Friday, February 17, 2017

Circle of Love

My daughter was crying when she called me almost a year ago. “Avinoam got his diagnosis. Now we know why he’s been dropping things and shaking and falling. He has ALS.”

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes the death of neurons controlling muscles and leads to difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and eventually breathing. I’d seen The Pride of the Yankees* and read Tuesdays with Morrie. Like my daughter, I understood that the prognosis for her husband’s friend wasn’t pretty.

My heart went out to Avinoam who at age twenty-three had barely begun his adult life. I was also very concerned for his mother. A small woman, scarcely five feet, she’s a bundle of energy and was my son’s first grade teacher when we moved to Shilo. Even though her English is excellent she spoke to me in Hebrew, encouraging my learning of the language. I remember politely offering her any assistance she might need with her class fully expecting my suggestion to be just as politely turned down. Ofra surprised me, though, and I found myself in her classroom helping the children with their math once a week.

Not only an excellent teacher, Ofra is a mother of ten and a wife to Mevorach who has suffered from debilitating health for the last number of years. She believes in the power of prayer and a short time after Avinoam’s diagnosis visited Rachel’s Tomb. While there Someone arranged for her to meet two women in need of a ride. She welcomed them into her car and as they spoke softly to each other Ofra overheard the letters ALS.

It turned out that the husband of one of the women had ALS and she knew of an experimental program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Her husband’s illness was far too advanced for him to be able to take advantage of the program but she was more than willing to share all the information she had with Ofra. In turn Ofra contacted the hospital and her son was invited to America to undergo a battery of tests to determine if he was a candidate for the trial treatment. He was!

So, Ofra and family and friends began raising money. They needed a small fortune to cover flights, part of the room and board in Boston, and therapy. The treatment itself is covered by the hospital.

During the 2014 Gaza War Avinoam served as a tank driver. At one critical point he was alert enough to notice an explosive device and managed to swerve his tank away from the bomb. He’d saved the lives of everyone inside the tank. Deciding to make a clip to raise money for his treatment his family and friends used Avinoam’s heroism as their theme. Now It’s Our Turn** quickly went viral in Israel raising a tremendous amount of money. However, more is needed. This week the boys’ school in Shilo, where Avinoam once learned and Ofra taught, hosted a fundraiser.  

It was advertised as a Happening and it was just that. A family entrance fee allowed children to participate in the games and booths all over the campus. I don’t think anyone expected the turnout that the Happening received. The afternoon was cold, wet, and windy, perfect for staying home in a warm house. Instead family after family made their way to the boys’ school. All the nearby parking lots were full and many supporters walked from several blocks away. Some were there because of their personal connection to Avinoam or his family. Others came to give payback to a stranger who’d once protected them when he served in the IDF.  Still others were there out of concern for a fellow Jew. All came with love.

The goal of the Boston program is to arrest the degeneration of the damaged muscles. After almost four months Avinoam is experiencing an improvement that no one expected. He’s gaining weight, his movements inside the pool are smoother, and his breathing isn’t as labored.

Avinoam isn’t alone in Boston. If family members can’t be with him his friends dip 
into their savings and travel to America to be supportive. Avinoam’s future is still uncertain. What is certain is that he’s surrounded by a circle of love by family, friends, and strangers. Maybe, just maybe, Avinoam’s prognosis will be prettier than we originally thought.

Please pray for Avinoam ben Ofra Rut.
Avinoam surrounded by family and friends at Ben Gurion Airport, courtesy of www.kipa.co.il 

*movie about the life of Lou Gehrig

**the clip can be viewed in Hebrew on Youtube at עכשיו תורנו