“Does anyone have a miracle story to tell?” I asked. We were sitting together at a Sabbath meal in Jerusalem a few days before the Passover Holiday. Five of the guests lit up, eager to share their stories. There was not enough time for all of them. Howard Jonas, who was sitting across the table from me, won out as the first to speak.
Howard Jonas is a self-made multi-millionaire as the founder of IDT. He is known for working long busy hours and spends a lot of his energy providing jobs and opportunities for thousands of people in the USA and Israel. He uses his wealth wisely and generously. He and his wife live and dress simply. They were blessed with eight beautiful children, raising them all with great love. Howard’s wife Debbie is a remarkable woman of strength, efficiency, intelligence and modesty.
I asked Howard for more stories. This is what Howard said:
“A few years ago, my wife came down with sudden chills and a burning high fever, which had soared to a dangerous 106° temperature: In a matter-of- fact tone of voice, my wife said to me “I am dying”.
Alarmed, I sped with her to the Hadassah Mount Scopus Emergency room. The doctors, realizing her situation was critical, were frightened and sent out an emergency page for the infectious disease specialists.
My wife, shaking with chills, felt like she was freezing. I piled a few blankets over her. She said: “This is serious. I am dying.” The nurses held their breath as the specialist raced against time to reach her. She prayed, “Please God, for the sake of our children, let me pull through this! I am pledging (a huge sum of money) to charity funds for my recovery.”
And I said: “And I am pledging even more!” At that time, my faith in God was still somewhat skeptical, so I said: “God, if you want me to really believe in You, show me a miracle so that I know it is coming from You. Heal her right NOW!”
A moment later, my wife suddenly said: “I feel so much better.” Her fever plummeted back to normal and a few hours later she came home, perfectly well.
The strange aspect to this story is that exactly two days later we were shocked to hear tragic news: My wife’s father, who then lived in New York, had suddenly died from a massive heart attack! After that my wife was in heavy mourning for many months. Ever since then we have been puzzled over the strange sequence of events and meaning of what happened.
Howard continued with another story:
“At one point I had gone through several major business setbacks and had sunk into a severe depression. I couldn’t lift myself out of it for six months. The only thing that occasionally brought me some relief was driving to Ein Gedi and swimming in the mineral salt waters of the Dead Sea.
One day my wife Debbie convinced me to pick myself up and go bathing there again. I could hardly move myself out of my dark room, but I consented. We drove down for about one hour but when we reached the deserted area of Ein Fashka, a small beach area situated at the northern tip of the Dead Sea, I told her I didn’t have the strength to go any further. This small beach was empty, except for a few Bedouins bathing there. Soon they all left on their camels. I went bathing in the mineral waters for a while. It was 41° centigrade.
We decided to go home and got into the car. I had difficulty starting the car and then, with no warning, the battery died! We felt trapped, alone in a burning hot desert, at the very end of a dead end road.
I recalled that when I was eight years old, my father managed to start a car with a dead battery by rolling it down a hill and engaging the clutch. I had never tried that myself and was dubious that I would be able to succeed, for I had no practice and didn’t feel skilled.
We both decided to push the car up a small embankment and with great effort managed to do it. I turned the car around and jumped in. There was only a short distance going down and the road ended straight into the sea. As I was rolling down, the motor still wouldn’t start.
Here I was, at the lowest point of my life, in my lowest mood, on the lowest point on earth, at the end of a dead end road that ended in the Dead Sea!
At that very moment, the motor came to life! Miraculously, the car started just as the tires hit the water! I was in awe.
I backed up, drove up the slope, and picked up my wife, and held her hand.”
With a look of wonder and triumph on his face, Howard continued:
“On the drive uphill back to Jerusalem I kept holding my wife’s hand, and repeated a few times: “We did it! We succeeded! We started that darn car!” My mood was enormously lifted. That moment became a turning point in my life. From that day on, my depression lifted fairly rapidly until it completely cleared.”
Two days after hearing these two stories from Howard Jonas, we bumped into him again in the nearby forest around a campfire. We had come there to burn our Chametz for Passover (Chametz symbolizes all our personal and global negativity.) While watching the Chametz burning slowly and stoking the fire we exchanged a few stories and this is what he told us:
“A few years ago I was very troubled over our first son. He was acting like an extremely angry teenager and he had trouble in school.
Some people encouraged me to visit the great tzaddik Rav Usher Freund. When I got there, there was a long line of people waiting to see him personally for just a few moments. Somehow I was directed to the front of the line and got in. I requested his help for our son.
After we met for a few moments, Rav Usher looked at me and said:
“I am blessing you with wealth multiplying a thousand fold.”
I said: “I didn’t come here to ask for wealth. I came here to ask for a blessing for our son who is not doing well in school.
” Rav Usher answered simply: “That too”.
And he suggested I increase my order of prayers. I chose to recite more of my daily portions of the Psalms. I still continue with this even today.
Gradually my son got better. He is now married and is doing well.
Shortly after receiving these blessings from Rav Usher, my business ventures did indeed blossom a thousand fold. I was able to provide jobs for many, from ten employees to a hundred, then to a thousand and now many more.
Howard Jonas continued: “Sometime later I was facing another very serious problem. At that time Rav Usher was not well and could not receive visitors. I contacted his private secretary on the telephone. He asked what the nature of the problem was. I answered: “He knows.” Moments later the secretary came back with the Rebbe’s answer “Yes, it will be all right” (naming the nature of the problem). And indeed, it was so. The problem was miraculously dissolved.”
Rav Usher’s many charity organizations such as a printing press run by handicapped workers as well as a free soup kitchen are still in full activity, even though he left this world in 2004.
Howard Jonas has authored and published two fascinating books entitled, “I am not the Boss” by Leviathan Press and “On a Roll” by Viking. Thoughtful, moving stories filled with insight, humor, good sense, and wisdom. They are an easy and entertaining read. We are immensely inspired by both him and his wife, Debbie.