October 30, 2019

Imagine you’re 32 years old and one day something seems off with your left eye. You visit your eye doctor. She sends you to another doctor and then that doctor sends you to a specialist. Five weeks later, you are blind. 

Welcome to Menachem Green’s world. He has Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). It is an inherited form of vision loss and there is no cure. This condition usually presents when a person is in his or her teens or 20s. Green told me that he’s grateful that he had more years of vision than most who have LHON. 

I met Green a few years ago when his vision was unimpaired and he worked at 613 The Mitzvah Store, a Jewish bookshop in Los Angeles. Then on Shabbos a few weeks ago, I was walking with my wife and I saw Green with a cane, Ray Charles-type sunglasses and a young woman. I said, “Hey, Menachem. It’s Mark Schiff.” With a big smile, he said, “The funny man. You want to hear a blind joke?” “Sure do,” I said. We traded blind jokes and then he told me a little about what happened. 

Green is handsome, has a great sense of humor and is a Torah-observant Jew. I thought about why this young man, who had nearly perfect vision just over two years ago, could be so upbeat. Was it because it was Shabbos and we are required to be joyful? 

Over the next couple of weeks, I saw Green in shul a few times and then visited him at his apartment in Pico-Robertson. His attitude wasn’t just because of Shabbos: Green is cheerful and positive. He may have lost his vision, but he hasn’t lost his spark. 

He told me he believes God will one day restore his sight, through a medical cure or through a miracle. He told me his faith in God is stronger now than before and he continues to study Torah. He is being taught something called assistive technology, which is customized to the person’s needs. His teacher also is blind.  

“He told me he believes God will one day restore his sight, through a medical cure or through a miracle.” 

Green, of course, is unable to read your facial expressions but he seems very in tune with the person he is talking with. It’s important to him not to be a downer. He said “B positive” is not just a blood type. Some friends call him every day and some stop by to help him around the house. He feels very close to them. 

Green grew up in Los Angeles. Sometimes, when the Dodgers are on TV, his mother would watch with him and call the plays. Believe it or not, he’s gone to the batting cages a few times. Why not? He’s still the same man he was when he had his eyesight. 

I asked him if he was angry about losing his vision. He said he’s more disappointed than angry. When his family found out he would lose his vision, they got very upset, but Green told them, “Sometimes God throws you a curveball and you have to learn how to hit it.” He also told me he doesn’t believe losing his vision is tragic. He said he’s been dealt a difficult hand but if you play it right, you can still win the game. 

Bosma Enterprises, an Indiana-based nonprofit that helps blind people stay self-sufficient, says that 70% of Americans who are visually impaired are unemployed. Green said he loves working and being around people. He currently doesn’t have a job. He’s receiving financial assistance but would rather have a job. He needs a break. He needs some nachas. He needs someone to take a chance on him. 

Although the world is blocked from his eyes, he knows God loves him, and his friends and family love him. Green has hope. If you asked him what he’d like his life to be like in 10 years, he would say he’d want to have his vision back, to be married, have a good job, a good Torah teacher and box seats at Dodger Stadium. Go, Menachem Green. See you at the batting cages.

Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.

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