A work-related accident six months ago left Zev Rosenberg of Edison paralyzed and wondering whether he would ever walk again.
Yet, in what he describes as something of a miracle, Rosenberg joined 18 others representing his synagogue, Congregation Ahavas Yisrael in Edison, at the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 17.
“Team A.Y.” ran in support of its Commitment to our Future building campaign, raising about $13,000, with donations still coming in. Proceeds are going toward the purchase and renovation of a building on Route 27 the congregation has rented for more than five years.
“It was a great day for a race, a great day to get back in the competition, and it was great to be doing it with friends and family,” said Rosenberg, 51.
Joining him in a show of support was his sister, Honey Rosenberg Swadlow; his mother-in-law, Carla Friedman; and his children, Moshe, 19; Chava, 17; and Ziesel, 15. Because of her age, daughter Charna, 12, was barred by marathon rules from running.
The previous two years, Rosenberg ran the full 26-mile Philadelphia Marathon as part of Team A.Y.; this year he scaled it back, walking the 13-mile half-marathon, which runs concurrently. He finished with a time of three hours and 34 minutes.
“The shul has helped us tremendously,” said Rosenberg. “The only thing they wanted was for me to get healthy, and I wanted to show them their prayers have been answered and we don’t take for granted all the help we got.”
The owner of Raritan Air Water Power Service in Edison, Rosenberg was working in a Highland Park home on May 1, three days before he was to compete in the NJ Marathon, when he bumped his head “in perfect alignment” with his spine, crushing several vertebrae and leaving him paralyzed. Rushed to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, Rosenberg underwent emergency surgery.
“There were no guarantees but I made up my mind to focus on therapy like I focused on running,” said Rosenberg. “I thought I was training for a marathon, but I was actually training for recovering from a spinal cord injury.”
After his accident, synagogue members and members of the local Jewish community brought the family meals, chauffeured his children, drove him to therapy, and helped around the house. That allowed his wife, Leslie, to focus on keeping their business operating.
Active in the congregation for 35 years — including 10 years before it became Ahavas Yisrael — Rosenberg originally joined Team A.Y. because he always wanted to run a marathon and help his shul. He recalled running “all the time” during a volunteer stint in the Israel Defense Forces in the early 1990s. He pushed himself through the pain and managed to complete the Philadelphia Marathon in a little over five hours.
He then completed three marathons in a year, knocking time off his finishes, including the Marine Corps Marathon, which was especially meaningful to Rosenberg because his father was a Marine.
Taking a week off work to train, Rosenberg said, he was in “totally awesome condition” when his accident occurred.
His physical conditioning proved to be a blessing during the four-and-a-half weeks he spent at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange. He urged staff working with him to make the treadmill go faster, give him heavier weights, or increase his therapy time.
“When I first started I couldn’t do anything,” said Rosenberg. “I walked out of there being able to feed and dress myself.”
Despite his remarkable recovery, Rosenberg said, it is unrealistic to think he could ever go back to his old job.
“I was a mechanic in the field,” he explained, and all four limbs are still affected. “I can walk, but my arms are very weak; I don’t have strength in my hands,” he said. “We’ll have to see if it will be permanent.”
Team A.Y. had raised about $50,000 in pledges over two years for the Route 27 synagogue building. Congregation president Zev Moskowitz said a number of legal issues have been resolved and the congregation expects to acquire the building in about six months. Architectural plans, which include renovation and expansion, have already been drawn.
The congregation also hopes to build a mikva, or ritual bath.
Team A.Y. also participates in the Highland Park 5K race, held this year just weeks after Rosenberg’s accident. Moskowitz said the team wore yellow armbands and dedicated its efforts to his speedy recovery.
Photos from the event were also mounted on a large banner, which was signed by virtually the entire membership of the shul and hung in Rosenberg’s hospital room.
“There’s no question that Zev’s story has really inspired the shul and the community in general,” said Moskowitz. “People have rallied around him for various fund-raisers to help his family.” To donate to Team A.Y., go to ayedison.org.