Cityfront: Worthy causes

After suffering a stroke, Isaac Sachs, winner of the prestigious distinction bestowed on Jerusalem Day, has dedicated himself to supporting victims.

Isaac Sachs, a professor, military man, tour guide, charity founder, author, editor and, above all, eighth-generation Jerusalemite, was awarded the Worthy of Jerusalem award (Ot Yakir Yerushalayim) June 2 for his commitment to the city. In the home office of his Rehavia apartment, Sachs, 76, refuses to boast about his accomplishments. Instead, as he sits in a rolling office chair in front of his computer, he talks about the present. Not that Sachs does not have stories to tell: He joined the Hagana at 15, won an Outstanding Employee award while working for American Express and brought tens of thousands of tourists to Israel over the years. But sitting in his office, surrounded by books on everything from Torah to geography, he asks the assistant who comes over once a week to pull out a white paperback volume: With an Open Mind, Sach's own non-fiction book about living through a stroke. In 1991, Sachs suffered a stroke that left his diaphragm, as well as his left arm and leg, paralyzed. "I was sitting in bed and watching a video of my daughter's wedding," Sachs says. "The tape was over, so I got up to turn off the television - we didn't have remotes in '91 - and fell right back onto the bed. My wife started yelling, 'What happened to you?' And I said, 'Nothing, I'm dizzy.' But after a few minutes, she noticed my face was crooked." Sachs insisted he was fine, but his wife, Zipora, persisted. "She didn't leave it alone, called our children and took me to the hospital. At the emergency room, they told me I had [had] a stroke. It was the first time I had ever heard that word," Sachs recalls. "When I regained my ability to speak, because I couldn't at first, I asked the doctors what a stroke was. They explained it to me, and I understood they had no idea, either." Today, Sachs refuses to let the debilitating results of the stroke control his life. His wheelchair sits perched near the elevator outside his apartment, never entering the tidy home Sachs shares with his wife. Their four children are grown, and have given the couple 10 grandchildren. While not able to do everything he could before his stroke - give geography lectures to rooms full of students at the Hebrew University and lead hikes with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, for example - Sachs has redirected his energy. In 1992, he founded the Association for Stroke Victims in Jerusalem, a charity that offers physical therapy, medical lectures and acts as a support group. "The healthcare law, which I am fuming over, determines that a stroke patient receives 16 physical therapy sessions, and that's it. A person who has had a stroke, if he doesn't get physical therapy, deteriorates and loses use of that affected leg or hand," he says. Stroke victims are also relieved to see they are not alone, Sachs says. They share their problems, adapt to their new lifestyle and share tips on dealing with the government healthcare system. Group members include Jews, Arabs and Christians, old and young, rich, poor, religious and secular. "Strokes don't discriminate. They can hurt anyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender," he says. Sachs insists that education can reduce the incidence of strokes, so the association reaches out to high-risk groups, such as smokers and the overweight, to inform them. Aside from managing the charity, Sachs also edits a quarterly magazine for the B'nai B'rith volunteer organization, studies Jewish mysticism and neuroscience, and advises tourist groups. "I've begun studying subjects I never thought I could, because I didn't have the time [to do so before]," he says. He has been studying the tales around halachic rulings, which his teachers always skimmed over when he was in school. Despite being wheelchair-bound, Sachs still leads one annual hike: around the walls of ancient Jerusalem, the night of Tisha Be'av. "Jerusalem is a dynamic city, there's something new every week. And every year I do the tour, I either view the city from a different perspective or see something new," he says. He leads the tour with a miner's flashlight strapped to his forehead and microphone on his lap, so everyone who comes, sometimes hundreds, can hear him. "My sons lift me, with the wheelchair, onto the wall," he says. Sachs's daughter, Hagit Molad, says he seems to know everyone in the city. "When I was young, I would say that the entire world was divided into three: dad's soldiers, dad's students and dad's clients. We'd walk down the street and every single person would greet him," she relates. "It was quite the experience." Molad, who currently lives in Modi'in, says her father's love for Jerusalem has rubbed off on her. "If someone asks me what personal quality I take the most pride in, it's [the fact] that I'm a ninth-generation Jerusalemite," Molad said. In a phone interview, Molad expressed her awe of her father, his accomplishments and his strength. "He had this habit of praying at the [Western] Wall every Saturday morning, and he would walk back through the Bukhari, Gilot and Armon Hanatziv neighborhoods, really touring Jerusalem to take everything in," Molad says. But the stroke gave him time to explore new things, such as the Talmud and the Internet. "Because he couldn't hike anymore, he developed strong Web capabilities," she says. "He re-built himself completely. Suddenly, at a relatively advanced age, he got on the Internet. He was a whiz, learned everything possible." Growing up, she says, Sachs taught her and her siblings to take "the middle path." "There is no extremism in any way, shape or form. This applies to religion, political stance, everything," Molad said. "We're extremely not extreme. Maybe save for love of Israel, and family."