I recently met Richard and Jodi Brodsky after hearing how Jodi narrowly escaped injury after completing the Boston Marathon just minutes ahead of the bomb that scattered the crowd of spectators and shattered the patriotic feeling Bostonians claim as part of their own special day. Says Richard, “Never again will the people of Boston be able to claim this day as their own; we are all Americans and an attack on a city especially Boston, which was at the forefront of the birth of America--I feel like we are all Bostonians.” Here is Richard’s story in his own words.
Jodi and I are both marathon runners and how we met 34 years ago has a lot to do with my Jewish upbringing. I graduated Pratt Institute in 1975 with a degree in Architecture. My outlook for employment was grim at best. The trade referred to me as a RAG, recent architectural graduate. Realizing that relocating was my only option for finding a job, I moved to Tehran, Iran, and after a few months I found a job. I joke about my work assignment which was to help design the 1984 Olympic village which the Shah of Iran was vying for Tehran to be chosen to host the Olympics.
Fifteen months later, I returned home to North Woodmere and shortly after relocated to Houston. I recall my parents saying, ‘When you visit the synagogue, be sure you introduce yourself to the rabbi.’ The idea had been placed in my brain and when I did visit the Synagogue, I introduced myself. The Rabbi asked me if I would like to meet a nice Jewish girl. ‘Sure,’ I replied. He gave me Jodi’s name and three months later we were engaged; a year later we were married and living in Manhattan.
Over the years, whenever Jodi and I traveled, we always sought out the Jewish community to learn about their life in past times. Venice and Florence both have rich histories and if you’ve read the book the Warburgs, you can understand how modern-day anti-Semitism is rooted back to the 1500s and Italy.
Back to the present, I’m HIV+ since 1997 and a brain cancer survivor since 2002. Harvard and NYC medical doctors have stated that my brain cancer had nothing to do with my being HIV+. I’m 60 years young and six of my last seven marathons have been my fastest since my cancer diagnosis. For Jodi and me, it is never a question as to whether the glass is half full or half empty; it’s overflowing. After completing the 2003 NYC Marathon, I established the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) public charity in 2004. My goal is to help people living with HIV and cancer, especially children.
My Foundation has been sending me to Africa since 2004. Back then, I tried to locate a rabbi in Kenya and I was directed to a woman, Wanjiku, who I mistakenly thought was Jewish and she directed me to Rabbi Gershom Sizomu who as it turns out is from Uganda. Rabbi Sizomu is now the first black orthodox Rabbi from sub-Saharan Africa. Wanjiku also connected me with Dr. David Silverstein, a brilliant American cardiologist who graduated a few years early from med school, and wanted to travel the world before settling down. An opportunity presented itself to Dr, David Silverstein while visiting Kenya and he has remained in Nairobi, Kenya for the past 50 years. Dr. Silverstein is Honorary Life Rosh Kehilla and current vice-chairman of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, and personal physician to Arap Daniel Moi, the former President of Kenya. The two gentlemen have traveled together to Israel and there are close ties between these countries.
Both Rabbi Sizomu and Dr. David Silverstein have written me encouraging letters over the years: Rabbi Sizomu wrote, “I’m very inspired by the way you have chosen to spend your time on Earth. What you are doing are undoubtedly deeds of righteousness, loving kindness and holiness.” Dr. Silverstein wrote, “Mr. Richard Brodsky, who is HIV-positive, has been very helpful in coming forward and sharing his story with other HIV positive patients helping to remove some of the stigma of this disease in Kenya and the rest of the world.”
The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, pictured below, was renovated 15 years ago and the interior photos barely give justice to the array of colorful biblical stories as depicted in the stained glass windows. Every year, Jodi and I visit the Synagogue, I recall back in 2010, I was the 10th and final Jewish male to enter the synagogue and then the Torah was permitted to be taken out of the ark and read. Knowing that it was me who allowed the Torah to be read brings me great solace to this day. There is more information about the history of the Synagogue by visiting the Synagogue’s website, http://nairobisynagogue.org/. After visiting the Synagogue, we fly to Kisumu, Kenya, where my Foundation co-sponsors the World AIDS Marathon with the Kisumu World AIDS Marathon Group. In conjunction with the World AIDS Marathon, 50+ males are circumcised every year for the purpose of reducing the spread of AIDS. Since 2006, my Foundation has sponsored orphan dinner dances for 4,350 Kenyan orphans and since 2011, we have recruited Dr. Richard Sartori, a partner at Garden City Pediatrics, to travel with us and examine the orphans.
In many ways, Hashem does not seem ready to claim me. While watching Jodi nearing the Boston Marathon finish, I was undecided about whether to watch her cross the finish line and take a photo, but when I realized I left my camera in the car, I opted to meet her at the family reunion area, at least a quarter mile from the finish line. For those of you who did not see the Boston Marathon video shown of the 78 year old marathoner falling to the ground, this occurred 15’ from the finish line; not a good place for me to be watching Jodi. Similarly, when I was first diagnosed HIV+ there must have been dozens of AIDS medicine I could have taken. As it turns out, Viracept was the one my doctor prescribed. It was my wife Jodi who found the doctor. In 2006, my doctor wanted to take me off Viracept as there were more medicines that could have been taken as a single daily dose. I’m glad I stood my ground and refused to be taken off Viracept The following year, http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/sep2007/nci-01.htm, the National Institute of Health, reported that the AIDS medicine can help cancer survivors and that Viracept was the #1 medicine for prolonging the lives of people living with cancer.
Some of the recent projects I have and will be involved with include the efforts of many Shomer Shabbat and other Jewish volunteers living in the Five Towns. Retrofestival.org, a group headed up by Allan (Avi) Spielman of Woodmere, organized eight bands to play music similar to the Woodstock music of the late 60s at a benefit concert for my Foundation on April 20. Retrofestival.org assists many charities by assembling local musicians to perform at various clubs such as Woodmere Lanes / Backstage Nite Club. But don’t expect Allan to arrive before Shabbos ends. Similarly, there was a bass player Myron Baer, a YCQ parent and long time resident Drummer Joey Fichoff. Other Retrofest events have featured locals Elliot Schiff, Rabbi Richie Borah, Adam Schwartz, Dan Friedman and Adam Kaufman. Says Allan Spielman, “It is a Kiddish Hashem to see the participants of the frum community working with other Jews and non-Jews on such important causes.”
The Richard M. Brodsky Foundation’s next Event will be the 6th annual, June 9, 2013, 5K AIDS Cancer Run Walk in North Woodmere Park. Local Five Towns resident Asher J. Matathias, President of the Five Towns B’nai B’rith and board member of the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation, will once again be giving the invocation at the Event. I can’t believe I will be running in my hometown and passing my old house as the Event is being relocated to North Woodmere from Seaford. The Event will feature entertainment by kids4kidsnyc.org, a very talented group of children performers and comedian Lawrence Shaw, a Lawrence High School graduate, class of ’70. Everyone who registers by May 24 will have their name on the back of their t-shirt. To register or to make a donation for the upcoming 5K Event, visit the website, www.5kaidscancer.com.