Wednesday, January 11, 2012

King David: An Interview with the Feiglin Family

Translated from Motzash – Makor Rishon – Chanukah issue 5772

By Racheli Meleck-Bodah

"You are the first journalist who has entered our home," Tzippy Feiglin says to me as she opens the door.

It is a quiet Friday in Ginot Shomron. The time is 11:30 a.m. but in the Feiglin home, Shabbat has been ready for a long time. The house is shining, the table is set, the candles are already standing ready on the tray and the aroma of fresh-baked goodies is in the air. Exemplary order that awakens envy. Weekend serenity at its finest.

"And why did I merit the honor?" I ask Tzippy. "It's not you," she answers. "We wanted to publicize the miracle. Until now, we were careful to separate our personal lives from Moshe's public pursuits. But this time, we felt a strong need to express our thanks".

The Feiglins, both 49, have five children and four grandchildren. David is the fourth son. At this point, the house is still empty and we wait for David to return from school. In the meantime, Tzippy offers me coffee and cookies, and I accept. When she gets up, I notice that it is difficult for her to walk, but I don't dare ask about the limp. She senses my embarrassment and offers the information herself. "I have Parkinson's", she says. "I had surgery three months ago, and for months before that, I was in a wheelchair".

Tzippy refuses to give in to her condition and cooks for Shabbat by herself. Strong woman. When you look at her, you begin to understand what this family is made of; a father determined to fight for the ideology in which he believes, and the son who was already on his way to the hereafter and came back.

Mothers sense their children. For half a year before the accident, Tzippy couldn't shake the feeling that something terrible was about to happen. "I knew it would come, and I also knew that it would happen specifically to David. It's a mother's sense, I have no other way to explain it. I even remember that once there was a trip to Joseph's Tomb, and David's full name is David Joseph. I felt that I must be there. I went to the tomb and begged G-d to tear up the evil decree, not to take my child away from me".

It's only a matter of one day, and life changes. Everything familiar is naught. A new reality settles in. For the Feiglins, that terrible day was 28.6.10, the eve of the 17th of Tamuz. It is a date they will never forget.

"It caught us in Ganei Yehoshua, riding our bicycles", Tzippy begins the story. "David was supposed to join us for the ride, but in the end he decided that he would go to volunteer at the fire station. I remember that I said to him on the phone, 'Don't forget that you promised me to scrape the paint off the walls of your room so that we can paint it fresh.' 'Don't worry, Imma, you can count on me,' Those are the last words that I heard from him until he woke up again".

"The chain fell off the bicycle and we stopped to fix it", she continues. "We saw that the telephone did not stop ringing, but we were busy and did not answer. After a few more times, I answered. Someone said that he needed my husband urgently. 'So what else is new?' I thought. 'Everyone needs him urgently'. I told him that he is busy now and cannot talk. He insisted. I understood that he would not let me be and I gave Moshe the telephone. Moshe began to pace back and forth with the phone and after a few moments he came back to me and said, 'There's been an accident, David is in Beilinson, I don't know anything else'".

"The real luck is that we didn't turn on the radio", Moshe continues. "The news of the accident was already on all the radio stations; they reported that he was seriously injured, but we didn't know a thing. We tried calling people we know, everyone filtered us out. Nobody wanted to be the one to tell us. When we reached the entrance to the hospital, the guards took our car and said that they would park it for us. A whole row of medical staff received us. Tzippy, in her naivety, thought it was because of me, because I am a public figure. I already caught on that this type of reception is reserved for someone to whom something very bad has happened. At that stage, I prepared myself for the worst. I remember the words of the doctor: 'Your son sustained a serious injury to his head'".

Later on, more details filled in. David was in an accident near Alfei Menashe, after a driver made a u-turn in a place where that is prohibited. He hit the car in which David was sitting and threw it off to the side of the road. The car smashed into an electric pole on its right side and David, who was sitting in the passenger seat on the right, absorbed all the impact.

"It's amazing how the entire impact was specifically on David", Moshe says. "Nobody else in the car was hurt. From pictures of the accident you can clearly see the car folded right where he was sitting".
Tzippy admits that during those hours she was in denial and did not understand the severity of the situation. "The Holy One, Blessed Be He was kind to me. He put me in a state in which I did not integrate what was happening. I heard what the doctors said and I thought to myself, 'O.K., he has a strong head. He will be fine.' Throughout the entire day I was detached from reality. I don't understand why they didn't hospitalize me, as well. If I had really understood what was going on, in my condition, I would have collapsed".

