a female infertility pharmacy led by his old boss at Walgreens in the U.S. Michal has run the same afternoon day care, taught English, developed English teaching programs, managed a neighbor’s office, and serves as an English tutor.

They’ve both been active in their community. Michal serves on the youth committee for the entire yishuv, helping to plan events, and serves as class parent for a few of their daughters. (They had two more since they arrived.) Avi served on the emergency response volunteer committee, is a baal tokea for the Ashkenaz vatikin minyan, and has been a regular Daf Yomi participant for two years.

As Avi explained, their acclimation to Israel has been relatively stress-free. “Our community in Moreshet made sure to keep introducing themselves and offering help with everything. Michal’s Hebrew was and is much better than mine, but mine has improved tons. This is because our neighbors are patient, and make corrections. They also often respond in English so we can help them with their English.

“We still don’t always get items in Israeli culture, and that has a lot to do with not having served in the army. We’ve learned how to navigate the school systems, and get social services for our children, and help with learning disabilities. Our children are all 100% part of Israeli culture, society, and speak Hebrew properly. They often explain to us the Israeli jokes we don’t get.”

Things were, Baruch Hashem, going quite well. But about four months ago, Avi noticed some perplexing symptoms. His foot got swollen and wouldn’t fit in his shoe. He started losing weight markedly, which he initially attributed to a sugar-free diet he started. Then in August he had two falls and after the second he had trouble getting up. He fell a third time that month and got a cane. He also noticed odd purple spots on his skin.

Avi went for a series of tests and in late August a full body CT scan revealed: “I have lymph on my heart, and both lungs are inflamed, and I have spots in my lungs, and a 4 by 5 centimeter tumor on my adrenal gland. The tumor is making my glands produce insane amounts of cortisol, a hormone we should have little amounts of, which is the stress/rage hormone. This is stage 4 adrenocortical cancer, which is causing Cushing’s syndrome. Symptoms are swollen ankles and feet, purple spots, weakness, weight loss, loss of muscle mass and diabetes.”

As Avi explained to me: “Treatment is chemo; I get three types of chemo over a four-day span, every four weeks. They give me other meds to prevent nausea and vomiting. This should shrink the tumor, which will also start to remove the Cushing’s. After round three a new CT will be taken, and compared to the originals, and we’ll decide if we can have surgery at that point or not. Prognosis is I will beat this.”

Avi tells me that what was particularly remarkable to him is “The diagnosis of this super-rare set of diseases was done in a 100% Israeli hospital with both Jewish and Arab doctors, in just under a week. Plans were then set forward for complex treatment, again in under a week. No need for anything from the USA.”

He faces a tough fight but is optimistic and brave. He shares regular updates, often laced with humor, with a circle of friends on WhatsApp.

His advice to others facing similar medical circumstances in Israel: “A positive attitude is a must. Jokes are a must. At the same time, crying is good. You need to let those feelings out. Forcing them away is only harmful. I personally feel I need to be an open book, and try to help others. Trust the doctors and trust the system. And don’t be afraid to ask for English explanations. All the doctors and most of the nurses speak English very well and can explain.”

Please join me in praying for and wishing my friend, Avraham Menashe ben Chana Bracha, a speedy and complete refuah sheleima.

By Harry Glazer


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