A New Name, A New Man, A New life


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    A New Name, A New Man, A New life

    Reb Chaim Avigdor and Devorah Zeitlin from Crown Heights tell Beis Moshiach in an emotional miracle-filled monologue about his wondrous recovery from corona and her awe-inspiring coping through weeks of uncertainty • Full Article

    Avrohom Rainitz, Beis Moshiach

    On Monday, on my way to the Beis Moshiach office, I noticed a buzz of activity on Kingston Avenue. Dozens of excited people stood there as the song “Thank You Hashem” played, clapping as a van door opened and out came R’ Refael Menachem Ohana, a Lubavitcher resident of Crown Heights who was hospitalized in critical condition with corona and miraculously recovered and returned home.

    Dozens of friends and family members who prayed from the depths of their hearts over the past month, stood there and wiped away tears as R’ Menachem’s son welcomed him with the shehechiyanu blessing. Some of those present, who were aware of the critical situation the past few weeks, also said the blessing of mechayeh ha’meisim.

    This happy sight was one of many emotional video clips that have been documenting when corona patients return home and are greeted by their happy families. The first was when R’ Refael Yisroel Sacks of Hatzalah in Chicago, was released from the hospital after being sick with corona. He was warmly welcomed by family and friends; then R’ Avrohom Klein, a Lubavitcher teacher from Los Angeles, who spent weeks in the ICU; two days later there was the happy news about the release of R’ Chaim Avigdor Zeitlin and the next day, people saw the great excitement of the medical staff upon the miraculous release of R’ Motti Korf of Miami. Those in the know tell of many residents of Crown Heights who were hospitalized after contracting corona and are now recovering and who are expected to return home soon.


    Avigdor Zeitlin is familiar to many in Crown Heights as a psychotherapist. He works in the neighborhood schools, helping children deal with their challenges. In the evening he advises couples and adults in his private office. Many people remember him from the time when he played the guitar at weddings. These days, he is less involved with music except when he goes on mivtzaim to prisons or when he volunteers to play at weddings of mekuravim who cannot pay for a band.

    He is also known outside of Crown Heights thanks to recordings of Chabad niggunim and the songs he himself composed with Jewish themes and the Besuras HaGeula. He has a special talent for playing on the heartstrings of the neshama and it’s no surprise that the “Dalet Bavos” that he performed has garnered over 400,000 views!

    When I asked him to share the miracles he experienced over the last month and a half with our readers, he smiled and said that he can only talk about the first days of his hospitalization and the last days. The three weeks in the middle, when he was in critical condition, he was unconscious and on a ventilator. R’ Avigdor, a person who loves to see the good in everything, manages to see the good even in those days which he remembers of the hospital.


    It felt surrealistic with paralyzing fear on the one hand and a spiritual arousal and a feeling of closeness to Hashem on the other: Maybe it’s strange to say this, but I never felt such a closeness with Hashem as what I felt during those days when I was alone in the hospital room with the four walls and the medical equipment. Even in shul on the Yomim Noraim, I did not feel like that.

    When I was alone, without doctors, without nurses, I felt Hashem. I thought this is how the Chassidim in Russia felt when they were in jail alone. Just me and Hashem. I thought how Hashem was with me every step of the way, starting from the terrifying moments when the doctors sedated me and induced paralysis of my body for weeks, continuing with the miracles and wonders that occurred at every moment of those critical weeks, and ending with the body starting to reawaken and come out slowly from the paralysis.  I had such a spiritual awakening that I hope to always remember it, without any reminders.

    Afterward, when I was transferred to rehab, where there was another person in the room, I really saw how fortunate we are, that we are Jews and Chassidim. I saw my neighbor, a non-Jew, who was interested only in food and television. I was sitting with a Dvar Malchus and learning another sicha, another maamar and I felt like it was a flow of spiritual oxygen. In normal times, we are busy with so much going on and barely manage to grab an hour to learn here and there. It was in the hospital that I was able to learn a lot. It’s all I had to do and it’s all I wanted to do.

    In general, throughout this time, I openly saw the hand of Hashem. My wife will tell you about the miracles that happened during the weeks that I was in a medically induced coma. She got so much strength from Hashem and discovered hidden strengths within her, such that even the people around her were strengthened. They came to strengthen her and left strengthened. Just think of how she was able to make Pesach alone with seven children and with a husband lying comatose on a ventilator in the hospital.

    Throughout, I felt how Hashem and the Rebbe were leading me and were with me, starting with the decision to go to the hospital. At first, I absolutely did not want to go to the hospital. I thought I am a strong guy and could get through it. To my good fortune, the Hatzala members convinced me to go with them to the hospital which saved my life because my condition deteriorated rapidly.

