David Bruce: Illness and Injuries Anecdotes

• In April of 1964, a little girl named Malkala became ill, spent seven weeks in the hospital, and then was bed-ridden for several months at home with the prognosis that she would probably never walk again. Her school classmates decided to chip in to buy her a gift — the third record album by the Singing Rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach. (She already owned and enjoyed his first two albums.) Unfortunately, they weren’t able to find the record album in stores, so finally their music teacher called Rabbi Shlomo at his home. Rabbi Shlomo talked to her, then a few days later he showed up at the little girl’s home with a guitar in one hand and his album in the other. He gave her the album and a personal concert, and then he told her, “You are going to walk again, I promise you! And when you do, I want you to call me, and I will come to wherever you are at that time to watch how you’re walking. … Because it’s not only going to be the most special moment in your life; it’s also going to be the most special in mine.” In August, she began to take a few steps in a resort in the Catskills. Rabbi Shlomo came, and he once again gave her a personal concert. Years later, in 1990, the now grown-up girl’s 20-year-old daughter was working at a summer camp for mentally retarded Jewish children. Rabbi Shlomo gave a concert there, and the daughter met him and asked if he remembered the ill little girl who couldn’t walk about 30 years ago, for she was the ill little girl’s daughter. Rabbi Shlomo said, “Of course, I remember your mother. I want to know everything about her.” The daughter wasn’t sure that Rabbi Shlomo really remembered her mother until he asked, “So tell me, does she still have the record album I brought her that day?”

• R’ Zalmele was visiting another Rabbi, when a man came to consult the Rabbi about whether certain tasks could be performed for a person who was ill although the tasks were normally prohibited on the Sabbath. The Rabbi wasn’t sure, so he started to consult a volume of Jewish law, but seeing this, R’ Zalmele immediately said, “It is permitted.” This shocked everyone present, as it is considered unwarranted for one Rabbi to make a ruling when another Rabbi has been consulted, but after the man had gone, R’ Zalmele explained, “I hope you did not take offense at my action, but it is essential that a Rav should have at his fingertips all the laws that deal with a person whose life is in danger, because we are talking about human life.”

• Michael Stephenson and Diane Downes were dancing the Snow pas de deux from The Nutcracker. During several rehearsals, Mr. Stephenson had forgotten a certain step, so when they arrived at that step, Ms. Downes, trying to be helpful, whispered, “Effacé.” Unfortunately, Mr. Stephenson misheard the word and thought she was saying, “I feel sick,” so trying to be helpful, he whispered encouraging words such as “You’re doing fine” and “Hang in there.” After the dance was over and they were safely offstage, Ms. Downes asked him, “What the hell were you talking about?”

• Many people remember Russell Johnson, who played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island(he’s the super-intelligent scientist from Cleveland, Ohio, who could do almost anything except build a boat). Not so well known is that his son David used to be the AIDS coordinator for the City of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, David had to retire after contracting AIDS. Russell Johnson writes in his book Here on Gilligan’s Isle, “AIDS is not restricted demographically; sooner or later, everyone will come in contact with an individual who has AIDS.”

• Giuseppe de Stefano was a talented opera singer, but sometimes erratic when it came to showing up to perform. Once, his wife called Sir Rudolf Bing, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, to say that her husband was very ill and could not sing that evening. Sir Rudolf replied that since her husband was so ill, he ought not to stay at home, and so he would send an ambulance to pick him up and take him to the hospital. Mr. Stefano made a remarkable recovery and showed up to sing.

• Pianist Anton Rubinstein was gallant to the ladies and capable of great kindness. Once he heard that a woman was disappointed because she had been unable to attend one of his concerts due to illness, so he went to her house and played the entire concert for her. While in London, he met the Princess of Wales and kissed her hand. She withdrew her hand, saying that such was not the custom in England. Mr. Rubinstein replied, “With us, it is the law.”

• In the midst of a smallpox epidemic, the Rav of Karutcha, R’ Avraham Aharonson, was urged to get a vaccination, but he refused to until his maid was vaccinated first. When the doctors pointed out that every minute without the vaccine was dangerous, the good Rabbi replied, “That’s exactly why I want the maid vaccinated first. Her life takes precedence over mine, because she is younger than I.”

• In the bureaucracy of the former USSR, lower-level bureaucrats were very subservient to higher-level bureaucrats. A Soviet bureaucrat once met Queen Elizabeth and prepared to kiss her hand, but she withdrew her hand, saying, “I have a rash.” The Soviet bureaucrat replied, “Oh, that’s nothing — Leonid Brezhnev has hemorrhoids.”

• When ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky’s mental illness first descended on him during a tour in South American, he became paranoid and hired a detective to protect him. One of the detective’s jobs was to search each stage for booby traps and for broken glass before Mr. Nijinsky performed.

• Totie Fields was a comedian who had a leg amputated because of phlebitis. Appearing on Merv Griffin’s talk show after the operation, she said, “At least I still have a leg to stand on.”

• “Astrology is a disease, not a science.” — Maimonides

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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