The woman who conquered Masada and surmounted MS

"I did this for my father, who survived the Holocaust," Kawer says.

ms patient 224.88 (photo credit: Michael Abramowitz)
ms patient 224.88
(photo credit: Michael Abramowitz)
Knowing her doctors would not approve, American Dina Kawer fought multiple sclerosis and her own fears to realize a special dream this week: She climbed Masada. Standing atop the symbolic mountain, looking down at the vast desert below, Kawer, 51, said she had been inspired by her daughter, her mother, and her father, a Holocaust survivor. "I did this for my father, who survived the Holocaust and overcame greater adversities than I have, and for my mother who was never able to make it to Israel," she told The Jerusalem Post following her feat on Tuesday. "We reached the top for her; we viewed this for her... and I know she was with me." Though such a trek seems like an ordinary experience, the climb was especially taxing for Kawer, who was diagnosed with MS at the age of 20. In addition to the common symptoms of overwhelming fatigue and fragility, Kawer also had to cope with asthma, Crohn's Disease and osteoporosis, none of which gave her a reason to reconsider partaking in the journey of a lifetime. Kawer's daughter, Shanna Goldenberg, and two cousins accompanied her on the hike beginning at 4 a.m., and five other relatives and friends preceded them up the mountain. At 16, Shanna hiked up the mountain with the Detroit Jewish Federation's Teen Mission in 2000. After telling her mother about the hike and how she volunteered to carry the 13.6-kilo water pack, she then explained to Kawer that she chose to carry it as a symbolic gesture. The water pack represented her carrying her mother with her on this climb that she knew Kawer would never be able to make. Touched by her daughter's love, Kawer vowed to one day make the climb with Shanna. After finding out a year later that her daughter had made the climb without knowing that she had Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a heart disease that caused her to go into arrhythmia during the hike, Kawer's determination to walk up Masada grew stronger. Shanna is now in better health. Regardless of all her preparations, including upping her already rigorous workout routine and manually fashioning leather straps to tie around her wrists to secure her canes, the heat had the anticipated effects on her body. By the middle of Tuesday's climb, Kawer's left leg had given out, and soon afterward she lost sensation in her left arm. She wasn't able to feel anything in the bottom of either foot as she was nearing the top of the mountain, so she mustered her upper body strength to finish the climb without anyone's help and reached the top in two hours and 15 minutes, a half hour longer than her projected time. "I did this on pure adrenaline," she said. Throughout the climb up, other hikers saw Kawer's cousin Michael Abramowitz videotaping her climb and inquired about her condition, expressing support and admiration for her. Several had relatives with MS and asked for her telephone number and Web site,, to donate to MS awareness. After she took her last step up the mountain, Kawer fell into her daughter's arms and said, "I did it for you." The group reached the summit before sunrise and waited in the shelter until cable cars began operating, at which point they rode back down the mountain to meet Kawer's father, Ben, 83, who accompanied them back up the mountain to see the view. Kawer's son, Shay Goldenberg, was unable to join her on the trip, but she called him the moment she reached the top and was received with great joy and support. Though this climb was originally planned as a personal journey for her and her daughter, Kawer felt it would be selfish not to use the opportunity to raise money for MS awareness. Through her family connections across America and her children advertising the event on Facebook, word spread rapidly, raising almost $9,500 in two weeks. Kawer's climb has even inspired others to give charity, including her cousin Jacob Dembitzer of New York City, who requested that in lieu of gifts for his bar mitzva, money be donated to Aleh Jerusalem, a home and hospital for disabled children. Jake's parents, Rosa and Alex, paid for Kawer and her family's flights for her first trip to Israel, and without them, she said, the whole journey would not have been possible. As much as she prepared for the climb, Kawer believes it was the support from her family and the strength she gained from her parents that got her to the top. And emulating the words of photographer Minor White, Kawer knows that "as I visualized and meditated on the idea of reaching the top, the energy of Masada and the energy of its history recognized me," and with that image in mind and her powerful inner strength, she overcame the obstacles with which she has grappled for years.