Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

29 Kislev 5760 - December 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by

A Miraculous Recovery Remembered
Magen Lacholeh's Binyamin Fischer Helps Save Life of Shuvu Director

by Malky Levitansky

There were numerous stories in the press in recent weeks about a seudas hoda'ah held in the home of HaRav Avrohom Pam, rosh yeshiva of Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn, in honor of the miraculous recovery of Rabbi Chaim Michoel Gutterman, Shuvu's director in Eretz Yisroel. Some also mentioned the hachnosas sefer Torah ceremony held in Copenhagen for the same reason. None, however, mentioned the miraculous chain of events that led up to Rabbi Gutterman's recovery. Here is what happened:

It's a warm October day and hundreds of people have gathered in Copenhagen for a hachnosas sefer Torah ceremony.

Binyamin Fischer, the director of Magen Lacholeh, is called upon to address the crowd. He strides to the podium and shakes hands with Rabbi Chaim Michoel Gutterman, the director of Shuvu, the American organization that works with Russian immigrants to Israel. Without a word to the crowd, Fischer begins to punch a telephone number into his palm-sized cellular phone.

"Hello, this is Binyamin Fischer," he says into the phone, and within seconds, he is connected to the head of Kupat Cholim, Israel's largest health maintenance organization (HMO).

"Remember that man I called you about a year ago?" the crowd hears Fischer say into the phone. "The one who was suffering from liver failure?

"Remember how I wanted to fly him to Belgium for a transplant, and you said he would never make it?

"Remember how I told you at the time that I would get him to Belgium and that one day I would call you from the seudas hoda'ah he'd make when he recovered?

"Well," continued Fischer, pausing dramatically, "right now I'm calling your from Copenhagen where Rabbi Chaim Michoel Gutterman's parents have donated a Torah in honor of the one- year anniversary of his miraculous recovery from a severe bout of hepatitis.

"And I wanted you," Fischer told the head of Kupat Cholim, "to join us in the celebration."

It all began on Thursday, Nov. 1, 1998. That evening, Rabbi Gutterman was rushed to the hospital in serious condition. He had been ill for a number of days from what his family had assumed was a routine case of hepatitis. But the doctors at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital quickly realized he was suffering from liver failure. He had an extremely low white blood cell count and a severe deficiency in his clotting system.

Rabbi Gutterman's condition steadily deteriorated. He soon lost consciousness and had to be hooked up to a respirator.

Specialists were brought in throughout the night to confer on his case. They all come to the same conclusion -- Rabbi Gutterman needed a liver transplant to survive, but in his condition, it was just too dangerous to fly him abroad to get one.

His family broke down in tears when they heard the news. Though no one said it, it was readily apparent that the doctors believed Rabbi Gutterman's end was near.

The next morning saw no improvement in Rabbi Gutterman's condition, and he sank into a deep coma. At the family's request, the attending physician contacted Rabbi Binyamin Fischer, director of Magen Lacholeh. Magen Lacholeh is a non- profit organization established 10 years ago which provides medical information, referrals and assistance to patients throughout Israel.

The physician spoke at length with Fischer, who came to the following decision: Rabbi Gutterman had to be flown immediately to a medical center in Belgium. There the world's leading experts in liver failure would be able to examine and treat him, either by connecting him to an artificial liver or by giving him a liver transplant. Fischer told the physician to prepare Rabbi Gutterman for the flight. His organization would take care of the rest.

Back in his small office in Bayit Vegan, Yerushalayim, Fischer immediately put a call through to the medical center in Brussels. After a few minutes he was connected to its head physician, with whom he had spoken on a number of previous occasions. Fischer convinced the physician to accept Rabbi Gutterman despite his critical condition and to make the necessary preparations to treat him upon his arrival.

As soon as Fischer hung up the phone, his staff began frantically searching for a flight that would take Rabbi Gutterman to Brussels. Because it was Friday, there were no El Al flights to Belgium, and try as they might, they couldn't find a single available seat on any of the other airline. They realized their only option was to hire a private plane to take Rabbi Gutterman to Brussels.

Finally, at one o'clock on Friday afternoon, the Magen Lacholeh team located a private plane. Then the next stage of the operation was set into motion: A Magen Lacholeh ambulance, filled with sophisticated life-support equipment, picked up Rabbi Gutterman from the hospital and drove him to the airport.

