Despite the defeat of Moshe Feiglin in the recent Likud primaries, in the Feiglin home, they count victories every day.
Translated from the B’Sheva newspaper.
By Rivki Goldfinger
2 Shvat 5775/Jan. 22, ‘15
At the end of the street, in the last house in the row, the Feiglin family resides. The father, MK Moshe Feiglin, head of the Manhigut Yehudit faction and until recently a Likud member, is a well-known public figure. A lesser known figure, who, throughout the years was careful to protect her privacy and distanced herself from the spotlight, is Moshe Feiglin’s wife, Tzippy.
Mrs. Feiglin greets me warmly. She shakes my hand, and it is impossible not to notice the Parkinson’s disease that has attacked her. Her speech is weak and limp. She walks toward me with heavy steps. But despite her illness and the physical impairments with which she is forced to deal, she projects inspiring strength. On the small table in the living room, home-made baked goods are served. Cookies neatly placed in round, colorful plates fill the room with a delicious aroma.
Tzippy’s son, David, 21, joins our conversation. David suffers from a disability since he sustained a severe head injury in a car accident four years ago. David is also full of vitality and zest for life and his words are spiced with humor. A very obvious scar on his throat testifies to the long months of coma that he endured. David offers me a cup of coffee and serves me the warm cup with trembling hands as he walks from the kitchen to the living. He steps carefully. The cup of coffee and home-made pastries in front of me reflect, perhaps, the entire story of Tzippy and David Feiglin. It is a story of determination and clinging to life against all odds.
Not a Word About Politics
Tzippy Feiglin (52) spent the first years of her life in Chicago. Feiglin nee Spring lived in a Jewish neighborhood. She went to the local Jewish Day School. Her parents owned a Judaica store. When she was ten years old, her parents decided that the time was ripe to make aliyah to Israel. Together with her brother and sister, they set out on a long journey. The final destination: Israel.
“That was in ’73, before the Yom Kippur War. The travelling took us more than a month and a half. First we flew to New York to part from our grandparents and aunts and uncles. From there we flew to Europe. In Marseille we boarded a Zim boat that brought us to the Haifa port.” Tzippy remembers the moment that she saw the shores of Israel for the first time. “I was very excited. A friend of my father’s who lived in Neveh Sha’anan welcomed us and we slept at his home on the first night.” Eventually, the Spring family made their home in Rehovot.
How was your integration into the new country?
“ I didn’t have a problem with language, because I already knew how to speak Hebrew. The difficulty was that my sister and I were sent to a Bais Yaakov school and due to cultural differences, we did not fare well. We felt very different in many ways. We managed to make it through the year and then transferred to the Amit school in Rehovot. After completing high school, Tzippy did national service for two years. “The first years I served in the newborn ward of the Bikur Holim Hospital, and in my second year I served in a special education school in Baka, Jerusalem. Those were two very significant years in my life.”
At the end of her second year of National Service, Tzippy married Moshe Feiglin, whom she had met at Bnei Akiva. “We got married in the summer. As a young couple we lived first in Jerusalem, afterwards in Rechovot and nearly three decades ago, we moved with our two eldest daughters, Naama and Ayelet, to Ginot Shomron.” In Ginot Shomron, three more children were born to the Feiglins: Aryeh, David and Avraham. More than two decades ago, Tzippy’s husband, Moshe, became a public activist, founding the Zo Artzeinu movement that fought against the Oslo Accords. Afterwards, he established Manhigut Yehudit, which joined the Likud. In the current Knesset, Moshe Feiglin has served as an MK in the Likud party. The recent Likud primaries have left him off the roster, but Feiglin does not plan to give up. Tzippy is not willing to say even one word about her husband’s political and public career. Attempts to extract political insights or experiences from her are met with solid refusal.
Throughout the years, in addition to her great investment in raising her children, Tzippy was active in many areas. “I have always been full of action. I opened the senior citizens center in Ginot Shomron. Even back then, we already had about twenty seniors. We started out in a trailer and eventually moved to permanent quarters in the Payis building.” Afterwards, Tzippy established a hat business in her home. But then, at the age of 35, when she was a young woman and mother of five children, her body began to broadcast worrisome signals. “I felt that something was not right. Suddenly, I couldn’t get my toes in my shoe. Suddenly, I wanted to stand up and my leg did not respond. Those were small and irritating things. I felt that I was tiring very easily. Before then, I would work very quickly. But then I slowed down. I understood that something not good was going on.”