The ICU has its own rhythm. The din of treatments, forms to fill out, authorization for surgery, running back and forth. There is no time to think; only the instincts work. Bad news has a habit of traveling fast and in the meantime, the place filled up with hundreds of visitors.

Moshe: "People in the street heard and came. People who we do not know, people who do not necessarily agree with my opinions; and that shook me up. All the barriers that I had known fell in an instant. It's not only that Bibi and Sarah sent a telegram; or that colleagues who I am constantly arguing with came. When I think about it now I understand that the miracle that happened to us took place in the merit of the prayers of the simple Jew on the street. It didn't happen because I am famous; it didn't happen because we did something. I truly believe that when the Nation of Israel is united around something, it simply happens.

Tzippy: "I remember that I asked myself how it is that people do not tire of doing so many acts of kindness. How much can they give? We could have fed the entire department with the vast amounts of food that they sent us; such abundance. Even the nurses in Schneider were amazed from the way that our yishuv organized to help us. They said to me, 'Where are you from? We want to come live there'".

Moshe: At that point you suddenly understand the difference between someone who has a community behind him and someone who doesn't. I saw people there in very difficult situations who were getting what the State gives, but the system was dealing with them – not people. When you come from a community, it is an entirely different story. For me, it strongly highlighted the importance of a return to communities on a national basis."

Three months, and David remained in a coma. Most of the doctors had lost hope, but the parents did not give up. Despite the difficulties presented by her illness, Tzippy stayed in his room 24 hours a day, speaking to him all the time. In the meantime, David was transferred for rehabilitation to Tel Hashomer, without any marked improvement in his condition. Rosh Hashanah was approaching.

"At first, I spent all my time in the ward", Moshe says. "Afterwards, I began to come and go so that I could spend some time at home with the other children. On Rosh Hashanah, I prayed in the synagogue in the hospital. I purposely chose a seat in one of the back rows so that nobody would disturb my prayers with questions. I did not request any active part in the prayers or to be called up to the Torah. I preferred to pray quietly.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I came to the synagogue once again, wrapped in my prayer shawl, focused inward. Suddenly, I hear a murmur in the synagogue. I look to the side and see my wife entering with David's gurney; David was tied down in a reclining position with a sea of tubes emerging from his body. The gurney was heavy; it was even hard for me to push it, and it was approximately a half-kilometer walk to the hospital synagogue. I didn't understand how Tzippy, in her condition, managed to push it the whole way. I asked her, 'What are you doing here'? Tzippy answered me, 'I wanted him to hear the shofar'. At some point I was called up to the Torah. There was David, tied on the gurney next to me, as I recited the blessing and read in a whisper along with the Torah Reader.

The Torah portion turned out to be the Binding of Isaac and there I stood, with my son tied in a gurney, struggling between life and death. I felt as if Isaac was my son bound next to me, and I had no way of helping him. I could not control myself; the tears streamed straight onto the Torah scroll. I shed so many tears that I moved my head because I was afraid that the Torah scroll may become unfit for reading.

On the way back to the room, following the most powerful Rosh Hashanah prayers I had ever had, I felt a strange sensation of relief; a type of acceptance. I said to G-d, 'I have done all that I can; now it is in Your hands.' Our Sages say that the repentance of the completely righteous is accepted immediately, while the repentance of people neither completely righteous nor completely wicked waits until Yom Kippur for resolution. On Yom Kippur eve David said his first word".

"It happened a minute before the beginning of the fast", Moshe points toward the porch. "I remember the shadows of the setting sun, I remember that I had almost begun the fast and then I said, I will make a last call to Tzippy and David and bless them before Yom Kippur. Tzippy said to me, 'Say hello to David'. I said shalom to him, as I was accustomed to doing; after all, we were always talking to him. Suddenly, he answers me over the phone: 'Shalom'".

The fast began. Moshe ran to the synagogue, to the people who had surrounded him during the entire ordeal, to tell them that his son had woken up. "The first Shabbat after the accident was a black Shabbat. People in our yishuv felt a sense of mourning. There was nobody who wasn't moved by what had happened. And just like it had been so sad then, so was the joy on Yom Kippur Eve".

Tzippy: "The next morning, I asked David if he wants to eat something. 'It's a fast day!' he answered me. I didn't understand how he knew the date; perhaps because of the white scarf that I wear only on Yom Kippur". But after that Yom Kippur, David did not speak again for another three months.

