We dream. We plan, work and have hopes and expectations for ourselves and our loved ones. Life begins to take shape and seems to flow along, even predictably at times.

And then things can change.

Much of my childhood was shaped by plans and strategies. My family had dreams for me, as I had for myself. Coming from an Orthodox, rabbinical home, I was on track to follow a line of rabbis and train for my own semichah (rabbinical ordination) and use my talents in computers to spread Judaism.

In July 2005, I had just finished my second year of rabbinical school and embarked on a summer of Merkos ShlichusChabad's Less than three hours after returning to the United States, I learned how much my life – if I lived – was about to change. Rabbinical Student Visitation Program – and traveled from my home in Orange County, California, to the very different environment of Lithuania. I was committed to helping the local Jewish community by working in a children's summer camp, teaching some Judaism, and assisting in a soup kitchen.

Just prior to my flight, I began fighting a bout of flu or some other type of infection. Nothing that some antibiotics couldn't take care of—or so I initially thought. Upon my arrival in Eastern Europe I progressively began to feel weaker and was not responding to typical treatments.

I eventually took some simple medical tests. The doctor's face was serious when he told me that something was very wrong and that I needed to go home immediately. From that point, things unraveled very quickly.

An ambulance took me to the airport and the flight back was just one of many nightmares I was to experience in the days and months to come. My parents picked me up at the airport and took me straight to the hospital. Less than three hours after returning to the United States, I learned how much my life – if I lived – was about to change.

The doctors informed us that I was suffering from AML, Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, a very aggressive and fast growing cancer of the blood. I was immediately started on a chemotherapy regimen and a search was started for a bone marrow donor. I soon fell into a week-long coma and was sustained on life support. Through the grace of G‑d, skilled doctors and some medical miracles, I somehow pulled through.

Uplifting Memories

My last memory before I crashed into the coma was of telephoning my dearest friend, Shloime Weiss.

"Shloime, are you sitting?

"Yes."

"Shloime, I was just diagnosed with leukemia. I am unsure of what is going to happen now. I want you to go to the Ohel (the Lubavitcher Rebbe's resting place) and pray for me."

Shloime dropped everything and went immediately, together with a group of friends, to pray. That was the first of many such kindnesses I was to experience during the long and painful months that were to follow. (Postscript: I recently flew to Israel and joyfully danced at my dear friend Shloime's wedding.)

There was no shortage of pain, fear, and confusion over the next weeks. I followed blood counts like many folks follow baseball box scores, hoping for a winning day.

Chanukah found me still in the hospital. I needed to have that light, that symbol of overcoming great odds, the symbol of hope and miracles. Of course, the Fire Marshal does not allow fire in patient rooms, for obvious safety reasons. But human angels were working behind the scenes, likely led by my parents. On the first night of Chanukah, in December 2005, I lit the first candle of the Menorah in my hospital room with four generations of my family present to celebrate with me. All with the local Fire Marshal looking on.

During this period, a relationship developed between my father, Rabbi David Eliezrie, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Yorba Linda, In the best of Chabad tradition, the good doctor was asked to don tefillin. He did so, for the first time since the morning of his bar mitzvah. and Dr. Eugene Spiritus, chief medical officer of the University of California at Irvine Medical Center. This relationship led to a regular Torah class at the hospital for faculty, students and physicians—a class that continues to this day. A new Torah scroll was inaugurated in my room with a scribe present to pen the first words. (This Torah scroll was completed a few months later at my parents' Chabad House.) There was a prayer service with a Torah reading. I had an aliyah, as did Dr. Spiritus. In the best of Chabad tradition, the good doctor was asked to don tefillin. He did so, for the first time since the morning of his bar mitzvah. One of the rabbis remarked to him, "You understand, it's G‑d working through your hands."

Short-Lived Respite

The entire process took nine grueling months. My final chemo treatment was in March 2006. A month later, just before Passover, my doctor announced that I was in remission.

My life gradually got back on track, though it was not without setbacks. I slowly returned to health and actually starting thinking about a future beyond the next treatment, evaluation or round of medication.

One Friday in August I went to my doctor for a routine follow-up. After reviewing the labs, he told me that there were some possible concerns and that I should return the following Monday for another blood test. If those results remained unfavorable, a bone marrow biopsy would be necessary.

I went in Monday and completed the blood work. They then put me to sleep for the biopsy.

When I woke up, my mother was lying on the floor—having fainted from shock. I knew it was back.

Later that day, my doctor came in and confirmed my worst fears. "Yosef, he said, "I'm sorry. It's back." My life was turned upside down all over again, and at that point I knew that the only way for me to stay alive was to find a perfect match and have a bone marrow transplant.