    I don’t remember those days … I lost my tallis and tefillin, my wallet and cell phone; all was lost in the fight to save my life. When I left, the doctors smiled as though they had cured me but when I was fighting for my life, they admitted they had no idea what to do, it was a new and unfamiliar virus and they were groping in the dark. They even said to my wife: You are religious. Pray to G-d because only He can save him. To hear that from doctors is quite rare.


    His wife, Mrs. Devorah Zeitlin, emotionally recounted the miracles and wonders that got her husband out of danger:

    Like many residents of Crown Heights, after Purim my husband began to feel the symptoms of corona. At first we thought it was just a cold, a flu, but on Thursday, 24 Adar, his condition deteriorated and Hatzala insisted he needed to go to the hospital. He was diagnosed with corona and was immediately attached to oxygen. At first he need a low dosage of oxygen which was administered through a tube in his nose but after two days he needed more oxygen administered through a mask. Two days after that, that was no longer enough. Within four days his condition deteriorated so that he urgently needed to be put on a ventilator which requires full sedation.

    At that point, it was hard for him to talk but he sent me a text, asking me to go to our neighbor, R’ Noach Vogel, for him to ask the Rebbe for a bracha. R’ Noach immediately sat down to write to the Rebbe and then put the letter into a volume of Igros Kodesh. He sent us a copy of the answer:

    I was pleased to receive your letter, and its content regarding the visit of the students of our holy yeshiva to the rehab center on the two days of Rosh Hashana to enable the people there to fulfill their obligation of the mitzva of shofar blowing. And since our Sages say that one of the functions of shofar blowing is crowning the King of kings, Hashem, over our physical-material world and all of its matters; Hashem, who is the essence of goodness and the source of good, and the heavenly kingdom is like the earthly kingdom, on coronation day the king grants a reprieve to the provinces, may this reprieve be drawn down into improvement in health of the body and improvement of health of the neshama of everyone in the rehab center, where he serves in holiness, among the entirety of the Jewish people with apparent and revealed goodness. And always, all of the days, may his Torah-honor impart good news regarding your grandchildren whom you mention in this letter and regarding all of the people in the institution and all of their matters.

    This clear answer from the Rebbe for the improved health of those in the hospital was tremendously encouraging, especially when the Rebbe emphasizes the idea of coronation which is a form of the word corona (under electron microscopic examination, each virion is surrounded by a “corona,” or halo).


    The next days were the hardest in my life. Two days after the doctors anesthetized my husband and attached him to the ventilator, they called me from the hospital and said that his condition was worsening, his lungs were not working, and in order to save his life they needed to use the ECMO machine. This is used for patients who have extreme but reversible lung failure, which affects the blood oxygen levels, to enable the lungs to rest and recover. When they called I had no idea what this was, but the doctor said they don’t have time to explain and that they need an ECMO, to connect him to the machine immediately, which I had to consent to, to save his life. It was terrifying because I did not even have a chance to consult with our doctor, Dr. Rosen. There was no choice but to agree.

    By the way, I must mention the devotion of Dr. Rosen who was available to us at all hours. Thanks to his good connections at NYU he was able to get updated in real time. Every day, I got a report from the hospital and these were followed by detailed explanations by Dr. Rosen.

    It was only after I gave the consent and they attached my husband to the ECMO, that they called to explain to me what it was all about. I discovered to my terror, that the treatment in question was quite complex and required a large experienced medical team and due to the dangers it entails, it is meant only for the sickest patients who do not respond to more conventional treatments and whose chances of remaining alive without it are slim.

    I asked them whether any corona patients had this treatment and survived, and they said, not yet. However, they said that since my husband is young and strong, there was a good chance he would make it.

    Naturally, after such a frightening report, I was in a panic. I understood that my husband was in grave danger and I called Rabbi Yeshaya Braun about adding a name as a segula for a refuah. R’ Braun who was supportive throughout, explained how to add a name with a minyan. At home, we have three boys over bar mitzva and the Vogels have some bachurim and together with other neighbors who came out on their porches we made a minyan for Tehillim, said the nusach for changing a name and added the name “Chaim.”

    The next day, my cousin, Menachem Kirsch of South Africa, told me that it would be good to express our bitachon in Hashem by ordering new tallis and tefillin bags for my husband with the new name, especially when his tallis and tefillin disappeared in the hospital. Emotionally, it wasn’t easy for it required a lot of emuna and bitachon but I strengthened myself in my bitachon in Hashem that my husband would recover and then I could bring him the new bags. I called to order it and within a few days I received it and put it on his bed.


