Singing and cycling for love

For the first time, Yonatan Razel speaks about his daughter’s accident and her treatment at the hospital, which he says made her ‘come back to life.’

Yonatan Razel (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yonatan Razel
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It wasn’t the most comfortable of interviews; at least not to begin with. Yonatan Razel initially struggled for words, not something one would expect from the singer-songwriter. But this was not a temporary lapse of his well-honed verbal faculties – it was the subject matter that was the challenging part.
Just over two years ago, Razel’s oldest daughter Rivka, then four, fell off the roof of the building where the Razel family lives, in Jerusalem’s Nahlaot. At the time, Razel’s wife Yael was six months pregnant with their fourth child.
She sustained severe head injuries and was rushed off to Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem. Five weeks later she was transferred to Alyn Orthopedic Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, the renowned pediatric and adolescent facility up the road from Hadassah. It has taken all this time for Razel to muster the emotional wherewithal to speak publicly about the trauma he and his family experienced.
This is the first interview he has given to the Israeli media about it.
Razel is an extremely busy man, with his musical endeavors, kollel studies and four small children to care for. His time is generally at a premium and our appointments to meet had to be arranged and rearranged multiple times.
We eventually scheduled the interview for a Monday evening, at a café in the center of Jerusalem.
It had been another long day for Razel but he was anxious to tell his story before Alyn’s annual Wheels of Love charity bike ride, which will take place from Sunday, November 11 to Thursday, November 15.
“I came home for a few minutes, gave the children a kiss, managed to play a song for them and came right over,” he says. “I do my best to play the children a song most days. My father did that for me and my siblings, and there is a lot of music in our home.”
Razel naturally wants to do everything he can to help promote Alyn and the work it does. He notes that the institution and its staff also get substantial support for their efforts from other sources.
“It is hard for me to explain the sense of commitment I have toward Alyn,” he states. “I saw my daughter come back to life. It is a gift from heaven – but we can’t do what God doesn’t allow us to do. No person can bring life or healing, but they can give love, caring, devotion and professionalism. All these things help.”
Rivka’s initial medical care was overseen by Dr. Ido Yatziv, head of the pediatric intensive care unit at Hadassah, who died suddenly last year at the age of 57.
“Dr. Yatziv was amazing,” recalls Razel.
“He took a personal interest in Rivka’s welfare.
He accompanied her to Alyn and made sure the staff there were fully aware of her condition. He was one of the many gifts we received.”
Rivka spent eight months at Alyn, and her father says they did a wonderful job with her.
“When she got to Alyn she couldn’t see or talk or eat by herself. She was bedridden. It wasn’t at all clear if she was conscious of her surroundings.
Today she is back at school, she has friends and she is learning to play the piano. Thank God, she has resumed a normal life.”
Razel says he is in awe of the hospital’s work. “You sometimes see the workers there with a child who is in a much worse condition than Rivka’s; there are children who go there from abroad, with terrible burns and all sorts of horrible injuries. It is amazing to see how they work with the children.”
Rivka and her family got similar attention.
“I remember our first days there, and the talks we had.
They gave us hope. As a parent you have no idea what to expect, you can’t possibly know. You have no idea what a head injury means.”
For a moment, Razel once again searches for a way to put the experience into words, words he feels will convey the import of the situation. He says it is an ongoing battle “I feel we are still in a fight [for Rivka’s full recovery].
It’s not behind us yet, and I can’t talk about it as something we once went through, in the past – also on an emotional level. A friend of mine once told me that he was in a battle, in a war, and was hit by a bullet but he had to run. You know, in that situation, the body doesn’t allow you to feel the pain. When you get to a place where you can begin to sense what you have been through, that’s when you feel the pain.
I am sort of in that state. I can’t yet feel the bullets.”
Razel and his family have been swamped with kindness and good deeds, he says. He does not talk about the accident in negative terms.
“I am still trying to fully digest the miracle that happened to us. I am grateful to so many people,” he declares. “So many Jews have come to our rescue. So many people have called. One community took it upon itself not to talk lashon hara [speaking badly of others]. Rivka’s school prayed for her. I encountered so much goodness.”
Even with all the support, Razel is still coming to terms with the accident and its aftermath. But he says there is a shining silver lining to the whole affair.
“I still can’t revisit the incident and what I went through at the time,” he says. “But we have become stronger as a family.”
With their fourth child on the way at the time, one might have expected the accident to have had a negative effect on Yael’s already highly emotional condition. Razel says that was not the case at all.
“Yael was like lioness. She was amazing. It didn’t matter that she was pregnant at the time; it actually gave her more strength. She had all that adrenalin and extra power. I remember that, when our son was born, she had a sort of energy drop. Maybe she let something go.”
NATURALLY, MUSIC provides Razel with an avenue of expressing some of his family’s emotions and experiences over the last two years.
“I wrote a song one night, when I was at Alyn. it’s called Ashira – I Will Sing. It is dedicated to Alyn. It will come out in my new CD, which I hope will be out around Hanukka,” he says.
The words of the song are highly emotive but there is no sadness in it at all. It is a song of praise and thanks to God and, to an extent, reflects the spiritual process Razel has been through over the last couple of years.
“You know, it’s a question of where you take such a difficult experience. I see it as a sort of gift. It’s like root canal treatment, without anesthetic. There is no more immediate encounter with pain and the most difficult questions there are about life. It’s not like an artist struggling to create something, or unrequited love.
This is real.”
Razel’s connection with the hospital goes back a long time.
His grandmother’s sister, Betty Meir, was a mainstay of the institution.
“She was in Bergen-Belsen and, after she came to Israel she contracted polio,” he says. That didn’t stop Meir from giving her all to Alyn. “She was the head nurse there for 30 years, and she did everything from a wheelchair. So I got to know Alyn when I was a boy,” Razel explains.
He is a strong supporter of the Wheels of Love charity bike ride and has performed at the event’s closing ceremony. On another occasion, he joined forces with his Aunt Betty at Alyn.
“It was on Holocaust Remembrance Day and Betty told her story at the event at the hospital. I also got up to speak and I said that Alyn is the complete opposite of the camps of destruction.
It is a resuscitating camp. They take every drop of life they can find and bring them up their highest level. Alyn is far more than a hospital. People there think life. It is as if they bring children back to life.
“They did that with Rivka. She couldn’t move or do anything when she got there. The first day, a therapist took her and moved her arms for her, like in a Muppet show. I laughed when I saw that, in a macabre sort of way, but the therapist said that was the way the process starts. They worked with her tirelessly. It was a wonderful thing to see.”
“It is an amazing place,” he emphasizes. For more information about the Wheels of Love charity ride: (02) 649-4231 or