Together with her husband, Moshe, she went from doctor to doctor, hearing all sorts of opinions. “ Every doctor said something else. A problem with my tendons, torn ligament in my shoulder, slipped disc in my neck. They said everything but ‘Parkinson’s’”. As time went on, the difficulties became more pronounced. “ I remember going to a Bar Mitzvah party at friends who live at the end of the block. It took me half an hour to walk there. Moshe said, ‘Enough is enough.” We heard of a specialist in the US and flew there to see him. At that time, I could not lift my arm or move my neck. They did an MRI and discovered a torn ligament in my shoulder and two slipped discs in my neck. We came back home thinking that we had identified the problem. But the physical difficulties kept getting worse.”
Did that make you tense?
I felt awful. I was hardly able to peel a potato. In truth, because of my work with the elderly in the Senior Citizens Center, I was familiar with Parkinson’s. Deep down, I feared that that was the problem all along.”
It was actually her son’s dentist who pushed her into getting the definitive diagnosis. “When David was eight years old, I went with him to the dentist in Jerusalem. The dentist looked at me and asked, “Do you feel ok?” I told him that I’m fine, but have a torn ligament in my shoulder. He insisted that I go to a certain neurologist. I explained that I had already been to a specialist and he said that all was fine. The dentist immediately identified that I had Parkinson’s and insisted that I go to the neurologist. Neither he nor the neurologist said a word about their suspicion. When the results of the tests came, I was hospitalized in Ichilov and the emergency room doctor said straight out, “You have Parkinson’s.” I was only 41 and it was a serious blow.”
“I Have Much to be Thankful For”
Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease of the nervous system, which attacks the coordination of movement in the body. It is common at later ages and is expressed by shaking, slowness and decrease in movement, muscle rigidity, strong pain, difficulty at the beginning of movement and lack of balance. As the disease progresses, the impaired muscle movement affects the patient’s ability to swallow and speak. “The cause of the disease is unknown,” Tzippy explains. “There is also the genetic factor, but we do not have a family history of Parkinson’s. The environmental factor of heavy-metal or insecticide poisoning is not relevant to me. For me, there is no definitive cause for the disease.”
What does a young woman, mother of five children, feel when she is told that she has an incurable disease?
I will not lie. I took it very hard at the beginning. It was a great shock in our lives. I was careful not to let the word out. I wanted to remain anonymous. I didn’t want the focus to be on the disease, but on who I am. I didn’t want people to say about Moshe, ‘He’s so unfortunate, his wife is ill.’ Slowly but surely, I learned to make peace with my situation and live with the disease in the best way possible.”
Dealing with her disease is a persistent, daily struggle. There are days that she cannot walk and days that she suffers from terrible pain throughout her body. “Pain killers do not help, and I have to wait patiently for the pain to go away. There are hours that I move too much and other times that I cannot move at all. No middle of the road. I never know when it will overtake me and what will happen to me the next minute.” Two weeks ago, Tzippy participated in the wedding of close friends. “I so much wanted to be part of the joy, but suddenly my body froze and I couldn’t get off my mobility scooter. The bride had to come to me. That disappointed me.”
The tricks her body plays on her, Tzippy relates, are the most difficult. Not long ago, she was enjoying a shopping trip to the Malha Mall in Jerusalem when suddenly, in the middle of walking down the hall in the mall, she felt that her body was not cooperating. “With no advanced warning, I froze. I couldn’t take even one step or move aside to get out of the way. I stood there feeling embarrassed and waited for it to go over. It was very unpleasant. I am a young woman and it is not easy to accept this situation. But I use my sense of humor to deal with it. True, there are ups and downs and it is a daily struggle, but I am grateful with all my heart for what I have.”
“I have so much to be thankful for. I praise G-d for all the good,” she answers with amazing simplicity. “I have a loving and supportive family, a wonderful community, I have David. My cup is completely full and it is even running over – not just because of my trembling,” she laughs.
About a year ago, Tzippy watched the Uvdah television investigative show on Israel’s Channel 2. The show documented Mati Milo, the Parkinson’s patient who chose to deal with the disease by ending his life on camera. “I was really upset with the show. It made me furious. They turned him into a hero and spoke admiringly of his heroic decision to die. That is heroism? It’s shocking,” she says, still refusing to accept the idea. “Heroism is somebody who decides to persevere despite the difficulties – not somebody who runs away from them. Heroism is David, who, despite all the difficulties, gets up in the morning and does everything with a smile. It is true that Parkinson’s means dealing with pain and difficulty 24 hours a day, but the true wisdom is to choose life, to choose to truly deal with it.”