"In the hospital they tried to explain to us that it was just a one-time phenomenon", says Feiglin. "They said that possibly he had lost his entire vocabulary; that he would have to learn how to talk from scratch; that his injury was very severe. They said all sorts of things. Thank G-d, his condition continued to slowly progress. Slowly, he is talking once again".

A door opens. A tall boy, smiley, full of vitality, comes into the house and jokingly says, "You're talking about me, huh?" I study David, a walking miracle. Outside the scar on his throat, a souvenir from the resuscitation, my first glance doesn't divulge the fact that he was in such a serious accident.

Later, his father updates me on his current medical condition. "He does not see out of his right eye, he still has difficulty holding a knife and fork, pouring, drinking by himself; we still have a lot of work ahead of us".

David hears and chimes in: "I can do everything, everything I can do, it is just hard – So what?"

"I saw that reading much improves his abilities and thus we diligently sit and read together", tells the father. "What are you reading?" I ask. Feiglin laughs. "My book, 'Where there are no Men' that tells about my activism in the Zo Artzeinu movement. It is a difficult book, but I saw that David finds it interesting and even continues reading on his own. So it is apparently the right book for practicing."

At this point, despite the fact that I had promised myself not to mix in politics, I find it hard not to ask Feiglin if his opinions have changed since then. "When something like this happens, a person must examine his deeds", he answers with honesty. "I understood that it was not something small, the observance of a law that I must improve, but that apparently I had fallen on my lack of ability to look at my political opponents in a positive light".

And what about the opinions, themselves?
"Nothing has changed in my doctrine or in my understanding of reality or in the solutions that I propose. But today, I do try to listen to people even if, in my opinion, they are causing damage. I honestly try; it's not easy. The debate sometimes gets down to our most existential roots. When they destroy a family's home, I am horrified. It immediately brings me to a place of hatred; these are the people that you see every day and you know that they are responsible for it. It is a very complex topic and demands a broad perspective. In the past, I was easy on myself- I allowed myself to hate people. That is a mistake that I regret today.

You have declared in the past that you have no faith in the system. Is that true today as well?
It's interesting. From the moment that the accident occurred, I became a "customer" of the system, against my will. I must say that all in all, it worked very well; the health system, social security all responded immediately. But on the political points, my opinion has remained the same. I do not have faith in the justice system. I see it now, as well, in the treatment of the driver who caused the accident.'

Criminal proceedings are currently being held against the driver who injured David. The arguments for punishment are delayed time and again by his attorney. Once again, Feiglin finds himself in a battle against the justice system. Recently, he has begun to formulate a new legislative proposal on accidents, in which he differentiates between accidents not caused by reckless driving and accidents that are: passing on a white line, running a red light, drunken driving and more.

"Today's ethics dictate that a person who was injured in an accident receives compensation that allows him to continue to function in terms of medical expenses. The State is supposed to punish the perpetrator and builds a wall between us. That is not what Jewish ethics dictate. Judaism dictates that an unintentional murderer is still a murderer. He must escape to a City of Refuge. He bears responsibility for his actions. A person who has a baby unintentionally – is he responsible for him or not? Of course he is! If you bring new life to the world, are you responsible? So why then, if you take life, are you not responsible?

The dimension of responsibility has been taken off the roads. The goal of the proposed law is to restore it. We are not talking about human error. We are talking about a case in which a person makes an irresponsible decision and does not have to pay a price for it. In this case, he is the one who should be responsible for the potential victim, not the insurance company that will pay in his stead. The person who injured my son, I estimate, will have to perform half a year of community service. That is absurd. There should be a lien against his bank accounts, he should have to pay support all his life for my son. He should have to live a life of minimal expenses, to be reminded daily of the reckless decision that he made. If this message would be integrated into society, we would see a completely different country here".

Has the fact that you almost lost a child made you think differently about life in Samaria, on the relative danger of living here?
According to what you say, maybe we should live in Australia and not have to deal with danger at all. That reminds me that once I was asked the same question by a journalist from Tel Aviv. I said to her, you are here in Tel Aviv, threatened by tens of thousands of missiles every day. Why are you here? Go to London. She said to me, 'You're right'. Every zebra know the lions in its savannah. I take risks within the realm of reason. I ride my bicycle every day in the wadi, but I will not enter the Arab village. I do live in a savannah, but I will not serve myself up as food for the lions. I do not have a suicide wish".

