We all have complaints. Some of us sit back with the attitude of ‘What can I do? If only I had such and such, then I would be able to accomplish so much more’. And then there are the rare few who take what they were given, little as that may be, and scale the heights. Daniel Mizrachi is one of those rare gems. Daniel introduces himself in a clip.
The clip begins with Daniel as an adorable 3-year-old and his promise to us all that if we believe that G-d can help us and what we want is something good, we will succeed. Today Daniel Mizrachi is twenty-four years old and gets about in a wheelchair. And how he gets about! He doesn’t just use his wheelchair to get to the local newsstand to buy a newspaper and then spend the rest of the day relaxing. Daniel wakes up each morning and says to himself, “Now why did G-d give me this new day? What can I accomplish with it?” It’s real accomplishments that Daniel is looking for… accomplishments that will help both him and others grow spiritually.
Were you born with your disability or did it happen later in life?
I was born with it. There are only five other people in the world with CP similar to what I am afflicted with. When I was one year old, we moved from Russia to Israel. I grew up in a warm, loving family. The doctors had predicted that I would never be able to go forward in life. Everyone, except my parents, thought I was retarded. People, including the doctors, spoke around me, not to me, thinking I was not able to understand a thing. I just lay there like a bump on a log. In my heart, I thought to myself: Just you wait. With my belief in G-d and my will, I’ll yet overturn worlds. If those doctors could have seen inside my head, they’d know that I was more than a bump, someone who just occupies space.
What was the difference between how your parents treated you and everyone else?
It was a world of difference. My parents did not get any reaction from me just like everyone else but they ignored that and acted as if I understood everything they said. Even if I couldn’t answer, they acted as if I did and carried on a one-sided conversation playing both roles. Therapy wasn’t so commonly known in those days but the way they behaved was terrific therapy.
Well, you surely showed all those others who were sure that you were retarded! Are you able to use any part of your body, Daniel?
My whole body is paralyzed except for my head. When I was nine, G-d caused the people at the school I attended to have an absolutely brilliant idea. Since I had use of my head, they created a “hand” to be attached to my head. I t was actually a stick that was strapped to my forehead. It was unbelievable. It was like having a third hand, but one that worked. It was my key to becoming independent, the key to entering the world. That little stick enabled me to get some control into my life. Now I can go anywhere I like moving my wheelchair with the stick. I can even make the chair spin around- very handy for wedding dancing.
Daniel demonstrates his wedding dance and I cheer.
I can use the stick on a computer or cell phone. I can type. I can send text messages. I can communicate. I can accomplish.
The earnest look on his face tells me how important it is to him to give! Ezer Mizion helps him a great deal. As he says, ‘ I am a constant visitor at Ezer Mizion, almost as if I live there. They do so much for me. Whenever I want to go somewhere, they are there to take me. They accommodate all my detailed needs to make things work for me. It may be anywhere I need to be. Perhaps a speech I am giving or one that I want to hear. Maybe an ulpan or a medical visit or someplace just for fun. A lot of the drivers know me and some even put on my favorite CD even before I get in. ’
Even though he has learned to accept help graciously, he wants very much to give.
You’ve accomplished so much more than many people who have use of all their limbs. Are you able to tell us about it?
I ask the question in that way because talking is so hard for Daniel. I’m not sure how much stamina he has to continue this interview but he manages, trying as much as possible to speak and using his stick to type what he cannot express verbally.
Nothing can stand in the way of a strong will coupled with an even stronger belief in G-d. Belief brings such joy, knowing there is Someone watching over you. The answer to all problems in life is found in just two words: Belief and Will. My belief in G-d has accompanied me throughout my life. It has got me to where I am and will help me to achieve even more G-d willing. I feel like a passenger aboard a ship sailing on the waves of Belief as I tear open the bars of the cage in which I was placed. That’s what I feel like- like I’m in a cage. But I’m getting out. Bit by bit.
For a moment, I think perhaps I have entered the wrong room and am attending a inspirational talk given by a sage. Daniel continues, trying to explain to me what his life is like.
Everything I want to do in life requires some form of movement. I try so hard to figure out ways of doing what everyone else does so easily using just my head. I know I can spend my life waiting for people to take care of me but i don’t want that. I want to do things myself like everyone else.
Like what, Daniel?
I used to have to wait until someone can come every time I needed a drink. Someone would hold the cup and I would drink through a straw. It satisfied my thirst but my dignity…well, that was very unsatisfied. There I was with a strong desire to drink normally but no means of making it happen so I talked to myself. I do that a lot. Daniel, I said, it’s up to you. If you want it badly enough, figure it out. Then I took the first, most important, step. I prayed. G-d never leaves my side for a moment. I sometimes wonder when He has time for anyone else. I keep him so busy with all my needs.