The documentary shocked Tzippy so much that she allowed her husband to speak about her illness from the Knesset podium. “It was not easy for me to publicly disclose my illness, but I understood that it was imperative to present the other side of the story. Moshe talked about the illness because it was a statement that had to be heard. Heroism is choosing life – not death,” she falls into silence for a moment. “I have to struggle for almost everything, including things that seem trivial to others – like walking, bending down, talking. But I choose not to despair. The easiest thing for me to do would be to give up. I remember that a week after David’s car accident, they went to Rabbi David Abuhatzeirah in Nahariya for his blessing and he said: ‘David will yet dance with joy, but the mother must also be happy.’ When they told me that, I didn’t understand how he would expect me to be happy when my son was laying there, unconscious. But since then I have learned that happiness is an internal decision. I know every morning anew: Either I live and choose happiness or I’m finished. Exactly like that. In the mornings I have excruciating pain. The body is very rigid in the morning. It takes me time to get over it. .I lay in bed, trying to relax and then I say to myself, “Get going, get up, take a shower, get dressed.’ There’s nothing else I can do. I can’t stay in my pajamas forever. I don’t make allowances for myself. I have a thousand excuses to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself, but I will not let myself do that. No way. It’s a lot of inner work.”
Three years ago, Tzippy had special brain surgery for Parkinson’s patients, in an effort to relieve her symptoms. The new treatment is based on the possibility of activating various areas in the brain with an electronic pulse, which helps to overcome the degeneration in those areas. Special electrodes were implanted in her brain, which were supposed to cyclically stimulate the brain cells and ease various symptoms of the illness. “They implanted two electrodes and a pacemaker in my head. For me, unfortunately, it did not work.”
Tzippy tries with all her might to continue to run her household. Until a year ago, she managed completely by herself, but now she is helped by a foreign worker. “When she came to us, it was a hard stage for me. I had to digest the fact that I am no longer capable of doing things by myself. There’s nothing I can do about it, I understood that there is no choice.” Tzippy still insists on baking and cooking by herself. “When I am in the kitchen, I make a huge mess. Things fall out of my hands and break or spill. But it is important for me to keep doing whatever I can.”
I Didn’t Hear the Doctors
As if the challenge of an incurable illness was not enough, David was seriously injured in a car accident, changing the family’s life beyond recognition. The accident happened four years ago, on a summer day, about four o’ clock in the afternoon. David and his friend Daniel left Alfei Menashe on their way to Karnei Shomron to volunteer for their shift at the local fire station. Suddenly, a car in the opposite lane did a u-turn over a white line, almost crashing head on into their car. The driver’s attempt to avoid the crash did not work and the second car threw them off to the side, where they forcefully crashed into an electric pole. David, who was sitting next to the driver, was hit in the head and immediately lost consciousness. “My friend Daniel saved my life,” says David. “I was unconscious, with fractures in my skull and serious bleeding. He immediately went into action. He opened up an airway, made sure I didn’t swallow my tongue. He cut open my seatbelt and put a hole in the air cushion. In the meantime, he shouted into the wireless radio and called for the emergency services. Fortunately, I don’t remember anything about the accident.”
At the time of the accident, Tzippy and Moshe were busy with “Challenges” – bicycle riding for special needs people in Park Hayarkon. While they were riding, Moshe got a phone call about the serious accident. “We got into the car worried, but we had no idea how serious his injury was. The whole time I was hoping that David would call me and say, ‘Imma, don’t worry, everything is fine’. It turned out that if we really wanted to know about his condition, all we had to do was turn on the radio and listen to the news, where they were already reporting that David was in critical condition.”
When they arrived at the intensive care unit of the Schneider Hospital in Petach Tikvah, the medical staff awaited them with serious faces. “They approached us and told us that it was a severe head injury and that David would probably not survive. They agreed to say that if he would survive, he would be in a vegetative state. I was not at all willing to hear that. I went over to David and whispered in his ear: ‘David, you are a fighter. Now is the time to give your most serious fight. Fight with all your strength, show everyone who you are.’ It was clear to me that he would do everything he could.”
Despite the four years that have passed since then, it is still hard for Tzippy to relive those difficult moments. “Most of the doctors were pessimistic, but I did not agree to listen to them. Maybe I just didn’t get it, and that is a good thing . Otherwise, I don’t know how I would have taken it.”
David remained in a coma for three and a half months. His parents were told that he was in the most severe level of coma, one level before death. His parents did not leave his bedside, insisting on staying with him 24 hours a day, hanging on to every wisp of hope. “There was a professor that tried to make it clear to me that David was in a vegetative state and would never wake up again, but I was not willing to listen to him. He said to me, ‘Do you know who I am?’ I told him, ‘Yes, and nevertheless I am not interested in hearing your opinion’. People thought I was crazy, but I did not let anyone talk to me about any option other than that David would be fine.” After five weeks, still in the coma, David was transferred to the rehabilitation ward in Safra Children’s Hospital in Tel Hashomer.
