Standing on the bimah during a Bar Mitzvah is a significant moment for any young boy-turned-man, but it is even more so for Laizer Galperin and his family.
Seven years ago, when Laizer was 6 years old, he was trapped in an electrical house fire in his native Israel. As flames engulfed the home, the rest of the family was able to escape — rescuing Laizer’s siblings along the way — without any injuries.
Although he survived, about 85 percent of his body was burned. Eleven days later, he was sent to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Cincinnati where he endured 24 operations. As a result of the burns, both of his legs and the fingers on his left hand were amputated.
There were complications getting him fitted for prosthetics while in Ohio. After two years, the family returned to Israel, where doctors told the family that Laizer wouldn’t be fit for prosthetics until he was 20 years old.
But parents Shmuel and Devori Galperin wouldn’t accept that answer.
A cousin in Monsey, N.Y., connected them to Shriners in Philadelphia. Since arriving here this spring, Laizer’s undergone a few surgeries already to ultimately get him to stand.
An orthopedic surgeon first has to straighten his legs, then metal rods will be placed inside before a prosthetic can be added, hopefully only spanning six months of procedures.
Although the recovery and rehabilitation process is long — up to six more months — the Bar Mitzvah will still go on July 29 in Lakewood, N.J.
Many from the Philadelphia and Greater Lakewood communities have reached out to help the family, whether it be through places to stay, fundraising or excursions.
David Kushner arranged several trips for Laizer to local Lakewood firehouses and police stations, some of his favorite interests.
“This kid [loves] firemen and cops — that’s his thing. That’s what he really is drawn to,” he said.
As such, Kushner arranged tours of the Lakewood Police and Fire Departments, including rides in a fire truck.
The family resides in Lakewood and commutes to Philadelphia for hospital visits, but they will stay nearby for Laizer’s upcoming surgeries courtesy of Bikkur Cholim of Philadelphia.
“There’s a tremendous organization here in Philadelphia, Bikkur Cholim, that owns two very large apartments right around corner from CHOP and HUP in town where there’s no charge to anyone at all,” Kushner noted.
Kushner is a chaplain for the Philadelphia Police Department, so when the family must remain near Shriners for an extended period of time during one of Laizer’s postoperative recoveries, he’ll arrange the same tours for the boy in Philadelphia.
“You’re talking about a family that has been through just a tremendous, tremendous amount of sorrow and unbelievable anguish,” he added. Devori Galperin’s sister, Rivka Holtzberg, was murdered in Mumbai, India, during the 2008 terrorist attacks in that city. She was the co-director of the local Chabad House along with her husband, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg.
Rivka Weber heard about Laizer’s story years ago when it first happened, and it’s stayed with her ever since.
“What if it would have happened to me and my kids?” she pondered.
When she heard the family was coming here, she didn’t think twice about reaching out.
In May, she set up a GoFundMe page, titled “Laizer’s Bar Mitzvah Dance Fund” — gofundme.com/LaizerG — to raise money for living and medical costs in the hopes that Laizer can stand and dance at his own Bar Mitzvah.
So far, it has almost hit $6,000 of its $24,000 goal.
“It gives me a lot of strength to be able to deal with this difficult time and that people asked and that people show interest and care,” Devori Galperin said in her native Hebrew via a translator. “It really gives me a lot of strength.”
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