In 2018, Dr. Vladimir Zelenko published an autobiographical book Metamorphosis, in which he talks about how he, being a completely non-religious young man, came to faith, and how he overcame a serious illness. The book has multiple positive reviews online and was well received by the readers all around the world.
Today, we are publishing the seventeenth and the eighteenth chapters of the book.
Rinat and I were really praying for Hashem to bless us with children of our own. Rinat was forty-one years old when we got married and she’d never had children before.
I was very grateful to G-d for my six children, but I still wanted a larger family. I believe each child is an infinite blessing and is one of the main reasons for Creation. According to a well-known Jewish teaching, “Hashem created the world for the purpose of having a dwelling place in the lower realms.” The point here is that having children is the force that brings about the refinement of the world and the actualization of G-d’s plan. I also felt that it would be very good for our relationship to have children together. I feel that being partners in having and raising children creates a strong and unifying bond between husband and wife.
For Rinat, having children had essential psychological and emotional significance. If G-d were to bless us with a child, I would go from having six to seven children. Rinat would go from having zero to one child. It is obvious that, for Rinat, the importance of having a child was all-encompassing.
According to the “experts,” the odds were not in our favor. Fortunately, Jews are higher than statistics.
We decided to make a great effort to merit G-d’s blessing. We prayed individually and together. We visited the gravesites of very holy and righteous people here in America and in Eretz Yisrael. We went separately to the kevorim of the sixth and seventh Lubavitcher Rebbes—Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, in Queens (New York). We also visited together the tzion of the Ribnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Zanvl Abramowitz, in Monsey. Then we traveled to Eretz Yisrael and went to the kevorim of the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai in Meron; HaTana Cruspidi in Ein Zetim; and the Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchok Luria, in Tzfat. At all these places, we beseeched Hashem to bless us with children. Moshe Aron Steinberg also sent letters on our behalf to the kevorim of the Divrei Yoel, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum in Monroe; the Beirach Moshe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum in Monroe; and Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir. Shortly after our efforts, Hashem blessed us with miraculously good news. Words fail to accurately convey the elation that Rinat and I both felt.
kever (pl.: kevorim): gravesite. ↩︎
tzion(literally,“sign”):gravestone/markerofagrave.Inthiscontext,another way of saying “gravesite.” This word is also used: to refer to the City of David— the Jerusalem of ancient times, south of the modern-day city of Jerusalem; when referring to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem; and, metaphorically, to the Jewish People as a whole. It is sometimes Anglicized to “Zion,” as in, “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitent through righteousness” (Yeshayahu [Isaiah] 1:27), etc. ↩︎
One month before Rinat’s due date (January 2018), I started feeling not well. I rather suddenly developed a bad cough and trouble breathing when walking up steps. I thought it was bronchitis and treated myself with antibiotics. I felt a little better, but the symptoms persisted. I then treated myself for bronchospasman asthma like syndrome with an inhaler, which helped. However, my shortness of breath persisted. One night, Rinat was very concerned about my breathing while I was sleeping. The next morning, she made me make an appointment with her doctor, Dr. Lara Zilberstein in Englewood. I did not want to go since doctors make the worst patients. However, for martial harmony reasons, I obeyed. After seeing the doctor, she ordered a chest x-ray, which showed “something.” Next, Dr. Zilberstein ordered a CAT scan of my chest. The results showed a large saddle pulmonary embolus. This is a huge blood clot at the bifurcation (split) of the pulmonary artery, which is the vessel that takes blood to both lungs from the heart. This was a life threatening emergency and Hatzolah took me to Lenox Hill Hospital’s emergency room.
I chose Lenox Hill because I am very familiar with their system and work with many of the specialists there. I frequently admit patients to this hospital. Abraham Steinberg, Moshe Aron’s son, is a nurse there and a very important asset in helping Jews. He strongly advocates for patient care and helps move the system for the patient’s benefit. Hospitals are dangerous places, and everyone needs advocates to protect themselves.
I asked Dr. Bushra Mina, a renowned pulmonary and critical care specialist, to see me. Dr. Mina is a friend and comes to my office in Monroe to see patients. He was very concerned about me and I was transferred to the intensive care unit. I was also seen by a hematologist, cardiologist, and vascular surgeon. Everyone agreed with the initial diagnosis and I was put on blood thinning medication. After a few days, I started to feel better and I was discharged home. The plan was to take blood-thinning medication for a few months and then repeat a CAT scan in three months to make sure that the clot had resolved.
On February 27, 2018, with the biggest gratitude to Hashem, our new baby—Shira, a daughter was born. Mother and baby did extremely well, thank G-d.
Shira was the epitome of perfection and was evidence to us of Hashem’s revealed and miraculous kindnesses. Rinat was forty-three years old when Shira was born. I cannot even begin to fathom how she must have felt when she saw and held our new baby daughter for the first time.
For me, the birth of Shira was unusually emotional and precious. My youngest child was Mendy, who is six years old now, and I was told in my previous marriage that I was done having more children. I had to come to terms with not having any more children even though deep in my heart I really wanted my family to continue to grow. Now that Hashem and Rinat gave me Shira, I feel tremendous gratitude, blessing, and joy.
The next Shabbos we made a kiddush in honor of the birth of Shira in Tefillah L’Moshe shul in Kiryas Joel. I chose this shul because many of my close friends pray there. Rinat, Shira, and I were supposed to stay at the house of my close friend Akiva Klein who lives down the street from the shul. However, fortunately, Akiva’s daughter had also a baby that week and the guest accommodations were not available. Therefore, we ended up staying by the wonderful family of Yanky Stuhl. His house was a ten-minute walk to Tefillah L’Moshe shul, down a steep hill (this is an important detail). Shabbos morning, we walked down the hill to the shul.
After davening, there was a beautiful kiddush with hundreds of people stopping by from other shuls to wish us mazal tov
After the kiddush, we walked to Yanky Stuhl’s house UP this steep hill. I started to feel very short of breath and weak. I literally had to hold on to my friend Ephraim Weiss who was walking with me. By the time I got to my host’s home, I was really feeling sick. I went to my room looking for Rinat. Suddenly, I started violently coughing up a lot of blood. It felt like I was drowning in my own blood. When Rinat saw this, she became frightened and worried. I called Hatzolah and they arrived within two minutes. I was taken back to Lenox Hill’s emergency room. Little did I know that my life was about to change forever.
kiddush (lit., “sanctification”): the blessing made over wine at the beginning of a Shabbat or holiday meal. In this context, further beautifying the mitzvot of Shabbat and kiddush with a festive gathering in honor of a blessed event such as the birth of a baby girl. ↩︎
mazal tov (lit., “good heavenly configurations”; in Torah astrology, the signs of the zodiac are called the plural of mazal: mazalot): The Hebrew and Yiddish way of saying “Congratulations!” ↩︎