My Angel

The next morning I was admitted to CHOC (Children's Hospital of Orange County). My doctor came in and told me the news for which I had been waiting for more than a year—I had a bone marrow match.

I took in a breath of fresh air. I now knew I was going to be okay. I knew it would be a very difficult process, but I knew that my life was saved thanks to an unknown angel who happened to be a perfect match.

I was admitted for the transplant on October 9th, 2006. I received ten days of induction chemo—the worst chemo out there, it is meant to kill your marrow for good. I spent the holiday of Simchat Torah in the hospital.

Let me tell you about that holiday. On Simchat Torah we celebrate the completing of the annual cycle of Torah readings. I have this vivid memory of two rabbinical students dancing around my bed on Simchat Torah eve, with joy I cannot describe. That Simchat Torah I lay in the hospital, very much out of it—having begun my pre-BMT treatment. Two close friends spent that Simchat Torah with me, and even brought along an old Torah Scroll. The nurses and staff treated the Torah with amazing respect, and set aside a special room to house it. That night, it was time for Hakafot. My friends brought in the Torah and sang and danced around my bed. I cannot say that I was completely with it, but I have this vivid memory of two rabbinical students dancing around my bed on Simchat Torah eve, with joy I cannot describe.

I received the cells on October 19th, three liters of bone marrow from some angel from somewhere in the world. On that day, I stared at the yellow tag dangling from the plastic bag that was feeding bone marrow cells into my ravaged body. Nurses came in and sang Happy Birthday, to symbolize what we all hoped would mark a new start for a young leukemia patient. My family prayed and recited Psalms. Sitting there, still in a fog from the chemotherapy, I wondered which stranger has donated this precious gift. I asked to see the tag. It read: Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel. "That must be where the donor is from," I told my father. I tucked the tag underneath my pillow and fell asleep.

Meeting Moshe

After fifty-five days in isolation, and many long and hard months of infection and recovery, I am now doing a lot better, thank G‑d, and slowly getting back to normal.

Eighteen months after my transplant I returned to CHOC. I also brought along the tag – my clue as to the identity of my donor – and a new friend: Moshe Price. The twenty-two year old man who saved my life.

Finishing the last letters of the Torah scroll that was started in my hospital room. (Photo: Clifford Lester)
Finishing the last letters of the Torah scroll that was started in my hospital room. (Photo: Clifford Lester)

Moshe did not know me. Moshe did not know my whole story. All he knew was that he was the only person in the world who could save someone's life. And without blinking an eye, he agreed to undergo the painful surgery required to donate marrow.

We first met in April 2007. It was one of the most amazing days of my life. He is a truly extraordinary person.

In Moshe I found a lifelong friend, a real person to replace the tag—which I still hold on to. It was a bit of hope for me throughout; it played an important part of my life during that transplant. It represented my hope that one day I would meet the person who was so kind to me.

Moving On

Moshe got married almost a year ago. He and his wife Tova live in Jerusalem, where he is a full-time Torah student, while Tova works in Special Ed.

And my personal dream to move on recently started to become true.

I recently received my rabbinical ordination and an internship from Chabad.org, I have seen horror, pain, suffering—and countless acts of kindness. the largest Jewish content provider on the web. I plan to expand my knowledge in web design, marketing, project management, and programming. I look forward to getting married and starting a Jewish family, and using technology to disseminate Judaism. I have many ideas and dreams; my whole life is in front of me.

Meeting my Angel: Moshe and I meet for the first time!
Meeting my Angel: Moshe and I meet for the first time!

Cancer turned my life upside down. When I was diagnosed, and again when I relapsed, I thought my life was over. I have seen horror, pain, suffering—and countless acts of kindness. All through this process my community, family and friends have been behind me. I implement new things I learned from my experience every day.

My challenges have been difficult, but they have made me stronger. Every time that I have a challenge in life, I think of heroes like Moshe Price, who gave from himself to save a stranger's life. People like him give me a reason to live another day and overcome life's obstacles.

So I call on you, all of you going through hard times. Beckon your inner strength, and take strength from your family and friends. Overcome life's challenges. Dream, dream big, and make those dreams come true.


I very much want to encourage you all to sign up to be a bone marrow donor. It saved my life, and it has saved the lives of tens of thousands of others around the world. Here are two organizations that facilitate this process in the US:

Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, and, the one that facilitated my match, Be The Match Registry.

See also this story as it originally appeared in our news section: "Blood Brothers" Brought Together by Marrow Donation.