Rabbi Ronnie Cahana is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth-El in the Montreal suburb of Town of Mount Royal. His daughter, photographer Kitra Cahana participated in Jewlicious Festival 3.0 and has enthralled us with her work. Daughter Tamira, a massively talented student of costume design, was a frequent (not frequent enough though!) Shabbat guest while studying in Jerusalem. Their father recently suffered a debilitating stroke, but you know… there’s just no stopping some people. The following is from an email sent to me by Kitra:
Five weeks ago, my father Rabbi Ronnie Cahana had a severe and rare kind of stroke in his brain stem. His mind has been severed from his body; a quadriplegic, on a respirator, with a fully functioning and brilliant mind. They call it incomplete Locked-in syndrome (in French: maladie de l’emmurÃ© vivant – walled-in-alive disease).
(The movie the Diving Bell and The Butterfly paints a clearer image of his condition, although he has regained much facial movements and can now mouth as well as use his eyes for communication).
My father, ever the spiritual poet, has through a process of blinking out letter by letter, been insisting on communicating endlessly day and night, despite being in the hospital. As my father’s mouthpiece my mother, siblings and I facilitate for him to blink out long spiritual messages and sermons, letters in multiple languages and now aphorisms and poems as well (LOVE IS KISSING AWAY THE OTHER’S FEARS).
Communication is slow and gentle (taking hours to write a few paragraphs) and requires a level of mental endurance and tenacity reserved for the yogi or mystic. But perhaps that is in each of our powers, when we sever body from mind. My father speaks much about the division of body and mind, and how special he is to have the outer limits of human experience sparking through his fingers. Most people in this compromised physical condition ask for death, sometimes using all their life force fighting for it. My father has only said let me show you how to live, from the very first instance of occlusion.
We are experiencing something few on earth experience; my father floating through spirit and space, and us through his endless thought-process and spiritual high. I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT THIS TOO IS HEALIGE (holy in yiddish) he blinked to Tamira, my sister and to me: I AM IN A BROKEN PLACE BUT THERE IS HOLY WORK TO DO.
Last week, a day following a very harrowing prediction by the head neurologist, my father began showing voluntary resistance in the muscles of each limb (very in the valley of dry bones-esque). Despite the death, through the brain-voids the cells are beginning to answer each-other’s calls.
Kitra sent me Rabbi Cahana’s first “blinked” sermon, included below:
Most Holy and cherished Congregation Beth El,
To the Compassionate One, the Most High Constant and Pure, who breathes meaning and truth into life. You have allowed me another verse of one more song, one more kiss to a loving life.
Rosh Chodesh Av enters the loneliest experience of the Jew. We are fatherless without Zion. The Rabbis did not direct a negotiation with the Romans. They only asked that their children be taught holiness in Torah, so that they could sustain in G-d’s way. Even during WWII, the rabbis never negotiated with the Nazis. Do not subvert our worthiness to Zion.
Parshat haShavua Massei teaches us that in a world of chaos and vacuousness, we need refuge in life. Even in the perfection of the Garden of Eden, there was the snake. When my nape exploded (when I had my stroke), I entered another dimension: inchoate, sub-planetary, protozoan. Universes are opened and closed continually. There are many when low, who stop growing. Last week, I was brought so low, but I felt the hand of my father around me, and my father brought me back.
I am grateful for all the love, messages and prayers I have received. They are uplifting me, and I hope to be back home soon.
Rabbi Ronnie Cahana
If you want to include Rabbi Cahana in your prayers, his full Hebrew name is: Harav Ronnie David Zishe Hacohen ben Hinde Aliza. You can read the Rabbi’s poetry, G-D stories and Dvar Torahs on the web site created by Kitra at rabbicahana.wordpress.com. Refuah Shlema Rabbi.