Rabbi Wieder, when he leads a minyan, often has us go through a short exercise before we utter the words of the Shema. In an attempt to get each of us individually to be “at one” with the moment in time, “at one” with the world around us, and “at one” with our own physical selves, Rabbi Wieder instructs us to close our eyes, take a deep breath, concentrate, and trace how inhaling and then exhaling that deep breath impacts every living cell in our body.
This practice is not only helpful spiritually to prepare to say the Shema. I have learned it’s worthwhile to do this on a routine basis to live a healthy life. The breathing practice can also help one persevere and get through hard times.
My name is Elliot Fein. I am a retired Jewish religious educator. About five years ago, I resigned from my position at Temple Beth David in Westminster and was forced into an early retirement. An undiagnosed illness had taken over my life.
At first, the symptoms of the illness started slowly. I experienced weight loss without dieting. Then, neuropathy in both of my feet, and a numb crippling pain in both of my legs, slowed me down but didn’t prevent me from walking where I needed to go. And finally, fatigue weakened me, made it hard to concentrate on the task at hand, and caused difficulty for me getting through the day without napping. Eventually, the progression of these symptoms and their cumulative effects incapacitated me.
It took over three years of countless medical appointments, endless numbers of tests and procedures, and four separate hospitalizations for doctors to figure out what caused my various symptoms. My doctors finally diagnosed me having an extremely rare type of blood cancer named POEMS. I normally would write the five polysyllabic medical terms that the acronym “POEMS” stands for. I fear, though, at this stage, that my eyeballs may fall out of my head because they have rolled over so many times in the past when I have uttered or read these five words.
With a correct diagnosis, my doctors prescribed chemotherapy drugs that were able to progress me to remission in about six months. Remission, in this case, means the cancer can no longer be detected with a blood test.
Once I obtained remission, I was eligible for a bone marrow transplant that was performed about a year and a half ago at the City of Hope in Duarte. The bone marrow transplant has strengthened me even more and made it less likely that the cancer will return.
Today, I walk between three and five miles a day. I feel incredibly fortunate to have regained my health and blessed to have experienced the miracle of modern medicine. Without the support of good friends, a great generous family, and most important, Eve, the “best” wife and life partner one could ever imagine, none of this would have been possible.
During my three-decade career working as a Jewish religious educator, I was always closely connected with a synagogue. When I wasn’t working directly for a congregation, I still chose to be involved. During my ordeal fighting cancer, I missed that community involvement. Joining Temple Beth El of Aliso Viejo recently has filled a void.
It’s still, even in the digital age, a “big enormous world” in which we live. I’ve always been able to decipher and better understand that “big diverse universal world” from the particular angle of being grounded in Judaism and being part of the Jewish people.
As an adult, I have always found engaging in Torah study and praying in a minyan to be uplifting. When observing and celebrating Shabbat, the holidays, and life cycle events, I have always found it meaningful to mark the seasons of the year and our lives, to remember significant events in our people’s past, and to connect ourselves to one another. We are lucky as Jews. There is a profundity of wisdom and ethical teachings to be found in Judaism. By being involved in a congregation, we have an opportunity, as our sages used to say, “to turn Torah over and over again” and continually gain meaningful new insights into life.
I am thrilled and grateful to be a member today at Temple Beth El of South Orange County. TBESOC is the right friendly congregation for me to continue the next stage of my spiritual and Jewish growth.
L’shanah Tovah u’Metukah! Have a good sweet year!
Elliot Fein is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.