MONTREAL — Almost a year after being stricken by a devastating stroke, Rabbi Ronnie Cahana issued a message of gratitude to the community that affirms his spirit remains strong.
The message was read by his wife, Karen, at the recent gala dinner held by the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR), an organization with which Rabbi Cahana is associated.
He observed that the week’s parshah was about Moses sending 12 scouts to Israel to determine the feasibility of entering the land. While the land was found to be bountiful, 10 of the scouts felt it inadvisable to proceed there.
Only Caleb and Joshua were optimistic, Rabbi Cahana said, declaring: “Yachol nuchal, we can do it, we can overcome the obstacles with faith and strategy.
“The difference between faith and fear lies in a slight shift in perspective.”
While he primarily used the biblical passage to laud CIJR for its hopeful and courageous work “in a world replete with derogatory, nay, defamatory claims about our beloved Israel,” Rabbi Cahana could also personally relate to it.
“No one understands better the power of ‘yachol nuchal’ than I, who’ve been told repeatedly what’s not achievable. I’ve been told to be realistic about my recovery from a brain stem stroke, about my limitations, my restrictions, about all of the ‘lo nuchals,’ the things I can’t do.
“But… life is a glorious gift from the Almighty in every form. I am privileged to witness daily miracles in myself, and the wonder of the abundant kindness of others.
“There is no limit to what we can achieve together when we face the world with an attitude of ‘yachol nuchal’ and, friends, there is so much holy work left to do.”
Rabbi Cahana, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth-El, suffered the stroke last July. At 57 he was left in an almost totally locked-in state, paralyzed except for his eyelids, but completely lucid.
Today, he remains a quadriplegic but has regained facial movement and can speak, although not always audibly. He can eat to a limited extent and, with a mouth-held device, uses a computer, his wife said.
“From the neck up, he’s fine,” she said.
Most importantly, the father of five children aged 14 to 25 is psychically strong, even cheerful.
After months in a rehabilitation institution, Rabbi Cahana is now in hospital. The family is hoping he can start another phase of rehabilitation soon.
Rabbi Cahana remains the spiritual leader of Beth-El. Rabbi Allan Nadler, a native Montrealer on sabbatical from Drew University in New Jersey, has been serving as interim rabbi since this winter, while the congregation seeks a longer-term replacement for him.
The Jewish Community Foundation is overseeing a community-wide campaign to help support Rabbi Cahana and his family.