Menachem Mendel Strassberg, 14, who goes by Memu, is “bright,” “energetic” and “fun-seeking,” according to Rabbi Mendy Levin, principal of Cheder Chabad, where Strassberg typically attends school.
It’s those qualities that make the reality of Strassberg’s current situation all the more cruel.
Strassberg, who is studying abroad in Israel, was rushed to a hospital on Jan. 17 after his legs were crushed beneath a large rock that he was climbing upon. It became dislodged and trapped his legs underneath. He was taken to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.
“It’s just not him to be stuck in bed and not running around,” Levin said.
Strassberg’s parents, Rabbi Eli Dovid Strassberg and Rivkah “Rivky” Strassberg have been updating friends and community members on their son’s situation via WhatsApp. The Strassbergs are Chabad emissaries, long active in the Delaware County Chabad and known for their Living Legacy programs: They lead trips and do demonstrations of the essentials of Jewish life with local Jews, setting up model matzah baking factories and creating Shabbat candles together, among other activities.
They could not leave to see their son until after Shabbat, but are with him now.
Though doctors were initially skeptical that Strassberg would be able to keep his legs, according to Levin, Strassberg “is a real fighter,” in their words; he became conscious far earlier than expected, and has reported being able to feel sensation on the bottom of his feet. As of Jan. 21, he even has a pulse in both legs. Though nothing is guaranteed, Strassberg’s resilience has been astounding to his doctors.
“The doctors told his parents, if he’s gonna fight, then we’re gonna fight,” according to Rabbi Moshe Brennan of Chabad of Penn Wynne, who knows the Strassbergs.
“The doctor actually told [Memu’s parents] — a nonreligious Israeli doctor — he could tell there were a lot of prayers going on for this child,” Levin said.
Which is indeed the truth. Students — Memu’s classmates — at Cheder Chabad have recited the entirety of Tehillim six times over, Levin said. (Neighborhood men and women have done it more than 30 times since the accident.) But of course, the number itself is not the point.
“The important thing is we’re praying for them and really hoping to see miracles and to see a full recovery,” he said. “We believe in the power of tefillah and especially the tefillah of young children.”
In the meantime, Brennan, alongside Rabbis Shraga Sherman, Yossi Kaplan and Yudi Shemtov, has put together an online fundraiser for the Strassbergs at themmstrasbergfund.raisegiving.com. As of publication, almost $70,000 has been raised already through donations from around the world.
“Our immediate reaction is action,” said Sherman, referring to the fact that the fundraiser was set up within hours of the news breaking. “These kinds of situations can be very taxing on a family emotionally, but especially financially.”
There have been hopeful reports during the last few days, Levin said, but even as the short-term crisis continues, the community is thinking in the long-term: health care bills and other costs to be incurred along with major injuries.
“God willing, everything will go well, but whichever way you look at this, there’s going to be a great financial cost,” Levin said.