Last Updated on November 22, 2021
Israel Cured Me
By: Aaron Goldhammer
Nine years ago, when I was 19, I got my 3rd right shoulder dislocation while playing water polo. So like before, I went to the doctor and was referred for physical therapy. During the therapy I started experiencing an extremely intense burning sensation in my shoulder and whenever anything came into contact with the skin; clothing, water, bed sheets, etc. all caused equal agony. The doctors conducted tests; X-rays, MRIs, and even a triple phased bone scan. Eventually I was diagnosed with a disease called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It’s a very rare condition characterized by intense burning and constricted blood vessels, eventually leading to osteoporosis. My doctors told me that it was likely that it would spread to other parts of my body and that there really want too much they could do for me, aside from trying to make me more comfortable. They were right about it spreading. Over a period of 4 months the pain and skin discoloration (due to the constricted blood flow) had spread from my right shoulder to the fingertips of my right hand. 6 months later it spread to my left arm to my fingertips. It was awful.
I was given an assortment of medications to help me cope. Imagine for a moment being in constant pain – even with the meds, in a state of drug induced pain relief, fatigued due to a of lack of natural sleep and other side effects of the meds. All of that, along with knowledge that your body is slowly breaking down was how I lived for years. Still I was committed to trying to live as normal of a life as I could. I continued school and working full time, while trying to maintain a normal social life.
When I was 21, I knew my deteriorating condition would make it difficult to travel. I had never been to Israel so I decided to fill out an application for Birthright and was accepted shortly afterwards. When my plane landed in Israel, I knew right away that I was in a special place; in a special land with special people. The first encounter I had with an Israeli was an elderly man who asked me where we had come from. I told him “America” and he responded by giving me a huge hug and said to me “welcome home!”
Birthright took us all around the country and it was amazing. I was completely unprepared for the awesomeness of the Kotel! I went up to the Kotel and touched it, and was surprised that instead of the usual pain in my shoulder, it felt cool and soothing. I closed my eyes and asked G-d for a miracle. I promised that if I got better I would give up my life in America, become religious, make Aliyah and join the army if I was called. I promised to spend the rest of my life in Israel. After my Birthright group I returned to America hoping that I would return to Israel again soon to fulfill my promise. On my return, I discovered that my condition was deteriorating and that the pain had spread to my right leg. Every morning I got up hoping I would be healed.
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Two and a half years later – the morning of Rosh Hashana. I woke completely pain free and without any discoloration! It was unbelievable and I immediately remembered everything that had happened in Israel. After Rosh Hashana I went to my doctors who had a hard time believing me. They ran tests again. This time my test results were negative. I was cured! I was also spared the agony that accompanies the drug withdrawal. In one month, I was completely drug free. Unfortunately my body was not in good shape. A lot of my muscles had atrophied and I lost a lot of dexterity in my hands. It was clear that I would not be useful to the army in this condition. In an effort to keep my original commitment, I decided to train hard and get strong. I believed that eventually I would get a sign that it was time to return to Israel.
I started getting fitter. I took up shooting and even received training from instructors from the LAPD, ex-Marines, and other professionals in tactics and combat. I also took up knife fighting and Taekwondo. It was hard, but incredibly rewarding!
One day, 2 years later, I got a message from someone on Facebook, whom I had never met or spoken to before regarding an orthodox rabbi in LA who runs a program to bring young professionals to Israel, even if they had been on Birthright. I instantly felt that this was it! This was my time! I quickly signed up for an info session to learn more about it. It was going to be sort of kiruv trip involving learning session and other religious activities.. It all sounded great to me! There were hundreds of applicants.
A couple of weeks later I got a call from the rabbi saying that I had been accepted! I was literally jumping up and down with excitement.
The program was fantastic! The rabbi had such an incredible way of explaining things. The group was made up of young men and women of good character. It was a real pleasure getting to know them. I became shomer Shabbat and got stricter with kashrut. As we got closer and closer to the trip I became more and more excited! I knew that something was going to happen in Israel but I had no idea what!
I arrived in Israel in December, 2012. filled with the same amazing feeling I had the last time I was here. We went to many wonderful places. The rabbi and group members added to the experience.. But the highlight of the trip was to be in Jerusalem.
The program ended that day around 22:30. The rabbi and I as well as 3 other group members went to daven at the Kotel. I arrived at the Kotel and once again felt its power. After davening we split up. I went back to the spot where I had made my first plea with G-d and once again placed my hands on the wall. It was as if a bolt of electricity shot through me, both physically and emotionally! I fell to the ground in tears as the memories of the past few years all came back in an instant! This was the sign I was looking for. At that moment, I knew I would fulfill my promise and make Aliyah.
Up until this time no one knew the entire story, not even my parents. I did this purposely because I didn’t want anyone to interfere or try to talk me out of it. I wanted it to be between G-d and myself. The first people I told were the members of my group. On the last night we had dinner together and each person took a turn to talk about their experiences. I told my story for the first time. When I finished, I told them I would be traveling back to America to tell my parents and friends and finalize arrangements.
I returned to LA. After a dinner, I told my family that I had some news. I told them the entire story, filling in many blanks. From their perspective, I was sick for years and got better on Rosh Hashana. They were shocked to hear the details! My mom and sister cried and my dad seemed upset. They accepted my decision and the next day, I filled out my Aliyah application through Nefesh b’Nefesh. I made Aliyah on April 10, 2013.
I spent my first 3 months at a particular yeshiva. But for me it was it anti-Zionist and their “line” of Judaism wasn’t for me either. There were some very unpleasant moments there but I learned a lot about Judaism, made some friends, and connected with some special rabbis. I learned a lot about myself and my Judaism even though I did not agree with all of their teachings. When I left the yeshiva, I was introduced to my future wife. 23 days later we got engaged and then married in January 2014. In December 2014 she gave birth to a baby girl. That month we also moved to a yeshuv in the Shomron called Itamar. We have wonderful neighbors and we really feel at home. I work for a software company in Raanana.
I know my story is unique. I have a lot to be thankful for. Being cured of my illness, becoming religious, marrying an amazing Israeli woman and being “adopted” by her family, having a beautiful daughter, getting a great job, moving to an amazing community… I could go on and on. My aliyah wasn’t all easy though; we’ve had financial troubles but we worked hard to get where we are in a short amount of time. We never gave up and always looked toward the future. I hope my story inspires others to stay in Israel.