Daniel grins. He seems to be always smiling. I see you have a cup of water on your wheelchair tray. Do you need help in holding it? Daniel’s grin stretches even wider.
Watch, he says.
His face now turns serious as he slowly, very slowly, enunciates a bracha (blessing). Beads of sweat appear on his forehead as he uses every bit of effort to be sure he is pronouncing each syllable correctly. I feel a bit embarrassed to be present. It is clear that Daniel is not just rattling off a string of words but truly communicating with the Creator of the world . It is his private moment with G-d, one of many in his day. Then I gasp as Daniel manages to get the cup held between his teeth, not spilling a drop. On his face is an endearingly smug grin. All that was missing were the trumpets. Fantastic, I shout in awe.
Speaking is hard for me. I reserve it for when I really want to communicate. And the most important communication is, of course, with G-d. It takes me a long time to pray, even to make a blessing but how can I not thank the One who enables me to do so much. The morning prayers can take as much as three hours. Praying is between me and G-d. I don’t want anyone helping me. I use a prayer book with thick pages and turn the pages with my trusty stick. I even learn with a learning partner in a Yeshiva near my home. After all, I’m a Jew like everyone else. It’s my Torah, too.
You are, by far, on a higher level than anyone else, I whisper to myself. Daniel, what do you do after learning?
I spend a lot of time at Ezer Mizion’s Matan program, especially for people like me. I’ve been part of Matan since I was eight. Right now it is three afternoons a week but will soon also include morning. I have been waiting a long time for that. We daven, learn, have a meals and activities and, in general, spend time together. And during special times, we have even more activities. Like during High Holiday season, we traveled to holy sites. This year, for the 3rd year in a row, we traveled to Maaros Hamachpela. Volunteers brought us all up the many stairs .
Can you tell us how you got interested in music?
I especially find it fulfilling to express my feelings in song. I’ve merited to publish four music albums. I still remember the feeling when I first realized that I can express myself through song. I had attended a performance and suddenly I wanted to join in. I moved up front with the singer and just began to sing along. The audience loved it and, for the first time, I saw how much easier singing is compared with talking. It was G-d’s Holiday gift to me. In a flash, I saw how I could share my feelings about belief with others by means of song. I returned the gift from G-d with a prayer begging G-d to allow me to do more with this newly discovered ability, more expression of my belief so that others can also grow. That’s when I began to compose songs. I just took my feelings and tried to put them into words. For some songs, I also composed the melody. I’ve got a computer program that makes that possible. You see, my belief is boiling inside of me. I want to share it. One song, Shma Koleinu, I just had to sing myself. I poured all my feelings into it. People could sense that when they heard it. It feels really good when people call me and tell me how my songs affected them. One person even became religious because of a song.
Yes, Daniel actually composes these heartfelt songs.
Below is a translation of one song which was composed by Daniel:
One day I looked at the natural world
And knew clearly Who created all of it
There is a Creator in the world
There is a Creator in the world
He is concerned with each and every one of his creations.
In the middle of this highly optimistic , catchy tune, the singer shouts out: “Right, Daniel?” encouraging both Daniel and all of us, then continues the joyful refrain.
Daniel is anxious to share his recent experience .
“I got a call from one of the broadcasters at Kol Baramah radio station. I got so excited that it was hard for me to speak and I asked a friend to take my cell phone for me. Can you imagine when I heard the words: “We are calling from Kol Baramah. We heard that Daniel is celebrating his 24th birthday and we would like to host him on and hear his latest songs.” My whole wheelchair trembled with excitement. Then I sent a message to Yechiel Lichtiger, a singer I have worked with lots of times. He happily agreed with my request to come. All I needed now was a keyboard player. I sent out an email to a few people but got no response. Suddenly right there on the street in front of my house I spotted Ahrele Lipsker. I rushed over to him like a tornado. “Ahrele, you’ve got to help me. I’m totally stuck.” He agreed right away. Of course, I needed transportation but there was no question who I would call for that. Ezer Mizion never lets me down. Finally, the great moment arrived. The Ezer Mizion vehicle was waiting for me when I stepped out of the house. During the program Mr. Yair Rebibo, Mayor of Lod, came on the line to wish me Mazel Tov as well as the king of Chassidic music, Avrahom Fried. That evening gave me a lot of renewed energy
It’s easy to compose songs but the hardest thing is to get it typed up before it flies out of my head.
