Growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, I was greatly influenced by my uncle, who had recently became Torah observant. When I began wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit to school, the principal suggested to my parents that I would be better off attending a more religious school. My parents agreed and switched me to Torah Academy, a Lubavitch Day School when I was in fourth grade.
About this time, I was due for a check up with my doctor. During a routine eye exam, the doctor noticed something unusual and sent us to a specialist.
I was diagnosed with a disease called retinitis pigmentosa. This is a degenerative disease of the retina, G-d forbid. It’s called RP for short. Unfortunately, there is no cure for it and it leads to lose of eyesight.
The doctors suggested I start wearing sunglasses, because the sun can speed up the process. In truth there was not much they could do.
My uncle, Dr. Rodney,* who was a phenomenal person and a great physician, said to my parents, “The doctors have not given you much hope, so I’m going to take Yisroel to see the Rebbe.”
My parents together with my uncle decided to come to NY for Hoshana Raba, the concluding day of Sukkot, to the Rebbe, and be there for Shemini Atzeret and the joyful hakafot of Simchat Torah. We came with a group of about ten or fifteen people from South Africa. When we arrived in NY, we went straight from the airport to 770 in time to get into the line for lekach – honey cake.
On Hoshana Raba, the Rebbe would stand near the entrance of his sukkah and give out lekach to everyone who passed by with a bracha for a sweet year.
We got in line and I was standing next to my uncle. When our turn came, my uncle said to the Rebbe, “This is Yisroel Shlomo Swimmer from South Africa.” Without my uncle saying anything further, the Rebbe handed me a piece of lekach and said to me in English, “May the Al-mighty grant you that you should learn Torah with open eyes!”
I remember the extreme excitement and happiness and farbrengen – joyful celebration – because we had gotten a bracha from the Rebbe. As far as everyone was concerned there was nothing to worry about. I was going to be one hundred percent fine.
Now, prior to the trip to New York, my uncle had set up various visits to doctors in Manhattan. He brought all the tests from South Africa. Right after the holiday, I went through a couple of hours of testing.
The following morning, my uncle told me that I would be reciting one of the 12 Torah Passages** at the Children’s rally in 770. I was excited and a little nervous, when Rabbi Hecht called me up to recite Veshinantam before all the children assembled, while the Rebbe was present and looking on.
He called my name, saying: “Okay, the next verse will be recited by Yisroel Shlomo Swimmer from Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa!” And there I was with a microphone in my right hand, saying each word in Hebrew and all the children answering in unison:
“Veshinantom Levonecho Vedeebarto Bom Beshivtecho Bevaisecho Uvelechtecho Vaderech Uveshochbecho Uvekumecho” – And you shall teach the Torah to your children, and you should speak about it when you are home and when you travel, before you lie down to sleep and when you wake up – Verse number 8 (Deuternonomy: 6:7).
At the end of the rally I went to the back of 770, as my uncle had instructed, that he would be waiting for me there. When I reached him, he told me that he had just spoken to the doctors. He relayed to me that the doctors said that it was impossible that it’s the same child that had the previous testing done. They assured him that there is absolutely no sign of anything wrong at all at the back of my eyes.
You can imagine the tremendous simcha – joy – our family experienced.
When we went back to South Africa, I went to see my original doctors. They checked again. And there was nothing, absolutely nothing. Thank G-d!
Mr. Swimmer concludes: “All I can say is, thank G-d I was healed. My life would have turned out very differently were it not for the Rebbe’s bracha and G-d’s loving grace.”
Adapted from Living Torah videos – Disc 198 Program 789.
For a full first-hand account, please see: JEM – My Encounter series Here’s my Story #334 – jemcentral.org/June 6, 2019.Yisroel Swimmer is a chief financial officer living in Lawrence, New York. In the 1980s, he was a child growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa. Shortly before this story took place in 1983, his parents switched him to Torah Academy, the Chabad Day School.
*Dr. Rodney Unterslak, a’h, his uncle, was a highly respected physician and healer in Johannesburg, South Africa. He passed away June 12, 2012 – 22 Sivan. “Dr. Rodney ‘s selfless devotion and love continue to serve as an inspiration to all who were privileged to know and be touched by him. He served as Hashem’s conduit for healing both body and soul of thousands. He will forever be our role-model of a true chasid of the Rebbe.” From Chayenu dedication of Tanya section.
**The 12 Torah Passages – culled from the written and oral Torah and the Tanya. These 12 Torah Passages, also known as The Pesukim, were chosen by the Rebbe for children (and adults) to study and memorize and share with others. They are foundational and empowering and have the power to bring healing and solace to ourselves, our homes and the world around us.
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