David and Tzippy, who in the meantime had taken a coffee and cake break, re-join our conversation. It is difficult not to be affected by David's charm. He jokes a lot about himself and his situation and tells me about his love for motorcycles.

"I once found an old Vespa motorcycle from the seventies thrown in a garbage dump. Abba said to me, 'That's a piece of junk, why did you bring it home?' After I worked on it for two hours, it drove like a classic.

Tzippy: "And what do you think about motorcycle driving today'?

David: It's stupid. It is not easy to fight for your life. Today I know that. It's easy to ride a motorcycle.

Tzippy: What do you think today about someone who rides a motorcycle?

David: That he is stupid. He should sell it.

For David, only 18, the accident also means shattered dreams. He dreams of serving in a combat unit in the army, he dreams to work the land. He had built an entire hothouse in his back yard and today his hands betray him; hands of gold that used to know how to fix everything. He had completed only three matriculation exams before the accident. Today he learns in the Mesharim special education school and is trying to fill in the gap. "Once, I didn't believe in finishing all the matriculation exams," he admits. I hated to study. Now that it has suddenly become difficult, I want it, I appreciate it. I hope that I will manage to finish everything by the time I am 21. All of my friends are in pre-military academies; some are already serving in the army. It is very difficult for me to be left behind."

Are you angry at G-d?
I am angry at the idiot who ruined my life, not at G-d. G-d has a plan for every person in the world. My plan was to have an accident, to be critically injured and maybe to live afterwards. In the end G-d decided – OK, he will live. On the other hand, I have a friend who was with me in the hospital and who is in school with me now. He was also injured in an accident. He doesn't stop being angry at G-d. 'Why did I get the short end of the stick? Why me?' I think it is very hard to live like that. I want people to read this interview and say: G-d is great, G-d is tremendous'. He took my life and then He said, 'You are still young, we will let you go, take your life back'".

What do you remember from your hospitalization?
"I don't remember anything. Have you heard about all those who say that they were in the next world? They saw a tunnel, a light emerging? Rubbish. You don't see anything", he laughs.

Tzippy, who had gone out for a moment, returns to the living room with an album filled with letters. "When I think about why it happened, the only think that I can think of is the huge amount of kindness that came to be in David's merit. In the first week after the accident I asked everyone who I met – take a small good deed upon yourself. Improve yourself in one way, volunteer in some place. And everyone took something upon himself. In my opinion, it is in this merit that he woke up. G-d couldn't remain apathetic to it. I feel a need to express my thanks to the people who supported us, some of whom we do not even know.

They prayed for us everywhere. Even in Hong Kong: One of David's visitors told us that he was in Hong Kong after the accident and wanted to say the misheberach prayer for him in the synagogue there. It turned out that David's name had already been on the list for a very long time. The message that kindness can make a change, that charity can save from death; that is the most important thing for me to give over".

I leaf through the album: huge amounts of letters pop out of it. Suddenly I understand how many people this boy managed to touch. "To Davidush", a young, formerly religious woman writes him: "We never got to know each other, but from my short meetings with you at the school gate I feel that you are a person full of light, love and the joy of life. You are always smiling, it's amazing! A smile worth gold. I hope that up in heaven they are using the trait of mercy to determine your fate and that they remember all your smiles up there, that every day can light up people's days and heal their souls". "Throw your desires upon G-d and He will sustain you, this is our time to strengthen our faith. To our David," writes a non-observant relative from his father's side, "You know? We were never good at praying, but you managed to rectify us a bit. Now we pray every day, every hour, with every improvement in your condition, with each of your responses that bring us joy".

I observe the Feiglin family. It is difficult not to connect to them through David's personal story. There is an enchanting poem by Leah Goldberg, "For a Person who doesn't Believe, it is Hard to Live." I remember it and am filled with envy. How pleasant for the Feiglins, that their faith comes to them just like that, completely naturally. It seems that there are people who believe in miracles and there are people who need a miracle to happen to them in order to believe. The Feiglins, so it seems, always believed. From their standpoint, the miracle was so that others would also believe. The light outside begins to dim and I understand that Shabbat is approaching and the time has come to finish. As I am getting ready to leave I look at David from the side, as he takes a glass of juice with a slightly trembling hand. He smiles and makes the blessing out loud, "That all comes about with His word," like only a person who has almost lost everything can make a blessing.

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