On Erev Yom Kippur, close to the beginning of the fast, the great miracle occurred. “I was in the hospital and Moshe was with the other children at home. Suddenly, David said in a quiet voice, ‘Shalom.’ I was in shock. What a happy Yom Kippur that was. From then until Chanukah, he did not speak again, but that was a positive sign for us. On Shabbat Chanukah he began to talk and walk. It was a miracle of gigantic proportions,” she says emotionally. After 11 months in Tel Hashomer, David was sent home. “It is only in the merit of the prayers of thousands of people that I am here,” David adds. G-d decided that I would not die, that I still have to live.”
“It is a huge, great miracle,” says Tzippy. “We all prayed that he would live and it actually happened, despite all the predictions. On the other hand, his injury is still serious. He did not return to his former level of functioning. He has a head injury, paralysis and blindness in one eye. Our greatest pain is the feeling of lost potential,” she says, choking up. “David’s medical condition is complex. It is hard to grasp, because from the outside, you don’t see anything amiss. He is a fighter,” she proudly says.
There is a deep bond between the Feiglin mother and son. Their daily struggles with their physical and emotional challenges have woven a personal discourse between them. “David is very sensitive. With his one eye, he sees more than what most people do not see with two eyes. He sees inside, to the heart. He feels when it is hard for me and when I am sad, and tries with his humor to encourage me. He doesn’t let me sink, hugs me and says, ‘Imma, you cannot be sad. Smile.’”
Last year, David volunteered for National Service in ‘Or Yarok’, an organization that works to increase awareness about accident prevention. He visited schools, army bases and preventative driving workshops, telling his personal story. “I would travel throughout the country. Where wasn’t I? I spoke to the people about careful driving and the destruction wreaked by accidents. About 15,000 people heard me.” Today, David studies in a drama course and a special rehabilitation course for people with head injuries. “They teach me how to manage in the real world,” he explains.
In the upcoming months, a great, joyous event is anticipated in the Feiglin home. A few weeks ago, David became engaged to Natali. He met his future wife at an event organized by the Inbar Organization, which works to bring people with handicaps together. The event took place about half a year ago in Petach Tikva. “At the beginning, I didn’t want to go to a single’s event,” says David. “It seemed like a waste of time. I didn’t believe that anything would come out of it, but I met Natali there. We’ve been together ever since.” Tzippy is very happy with her son’s engagement. “The engagement party for David and Natali was so emotional. After all that he’s been through, it is hard to believe that we are meriting these happy moments.”
David’s father, MK Moshe Feiglin, is also moved by his son’s engagement and the long journey that he took together with his wife from the day of the accident four years ago, through the months of rehabilitation and until the engagement party. “It is a great joy,” he says.
Have you experienced moments of breakdown during Tzippy’s illness and David’s accident?
“I do not remember moments of breakdown. Certainly, it is unbelievably painful. It is not easy, it is not simple, really not. But it is a challenge that must be dealt with. I believe that G-d does not give a person a trial with which he cannot deal. I believe that if this particular package fell onto your shoulders, it means that you can deal with it. There are many complex trials. It is a very difficult reality, but there is no despairing in this world.”
How do you manage to combine intensive public service with the challenges at home?
Clearly, for example, in the first period after David’s accident, I put everything aside and was with Tzippy at the hospital. There are moments and situations in which you are totally with your family. That is completely clear. But as time goes on, you have to ask yourself if you will allow the complex reality to stop everything and get you off track. Or perhaps, despite everything, from within that personal trial, you choose to continue, maybe even with more strength. I remember that while David was still in a coma, one of our daughters came over to the house and saw me fixing my bicycle chain. She was so happy to see me, in those difficult days, doing those small things in life, not detached from everything. And if I didn’t give up on something so banal, then I certainly would not give up on my life. Ultimately, that is the right decision to make. I draw strength from Tzippy and David all the time. The physical challenges with which they deal around the clock are very draining at the immediate level, but also very empowering and compelling.
Now that you have left the Likud, will you be home more?
“I could have chosen to give up, but I have chosen a path that demands much more of me. That is my answer in this situation as well. I have chosen to establish a new political framework. I am actually starting out anew, but from a much more ripe and mature place. It requires a huge investment, vast amounts of energy and a lot of time.”
After you saw the uncomplimentary results of the Likud primaries, didn’t you think, ’They don’t want me – just forget it’?
“That evil inclination certainly exists, but I do not have the privilege of giving in. If you believe that you have the solutions for the challenges facing Israel, you do not have permission to get up and leave. Life is full of challenges, and that is the way to approach them. Together with that, it is no less important to see the good side in those challenges, to squeeze everything out of them. I enjoy my grandchildren and my family, riding my bicycle and listening to good music.”