    On 11 Nissan I had a surprise. Our neighbor, R’ Noach Vogel, called to ask whether we had a dollar from the Rebbe in the house. I told him that we had just one dollar in my husband’s wallet but his wallet was lost in the hospital. I had gotten a dollar from the Rebbe for my bas mitzva but over the years it was lost so we did not have even one of these dollars in the house.

    R’ Noach asked me for the names and birthdays of everyone in the family and a few hours later he surprised me with nine dollars from the Rebbe, for each family member, with dates close to their birthdays! For my husband, he gave a dollar that he received after Tehillim on Hoshana Raba one year. This special gesture gave me special kochos during those difficult days. Nine dollars from the Rebbe on the Rebbe’s birthday, that was really powerful.


    During those difficult days, every day was new nightmare. When a patient is put on the ECMO machine, he must take blood thinners because without them the machine can’t do its job properly. On the other hand, blood thinners cause other problems and every day they called to report about the new problem that arose … In general, because corona is a new virus, the doctors were groping in the dark and most of the treatments they gave were not given with the confidence that this is what is needed but as an experiment; maybe it would help.

    That week, the head of the department said: We are trying but we don’t know what will really help. Since you are religious, you should pray to G-d because only He can save your husband. The doctor explained that medicine today has no cure for corona and all they were doing was giving the body more time so that the immune system would try and deal with the virus and it depended only on G-d. I thought, this is Yemos HaMoshiach because generally, doctors are arrogant and are confident that they know everything.

    One day, the doctor called and reported that, thank G-d, the immune system had started to work but now it was a problem because it was working too powerfully and was beginning to get out of control. When the body fights, there are parts of the body that swell and now there was swelling around the lungs which interfered with their returning to normal function. In short, it was a complicated situation from every angle.  During the weeks that he was attached to the ECMO machine, he wasn’t only sedated but under complete medical paralysis since during this treatment the patient may not move.


    We were alone for the seder. Our oldest son, who is nineteen, ran the seder and we all ate the matza of emuna and the matza of refuah with great concentration. I have no doubt that this helped him. On the eve of Pesach, they called from the hospital to report that they were starting to lower the dosage of the medications that paralyzed the body and he was starting to move his hands. They said that if all proceeded properly, they would start to wake him up. It’s a slow process which takes about a week until full alertness.

    Starting from the first day of Pesach we started getting good news. They reported that they stopped using the ECMO. On Sunday, Chol HaMoed, they informed me that the body was reacting well. On Friday and Shabbos he was still sedated but without ECMO, and they began to start the process of waking him from the sedation.

    We weren’t at the end point yet. The next day, his fever suddenly shot up and they discovered new problems. They had to put him under again. It looked as though everything reverted back; that was a particularly hard day because after a few hopeful days the wheel had turned. Throughout that time we got physical, spiritual, material and moral support from the amazing residents of Crown Heights. We could not have gotten through this difficult time without the constant help we received, especially from the members of our shul  Beis Gimpel Chaim Shmuel Leib, the members of Hatzala and Bikur Cholim of Crown Heights, Ahavas Chesed and Rabbi Avraham Lieder. All of them were angels who helped in every way possible.


    Erev Shevii shel Pesach the wheel turned again and from that point on we saw only progress. We were told by the hospital that his condition had stabilized and they were trying again to wake him from the sedation. We were told about a chesed organization that provides tablets for patients and their families. These tablets are already connected so as to enable families to remain in contact with isolated loved ones who cannot be visited in the hospital.

    Since my husband was expected to wake up during Yom Tov, and usually, when a patient wakes up after being out for several weeks, it is very important that he see and hear familiar people, R’ Braun told me to call my husband even on Yom Tov. Usually, family members are with the patient when he wakes up but since corona patients are quarantined, you need to use the tablet. Furthermore, the rav told me, if there would be technical problems I had to deal with them on Yom Tov so I could talk with my husband when he would wake up. It was pikuach nefesh that set everything aside.

    There actually were technical problems with the connection and it was bizarre spending Shevii shel Pesach on the phone with technical support and the nurses at the hospital until we finally managed to set up the communication between the two tablets.

    On Acharon shel Pesach, the big miracle happened and my husband finally woke up from the long sedation. To appreciate the magnitude of the miracle you have to see the statistics in New York. 88% of those sick with corona who were on respirators did not wake up! He got his life back as a gift in a miracle. At first he was very weak and because of the machines he was connected to he could not speak. He looked very frightened when he opened his mouth to speak and the words would not come out… He didn’t understand what was happening with him, and didn’t know if it was a temporary problem or something permanent r’l.