Daniel demonstrates how he types. It’s very time-consuming and the tremendous effort is obvious but he is amazingly accurate. I glance at the email he had sent me prior to the interview, marveling at how long it must have taken him to respond to my questions.
Once I got the urge to design the CD cover.
Design?? How were you able to do that?
Well, I had an idea in my head. I wanted to use a picture of Har Sinai to represent belief and I knew just how I wanted it to look. So I felt I had to do it myself. I got some writing materials attached to my stick and presto, there it was. Well, not exactly ‘presto’. It did take a lot of work.
Any more ideas in that busy head of yours?
Well, yes. One thing led to another and one day I decided I wanted to organize a musical event. So I did.
So you did? Just like that?
It was somewhat complicated. Getting the singers. Working out how much they would be paid. Advertising. Selling tickets. Getting a venue. In fact, the original venue cancelled on me and I had to get another one at the last minute and notify all those that had bought tickets of the change in address. Ezer Mizion is right there for me to get me wherever I have to go. They never seem to get tired of me. Whenever I call, the answer is always, “Sure, Daniel.” And I can hear the smile in the voice of whoever I speak to. The event was out of this world. It was so great that I decided to do it again. I’ve done quite a few of them already and plan to continue.
Honestly, Daniel, I would be overwhelmed if I had to organize such an event. How do you do it?
It’s mostly done by email. Most of the people don’t even know about the CP until we meet at the actual event. And, of course, if I have to go anywhere as part of the organizing, I know which number to call. My stick probably knows Ezer Mizion’s number by heart.
He shows me his inbox. It’s jammed! I even see replies to a Parshas Hashavua weekly posting that Daniel writes and sends out to his friends. I can’t begin to imagine how long it takes him to send out all those emails and what a strain it must be for him. But Daniel has a message and he is not about to let a little thing like ‘impossibility’ stand in his way. In fact, he lectures frequently to groups composed of both disabled and those with full abilities. Of course, it’s Ezer Mizion that gets him to and fro.
“Everyone has problems,”“ he tells his audience. “The trick is to know how to look at them.”
Daniel has internalized the concept that we are all put here on this earth to fulfill a specific mission and we were given whatever tools we need toward that end. He continually searches for new avenues in which he can go forward.
All that must keep you busy 24/7, I comment.
I have dreams of creating a support group that will include people limited in their physical abilities. Right now there are logistical reasons to prevent this from happening but I’m still dreaming.
I stand there speechless as Daniel continues with his immutable, upbeat grin, enjoying my surprise.
The purpose of the group would be to brainstorm practical ways and means of assuring self-employment. In addition, I want to also incorporate into the group’s mission new ideas for projects which will strengthen families raising special children. The third purpose will be to consolidate the group by means of fun, fun, and more fun.
That’s Daniel. A mixture of the serious and the fun, all leading toward Avodas Hashem (service of G-d).
Those of us engaged in normal activities cannot begin to imagine the effort that Daniel puts out each day to achieve what he has. A break here and there is just the vitamin he needs to continue. Daniel is a regular at Ezer Mizion activites at Matan three times a week. Daniel’s positive attitude accompanies him wherever he goes.
Did you go to Ezer Mizion’s recent Matan retreat?
I sure did. I try not to miss them. Last Elul we had a Shabaton that truly strengthened us enabling us to continue in spite of all the difficulties we encounter. We traveled from the center of the country to Golan. This is an example of the many activities provided by Matan. The summer Shabbaton at the Kinnnerit which began with a boat ride on Thursday was another one. They played Chassidishe music the whole way. I even got to feel the waves later after the boat ride right there from my wheelchair. And there was the jeeping trip. I can still feel the thrill of that drive! All the trips are so perfectly organized. I love them!!!—I saw people worse off than I am. I thanked G-d for giving me so much! I clearly see how much G-d loves me for creating me just as I am, and not in a more difficult situation. Even though I only have use of my head, I can do so much. That week gave me a charge of energy that is impossible to describe and filled me with strength for the entire year to come! Thank you, Ezer Mizion, thank you!”
In a nutshell, what message would you like to convey to our readers?
I thank G-d for all that He has given me! Remember, everyone, if you know that G-d is watching over you and you believe that G-d can help you, you’ll succeed.
Daniel looks exhausted but I…I am drained. I look back in awe at this giant in a wheelchair . He is called disabled??? He has more ability anyone I know. The glow on his face. The supreme happiness as he metaphorically holds G-d’s hand. The stick attached to his forehead- he uses it sort of as a joystick and, for him, it is truly a stick of joy.
To contact Daniel regarding speaking engagement in US: daniel mizrachi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Article partially based on The Victory Stick/Mishpacha Magazine 3/19/15