It wasn’t a bar in Casablanca, and no sultry blondes melted into tinkling pianos, but the famous line had never been so perfect: “Out of all the hospitals, in all the towns, in all the world, he walks into mine.” The scene was rather more somber than a smoky gin joint: an oncology ward in Irvine, California and the characters were fighting a different battle from the type raging in Bogart’s film. But if the world seemed small when Ilsa swung into Rick’s bar, it seemed positively miniscule last month in the University of California Medical Center.

Serendipity?

Or something more?

Consider the facts and see what you think:

A few months ago a young man in Irvine leant across his father at the table to reach for something. His father, a doctor, noticed a lump in his son’s neck. Investigations revealed non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and Jared Bruss began a course of chemotherapy. When Sandy Bruss, Jared’s mother, made the first appointment, the name above Jared’s caught her eye. That patient, Lior Darel, had the same birthday as Jared –March 29, 1986. Jared was born exactly two years later – on March 29. Now this was more than just an unusual coincidence; nurses check that they are administering chemotherapy to the correct patient by asking for a date of birth. Sandy determined to keep an eye out for possible confusion.

Sandy didn’t yet know it but there was a further link between the patients. Meira Darel, Lior’s mother, supplied the details. She found Sandy in the ward, introduced herself and explained that she had heard prayers being said for Jared in the Habad shul she attended, where prayers for Lior were also being offered. The two young men ended up receiving their treatment right next to each other; their mothers getting to know each other as they accompanied their sons. Meira told Sandy that Lior was born in Israel but when he was two the family relocated to the States where they have lived ever since. Lior was suffering from Ewings Sarcoma which eventually necessitated having a leg amputated. Meira was devastated. She confided her feelings to her sister, Hadassah, who determined to support her through her ordeal.

Hadassah, who lives in San Diego, had an Israeli school friend whose own son had had his leg amputated during the Second Lebanon War. The women remain in close contact; Hadassah explained the situation, and very soon Meira flew to Israel to meet Eran Peri who had lost a leg in the battle of Bint Jbeil in 2006. Eran drove Meira to his home, showed her his prosthesis, spoke to her empathetically and gave her strength to cope with Lior’s similar condition. Later Eran and Lior began to communicate on Facebook. Encouraged, Meira flew home to face the rest of the treatment.

Now comes the incredible bit: Meira returned to the oncology ward and told Sandy the story of Eran. But there was no need. “Meira,” said Sandy, “you don’t have to tell me these details. I know all about Eran. It was my nephew who saved his life.”

Joel Abel, a combat medic from Kochav Yair, was twenty-one during the battle of Bint Jbeil when he was called upon to attend to a soldier whose leg had been blown off. It was Eran, Joel’s good friend. The Israeli soldiers hunkered down in a house in Lebanon, surrounded by enemy troops who were firing at them. For hours Joel tried to staunch the bleeding, but he knew that Eran needed to be hospitalized urgently. Despite the acute danger to his own life, Joel stayed with his friend, set up a drip, applied a tourniquet, massaged him and talked soothingly for ten hours, until helicopter support was enlisted. Joel put Eran on a stretcher (and the severed leg into his backpack) and together with four others carried him under enemy fire to safety. The two were evacuated to Rambam hospital. Eran lost his leg, but his life was saved. Today Eran has recovered well, Joel is doing the preparatory studies for medical school, Jared is traveling in Europe and Lior is a student at the University in San Diego.

Towards the end of Jared’s treatment, Russell Abel, Joel’s father, visited his nephew, who was by then thankfully responding very well to his chemotherapy. Meira was invited to meet Russell. Picture the surrealism: in his sister's home in Irvine, USA, sits South African Russell, now living in Israel. In walk Meira and her Israeli-born son. “I hear you met Eran,” says Russell. “What a small world.”

Is it a small world? Or is there some master plan after all, connecting people not only in famous films, but in real life too? Oh! There’s something else – Joel’s mother, Karen Abel, was born in South Africa on  March 29 – the birthday of Jared and Lior.

Serendipity? Or something more?

What do you think?

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About the author

Pamela Peled

Dr. Pamela Peled was born in South Africa and came to live in Israel in 1975, at the age of 17. She studied English Literature and Teaching at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has a doctorate...
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