Fort Worth Chabad leaders face son’s COVID-19

Mandels find support through physical, spiritual guidance

By Amy Sorter
Special to the TJP

When 18-year-old Menachem (Mendel) Mandel began coughing and became feverish a few days after returning home from the Yeshivas Lubavitch Toronto, Rabbi Dov Mandel, and Rebbetzin Chana Tovah Mandel suspected their son might have something other than a standard cold or flu. The adult Mandels, who lead the Chabad of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, have family in New York and Israel, which had been exposed to, and had symptoms of, COVID-19. As such, “we knew what to expect,” Chana Tovah said.
So, in the face of Mendel’s symptoms, his parents didn’t hesitate. Doctors were called, resulting in a visit to the Cook Children’s Fort Worth emergency room and eventual hospitalization. In addition to a diagnosis of pneumonia, Mendel was found to have COVID-19, the first Cook Children’s patient to be officially diagnosed with the virus.
The good news is that the situation was caught in time, Mendel’s case was relatively mild, and he is back at home, and continuing to recuperate. The remainder of the family, which includes seven daughters, is exhibiting mild symptoms of coronavirus, and is in self-quarantine.
Meanwhile, for the rabbi and rebbetzin, the journey has not only underlined the necessity of following common sense health care advice, but has also revealed spiritual truths, as well.
The diagnosis and treatment
Mendel, who is in his first year at Yeshivas Lubavitch Toronto, returned home to Fort Worth March 18, four days after the institution announced it would close in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. The yeshiva student was exhausted, and “we all chalked it up to him not sleeping well, due to the turmoil of the yeshiva shutting down,” Dov said. Four days later, Mendel developed a cough and fever. The next day, when Mendel began coughing up blood, the parents called the doctor, who made an appointment to see the young man.
The waiting room was, in actuality, the parking lot. “Everyone was sitting in their car,” Chana Tovah said. “That was the waiting room. They would come out and get the patients.” Mendel didn’t test positive for strep or flu, and was sent home, while his doctor sent results to the lab. That night, Mendel’s fever spiked to 105 degrees; a bath and Tylenol brought it down. However, the doctor called the next day and told the family to get Mendel to the emergency room, STAT, for a chest X-ray. Taking no chances, the ER staff put the Mandels into an isolated room, where, following the X-ray, they learned that Mendel had pneumonia in both lungs. He was immediately admitted to the hospital, and given oxygen for comfort and support.
The coronavirus news came a few hours following Mendel’s admission. “The doctor came into see us, dressed like an astronaut,” Dov recalled. Added Chana Tovah: “When the doctor came in that afternoon to tell us the news, I could tell this was her first case. She was clearly anxious and nervous.” Throughout Mendel’s stay, the family consulted frequently with the doctor, and as the young man’s fever and symptoms improved, it was determined safe to bring him home to continue his recuperation.
Meanwhile, the Mandels knew it was only a matter of time before their own symptoms would pop up. “Mendel was home for four days without symptoms,” Dov said. “We breathed the same air he did. We ate at the same table. Considering how highly contagious it is, it would be impossible not to get it.”
Practicality and spirituality
With Mendel now home and recovering, the Mandels are approaching their situation with matter-of-fact calm, laced with humor; such humor is essential when it comes to keeping children — ranging in age from toddler to teen — busy while in quarantine. The family is in frequent touch with doctors, is following health care guidelines, and is suggesting people stay home.
The Mandels, who are sharing their journey with followers on Facebook, are appreciative of the Cook Children’s health care workers. For instance, Mendel spent Shabbat in the hospital, and the nurse checked on him frequently, understanding that, while Shabbat laws are suspended in emergency situations, Mendel might not have been comfortable using the call button for non-urgent matters. The family is also grateful for support from the Fort Worth Jewish community, which has been doing everything from providing meals and shopping assistance, to purchasing letters in a sefer Torah, as a mitzvah dedicated to Mendel’s recovery.
And through this experience, Mendel’s parents have gained understanding about the nature of anxiety, while focusing on the spiritual tools to control it. “This is in Hashem’s hands,” Chana Tovah explained. “When I let go of the situation, and say, ‘Hashem, you’ve got this,’ that’s when I feel the calmest and most comforted. Learning to let go and trust, that’s the hardest thing.”
Her husband agreed, commenting that anxiety and panic come into play when life expectations are not met. To underline this point, the rabbi explained that, while running a winter camp in Arizona one year, one of the head counselors handed him a schedule. What caught his eye was the footnote at the bottom, which read: “subject to change without notice.”
“That’s how the camp was run and that’s how life should be run,” Dov said, noting that a healthier attitude is to understand that control over everything is impossible. “If, instead of thinking of life in terms of ‘I must have things a certain way,’” he added, “it’s better to think of it in terms of ‘I will take whatever life gives me, and make the best of it.’”

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