The Angel Daniel

angel danielWhile the Torah world was united in prayer for posek hador Rav Yosef Shalom ben Chaya Musha Elyashiv shlita, two men were on a mission to save the gadol’s life: Dr. Daniel Clair, head of the vascular surgery department at the Cleveland Clinic, and Mr. Zalman Silber, a medical askan and philanthropist from Monsey, New York. In an exclusive interview with Mishpacha just hours after they emerged from the operating room and spread the news that the surgery had been successful, the two friends shared the story of how they joined together to save Rav Elyashiv’s life — for the second time 

By Aryeh Ehrlich

They made an incongruous pair, if ever there was one. There, in the first-class cabin of an El Al jetliner that had departed from Newark International Airport, sat a distinguished looking Catholic with a shaven head, together with a bearded Orthodox Jew in full regalia. Huddled together, they drew plans on paper, discarded them, and drew new ones. As most of the passengers drifted off into monotony-induced slumber, these two men continued to confer about their mission, to be executed shortly after landing in Eretz Yisrael: saving the life of the posek hador, Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita.

The two men leaning over the intricate drawings were Dr. Daniel Clair, who holds the vascular surgery department chair at the Cleveland Clinic — ranked as the number one hospital for heart surgery by US News and World Report — and Reb Zalman Leib Silber, a businessman and medical askan from Monsey, New York. This was the doctor’s second visit to the Holy Land; his first trip, seven and a half years ago, was to operate on Rav Elyashiv’s aorta.

The duo knew that as soon as they would land, they would be whisked off to Jerusalem, where Dr. Clair would perform the surgery in Shaare Zedek Hospital after a scant few hours of rest, which gave added urgency to their planning session. As the flight neared Ben-Gurion Airport, a medical protocol covering every eventuality was finalized.

“Arrange the best possible accommodations for him — on the flight to Israel, in the course of his stay here, and for his return to Cleveland,” Harav Aharon Leib Steinman shlita instructed. “He is the emissary of all of us, the emissary of Klal Yisrael. We have a responsibility to see to it that he feels comfortable and returns home with pleasant memories.” 

A Long Time in Planning

The medical mission began on Shabbos Parshas Shelach, when Dr. Clair left Cleveland on a flight arranged by the staff of Pacific American Risk, Mr. Silber’s company. He was scheduled to arrive in New York as soon as Shabbos would end, where he would meet his friend and partner in this mitzvah, Reb Zalman, who left his house shortly after Shabbos with a police escort to ensure that he would make the flight. Since they did not want to rely on finding the right equipment in Israel, special arrangements had been made beforehand for medical instruments, including sharp objects, to be allowed on board as carry-on luggage, so they would not lose precious time at Ben-Gurion Airport waiting for checked luggage to emerge.

Midway through the flight, Dr. Clair turned to Reb Zalman and said that he was not fully confident in the plan that he had originally developed based on test results that had been sent to him, since it did not include a solution to certain problems that might arise. The two went back to the drawing board, and eventually disembarked with a new surgical plan that would take three hours, not the one hour allotted for the original plan. Unfortunately, the news never reached the thousands upon thousands who spent the hours of the surgery davening for its success, and the lengthy time that elapsed before news came from the hospital that all was well caused some panic.

“The problem with the original plan was that we invested more effort in deciding what to do than we did in deciding what not to do,” Dr. Clair related hours later, now finally able to relax in the opulent comfort of the King David Hotel. “We wanted Rabbi Elyashiv’s heart to be set to last for many more years.”

Dr. Clair withdraws a paper that is folded in four. Unfolding it, he reveals a diagram of the heart and the veins and arteries that surround it. “I prepared this diagram along with Zalman,” he explained.

The camaraderie between the pair is obvious.

“Mr. Silber has been a close friend of mine for many years. Our shared effort is part of the success story in this instance,” says Dr. Clair, lightly slapping Reb Zalman’s back. “We understand each other very well.”

The Doctor and the Rabbi

At fifty-one, Dr. Daniel Clair is one of the youngest physicians to hold a department chair at the Cleveland Clinic. Regarded as one of the top vascular surgeons in the United States, his expertise is in the carotid artery, the aorta, and other major vascular conditions. He relates that he performs about 400 to 500 operations every year similar to the one that Rav Elyashiv underwent, but the actual number may be higher than that. “He is a very understated individual,” asserts Mr. Silber.

Born in New York to Catholic parents, Dr. Clair is the only one of sixteen children in his family to pursue a career in medicine. Tall and slender, he has a pleasant demeanor and more than a touch of modesty.

Full story will appear in this week’s Mishpacha Magazine.

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  1. Thank you Dr. Clair for your enthusiasm and understanding of the importance of our leaders. And we in Klal Yisroel understand that Harbey Shluchim LaMakom. This means that Hashem chose this doctor for this very special situation and it is incumbent upon all of us to express our gratitude to the doctor. Perhaps those who can should send a thank you letter to him, care of the hospital.

  2. Some people are Shluchim of Hashem to heal people. Dr. Clair obviously must have some special merit to have been granted such a special shlichus of healing hundreds of people per year!

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