    Of course, I tried to reassure him and to explain that he was now waking up from a deep sedation. When he heard that it was Acharon shel Pesach he was in utter shock. It took time for him to absorb that he had lost three weeks of his life. He was sedated on 25 Adar and woke up on Acharon shel Pesach. The next day, Isru Chag, they put in a trach speaking valve that enabled him to talk. It was a mechanical voice that sounded robotic but at least he could express himself. He was very happy to speak with the children and when I told him about the new name that was added he joked about this new identity.

    Before candle-lighting he wished us a good Shabbos and said we would continue speaking after Shabbos. I told him about the rav’s psak that it was permissible and even necessary to speak to him during Shabbos but he felt very uncomfortable with this. I called R’ Braun and he said that if it bothers him that much maybe not to call him since the most important thing was for him to feel well and recover.

    It turned out that with all  the good intentions he had not yet recovered enough and Friday night he did not sleep well. When he woke up on Shabbos morning he was confused and it was medically necessary that we talk to him. He called at seven o’clock and I immediately turned on the tablet and communicated with him in order to encourage and strengthen him.

    I’m saying this because since there are other people who are unfortunately in situations like this and sometimes they think that they will be stringent and not call on Shabbos. If we hadn’t spoken on Shabbos it could have made his condition worse. There is no choice but to do as our Sages say and “desecrate one Shabbos so as to observe many more Shabbosos.” Boruch Hashem, his condition improved and a week and a half later he was released from the hospital to rehab. There too, we saw big miracles because at first they said he would need at least ten days. After three days he had gotten back to himself and was able to go home. That was a big surprise; we thought it would be another week.


    We asked Mrs. Zeitlin, from where did you get the enormous strength to deal with such a complicated, difficult situation?

    She said:

    First, the bracha we got from the Rebbe was constantly before us and the clear bracha about the reprieve being in “matters of health of the body and the neshama.” These words stood before my eyes through all the tough times, but there was something else that greatly strengthened me and that was a video from the mashpia, Rabbi Yaakov Winner of Australia who said that in Tammuz 5750 he was in a bad car accident and was hospitalized in critical condition. The doctors did not know whether he would make it.

    At the time, the shliach in Australia, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, was at the Rebbe and he wrote to the Rebbe that in the most recent period the community of Anash had suffered some severe blows as some of Anash died. He concluded that just recently a new mashpia by the name of R’ Winner had arrived and he was just in a car accident.

    The Rebbe wrote his answer on this letter, “When he shall decide that the time has come to fulfill the command of our Rebbeim to think good and it will be good – he will do so in actual practice.”

    R’ Winner recovered after six weeks and was released from the hospital. When he heard from R’ Groner what the Rebbe’s response was, he gave a lot of thought to the fact that he Rebbe chose to describe the saying “think good and it will be good” not as an aphorism of our Rebbeim and not as a saying of our Rebbeim and not even as an instruction of our Rebbeim, but as a command of our Rebbeim. He thought of this for years and did not find an explanation until a few years ago when he saw a Living Torah video with two stories in which a similar answer from the Rebbe is told, one to Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Gordon a’h, shliach in California, and one to Rabbi Avrohom Rottenberg. In both cases, the Rebbe used the word “command.”

    It then occurred to him that by using this word we see the Rebbe’s great Ahavas Yisrael. The Rebbe knows that it is very hard to think positively when the reality before one’s eyes looks otherwise, especially when to achieve that fully one has to reach a level of full bitachon that one trusts that Hashem will do what is good for us, with no connection to reality even when reality looks the opposite and there is no natural chance.

    Since it is so hard to do, the Rebbe puts it in terms of a command, to say that even someone not on this level of thinking positively because of having attained this level of bitachon, should do so as a command, with kabbolas ol. Simply to carry out the order of our Rebbeim and think good. It’s as though the Rebbe is pleading with us, even if you haven’t reached this high level, do it with kabbolas ol. I promise you that this is the way out of your problem.

    Another point, based on what it says numerous times in the Rebbe’s letters, is that a commandment is also an empowerment and therefore, the Rebbe used this word because it confers the ability to fulfill the order of thinking positively.

    After seeing this video, I forced myself to think positively. It definitely wasn’t easy in light of the dark prognostications of the doctors and the statistics that said 88% of corona patients on ventilators never wake up. And it was many times harder every time I got a phone call from the hospital about another problem and another problem, but with the power of kabbolas ol and the kochos which the Rebbe gives along with the command, I managed to rise above all rational calculations and simply thought positively, time and again. I pictured the doctor calling with good news and my husband finally coming home. That is how I persisted with positive thinking, until in the end it actually became good.


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