19 Av 5780 / Sunday, August 09, 2020 | Torah Reading: Re'eh
 
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To Save A Soul    

To Save A Soul



"At the time, I had no idea of how complex this would be, or of how many people and organizations throughout the world would become involved in this mission...

 



Sometimes, it really is possible to accomplish the impossible.
    
Reb Dov Solomon had just stepped out the door of his yeshiva in Ofakim when an elderly, heavyset woman stopped him. Despite her thick Russian accent, he understood that she had something to discuss with him – and that it was urgent.
 
She told Reb Dov that her son, Reb Moshe, a well-known and beloved figure in the religious community, had suffered a heart attack while visiting his family in Gomel, Russia. “I managed to understand from her garbled Hebrew,” said Reb Dov, “that her son was now in the hospital -- and that the prognosis was grim.”
 
Reb Dov was shocked.  Reb Moshe, a recent baal teshuvah, devoted every second to limmud haTorah and acts of chessed. “At that moment,” said Reb Dov, “I began what was to become known as ‘The mission to save Reb Moshe.’ At the time, I had no idea of how complex this would be, or of how many people and organizations throughout the world would become involved in this mission of mercy.
 
“First I had to locate Reb Moshe,” said Reb Dov. “It took quite a few phone calls to Russia before we finally discovered him in the cardiac intensive care unit of a small hospital in Gomel.” 
 
But it was against hospital policy for information to be given over the phone.
 
Reb Dov phoned a second time – this time presenting himself as Reb Moshe’s private physician. “It’s a good thing I liked to act when I was a kid,” he said with a smile. His acting was good enough to fool the hospital staff, who gave him a rundown on Reb Moshe’s case.
 
Reb Moshe was being kept alive with a respirator.  “The Russian doctor pointed out that Reb Moshe was critically ill and could pass away any minute. It certainly did not give me a feeling of confidence.”
 
Reb Dov now turned to Dr. Aved, head of the local medical clinic in Ofakim, for assistance. A few hours later, another call was placed to the hospital in Gomel. Dr. Aved filled the Russians in on Reb Moshe’s medical history while the doctors in Gomel promised to keep Dr. Aved up to date on Reb Moshe’s progress – or lack of.
 
He heard from the hospital that same afternoon. Reb Moshe had lost consciousness.
 
Once again the international lines were buzzing as Reb Dov frantically searched for a doctor capable of evaluating Reb Moshe’s case. But first he had to find someone – anyone – familiar with the medical establishment in Gomel.
 
“Eventually I found a mohel who had recently returned from Gomel,” said Reb Dov. “The mohel knew of a frum doctor who had lived there before moving to Eretz Yisrael.”
 
Reb Dov managed to track this doctor – who was serving in the Israeli Army – to his military base. He had worked in the same hospital where Reb Moshe was now hospitalized.
 
“The doctor told me that this hospital was considered one of the most backward in the entire country,” said Reb Dov. “Other than keeping Reb Moshe alive with a respirator, there was very little that they were equipped to do.
 
But Reb Dov was not about to let Reb Moshe die in a primitive Russian hospital.
 
It took many more calls before Reb Dov finally found a competent cardiologist willing – for a sizeable fee – to take the case. He lived in Minsk, a seven-hour drive from Gomel.
 
At three o’clock the next morning, Reb Dov heard from the Russian cardiologist. “He told me that Reb Moshe’s condition was critical,” said Reb Dov, “and requested that I find an Israeli cardiologist willing to discuss the case with him.
 
 “At four o’clock in the morning, we contacted the emergency room in Hadassah and told the story to the cardiologist on duty. At first he was skeptical; it took a while until we were able to convince him that the whole thing was not a joke. Through him, we contacted one of the top cardiologists in Hadassah.
 
“The Israeli cardiologist and his colleague in Minsk came to the conclusion that Reb Moshe had to be brought back to Eretz Yisrael. The question that now faced us was if this could be done while he was in such a precarious medical state.”
 
The medical staff in Gomel insisted that Reb Moshe could not survive the move. “But we realized that we had no choice,” said Reb Dov. “There was not a doubt in my mind that if he remained in Gomel, he would die.”
 
Later that night, the hospital in Gomel called and told Reb Dov that Reb Moshe had taken a turn for the worse. “It was Thursday night when they called and told me that if there was no improvement, they would remove him from the respirator on Sunday morning.
 
“The Israeli cardiologist insisted that we transfer Reb Moshe on a specially equipped ambulance-plane.
 
But it would cost over $25,000.
 
“I began to ask people for tzedakah, but everyone was cynical – they did not think it was possible to bring Reb Moshe to Eretz Yisrael by Sunday morning.”
 
Reb Dov felt as if he had come up against a brick wall.
 
“Just a few minutes before the bank was about to close, I walked in and asked the manager for a bank loan. He burst out laughing when he heard how much money I wanted.
 
“I told him that there was no choice. I had to have the money. It was a matter of life and death. The manager asked – in jest – who would co-sign for me.
 
“I told him that he would – and he did.”
 
Russian visas had to be procured for the medical staff -- but the embassy was closed.  There was no airport in Gomel itself -- and Reb Moshe could not survive the seven-hour drive to the closest airport in Minsk. Meanwhile, the hospital in Gomel had informed Reb Dov that Reb Moshe’s medical condition had become even more precarious.
 
Somehow, Reb Dov was able to overcome each obstacle. The passports were procured with the help of the Israeli Embassy in Russia; the military in Gomel closed off an old airstrip -- that was now a main thoroughfare – and converted it into a temporary airport. And an hour before Shabbos, a hospital plane, equipped with a full medical staff, left Eretz Yisrael for Gomel, Russia.
 
The Israeli doctors immediately set about stabilizing Reb Moshe before transferring him to the plane. But first they had to wash him from head to toe – the Russian nurses had never even bothered. “The Israeli doctors later told us that the hospital was lacking the most basic medical equipment,” said Reb Dov. “They did not even have a machine to check Reb Moshe’s oxygen level.”
 
 Reb Moshe arrived in Eretz Yisrael at 11:00 Shabbos morning. An ambulance was waiting on the airport’s tarmac to transfer him straight to the Intensive Coronary Care Unit in Hadassah Hospital.
 
Today, Reb Moshe is once again a contributing member of the Ofakim community. “You would never even know that he had been sick,” said Reb Dov. “He has returned to his studies, and of course, to his many chessed projects.”
 
Another life – another world – had been saved.
 
 
 
(More of Debbie Shapiro's stories can be found in Bridging the Golden Gate)




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