Meanwhile, at the airport, a separate Magen Lacholeh team was working feverishly to transform the plane into a flying ambulance. They completed the job minutes before the ambulance carrying Rabbi Gutterman arrived.

After receiving the go-ahead, the ambulance driver sped onto the runway, where he met the private plane.

All seemed to being going well -- almost too well -- until a staff member realized the oxygen tanks on hand couldn't be fitted to the plane. He placed an emergency call to Fischer, who initiated a desperate search for an appropriate oxygen tank.

Fischer called one medical equipment company after another, but no one seemed to have the type of oxygen tank he was looking for. He found some that did, but they didn't have it in stock. Then he found a small company that had the tank he needed and even had it in stock. There was only one glitch -- the owner, who had the only key to the warehouse, had already gone home for the weekend.

Fischer, not one to give up easily, called the owner at home, apologized for having disturbed him and explained the situation. Within minutes the owner was in his car and on the way to the warehouse. He grabbed the oxygen tank and sped off to the airport, where Fischer was waiting for him. Fischer thanked him, took the tank, and raced down the tarmac to the plane.

By then it was 3 p.m. and Fischer, feeling he couldn't risk a further delay, contacted the airport's control tower and requested special permission for the plane to lift off immediately, despite the fact that a long line of commercial carriers were taxiing on the runway. The private plane was given priority one, and it lifted off minutes after the Magen Lacholeh staff put the unconscious Rabbi Gutterman inside.

The Magen Lacholeh staff watched Rabbi Gutterman's private plane take off, and then the ambulance sped back to Yerushalayim. It reached the organization's headquarters just minutes before Shabbos, much to the relief of the Magen Lacholeh's rabbinical advisors, including HaRav Ezriel Auerbach who, as with every Magen Lacholeh project, had been consulted every step of the way.

Four hours later, Rabbi Gutterman's private plane touched down at Brussels Airport. An intensive care unit was waiting for him and it rushed him to the medical center. There Rabbi Gutterman was examined by the medical center's top liver failure specialists, with whom Fischer had been in contact during the flight.

After examining Rabbi Gutterman, the doctors decided to transport him to the hospital to stabilize his condition. Once there, they planned to hook him up to an advanced life support system.

Within hours, the liver began functioning and Rabbi Gutterman's prognosis improved.

The doctors, gratified that they were able to help Rabbi Gutterman, said that had it not been for Fischer's appraisal of the situation, they would never have agreed to accept a patient in such critical condition. But Fischer, it seemed, had been right about the move. Without it, Rabbi Gutterman may not have survived.

In addition, thanks to Fischer's intervention, Kupat Cholim agreed to underwrite the costs of the flight, as well as the medical treatment in both Israel and Belgium. Had it not been for Fischer, Rabbi Gutterman's family would still paying off thousands of dollars worth of medical bills.

Binyamin Fischer pauses for a moment while the Kupat Cholim director recovers from the shock of hearing that Rabbi Gutterman had, in fact, survived his bout with hepatitis.

Fischer, not missing a beat, continues, "Now remember that 18- month old girl I told you about last week, the one who needs that transplant abroad? Well, this morning you sent me a fax turning down my request for an emergency flight."

Silence from the other end of the line.

"Will you reconsider? Now will you agree to pay for the operation? If you say yes, I promise to call you from her seudas hoda'ah as well!"

Not wanting to be proven wrong again, the stunned director has only one thing to say: "Yes." His answer is echoed by the hall's audio system. The people in the audience, who have been sitting on the edge of their seats, stand up and cheer.

Fischer raises the phone over his head so the director can hear the crowd's standing ovation. He then hangs up the phone and makes his way down from the podium.

The applause continues for some time, but Fischer isn't around to hear it. He is already in a taxi to the airport. With his cell phone to his ear and a worried expression on his face, his fingers deftly click through an electronic organizer containing lists of specialists.

He is already on his next case.

Do you have a story of how Binyamin Fischer and Magen Lacholeh have made a difference in your life? If so, please send a summary of what happened, along with your contact information to: Friends of Magen Lacholeh, 26 Rechov Strauss, Jerusalem 95142. Or send it by fax at 02-642-5914, or email at

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.