Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement . . . (to) get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed. — Abraham Joshua Heschel
ROUGHLY an hour after Yom Kippur services concluded Sept. 26 at the HEA, the heavenly gates discharged a resounding bolt that still raises the hair on listeners’ necks.
Around 9 p.m., several families left a break-the-fast in the area and returned to their cars, which were parked in an overflow parking field at the HEA.
Thunder bellowed. Lightning flashed at a safe distance in the swirling sky — or so everyone assumed.
A. J. Hibshman and his wife Rebecca, an active young couple at the HEA, arrived at their vehicle.
Hibschman headed to the driver’s side as Rebecca strapped their 14-month-old daughter into the car on the passenger side.
That’s when a pulsating finger of lightning exploded.
Rebecca rushed to where her husband had been standing a second ago.
Hibshman sprawled unconscious on the ground. Smoke rose from his inert body.
Rebecca instinctively felt for a pulse. There was none. She checked to see whether he was breathing. Nothing.
She began administering CPR, with the aid of a bystander.
Someone called 911 on a cell phone. Three minutes later, the EMTs arrived at the scene and transported Hibshman to Denver Health.
HEA Assistant Rabbi Salomon Gruenwald, who attended the same break-the-fast as the couple, got there just as the ambulance was leaving. He followed behind to the hospital, as did Senior Rabbi Bruce Dollin.
Doctors at Denver Health determined that Hibshman had sustained serious burns over approximately 15% of his body and transferred him to the University of Colorado burn center in Aurora.
There he remains.
The family involved in this harrowing incident had not spoken to the media by press time.
“Burns are the main issue at this point,” Gruenwald tells the IJN. “So far the other organs seem good.” While there may be other complications that are not readily apparent, Hibshman is expected to make a full recovery after spending several weeks at the burn center.
His wife “is shaken,” Gruenwald says, “but she’s doing what she needs to do. She’s taking care of him.”
SALOMON Gruenwald introduced his Kol Nidre sermon with an amusing reference that assumed unintended relevance 24 hours later.
He summarized a skit from “The 2,000-Year-Old Man,” a long-running comedy routine created by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner in 1961.
“Carl Reiner asks Mel Brooks, who is the 2,000-year-old man, how humanity discovered G-d,” Gruenwald recounts. “Brooks says, ‘Back then we worshipped the biggest guy around. His name was Phil.
“And he was the biggest guy around until he got hit by lightning — and then we realized there was something bigger than Phil. And we called it oy gevalt.’
“It was an awful coincidence,” Gruenwald says.
He used the Brooks-Reiner sketch to illustrate that prayer comes from awe and wonder, not definitive proof of G-d. “I was talking about Heschel’s concept of radical amazement. That’s what generates spiritual prayer.”
For some, the irony of this shocking occurence rests in its timing — on Yom Kippur.
“There is a certain weirdness that Yom Kippur had just ended and that it happened in the parking lot of the synagogue,” Gruenwald says.
“I think that’s part of the fascination — the paradigm of random acts; getting struck down in an instant.
“Hundreds of people get struck by lightning every year,” he says. “It happens. Yet that night I kept saying, ‘Who gets struck by lightning?’”
Gruenwald is thankful for and impressed by the love, support and heroism that have overflowed unbidden since Sept. 26.
“I think of Rebecca’s presence of mind when she gave her husband CPR,” he says. “The first responders; the emergency room doctors; the staff at the burn center — all these amazingly kind and compassionate people.
“They are the manifestations of G-d in our world.”
9NEWS meteorologist Marty Coniglio, who has studied, measured and witnessed first-hand his share of violent storms, calls the weather front on Yom Kippur unusual for late September but hardly unprecedented.
“We had 1,500 lightning strikes per hour, which is pretty decent,” he says
“But on a busy weather day in June or July, it’s not uncommon to have 3,000 to 4,000 strikes per hour.”
Coniglio says there’s a very simple reason the recent storm seemed exceptionally powerful.
It was dark outside.
“It’s perceptual,” he says. “There can be the same amount of lightning during the day but you wouldn’t notice it.
“Lightning appears more dramatic against a dark sky. It’s the contrast.
“After a night storm, you have no idea how many times I hear, ‘I’ve never seen a storm like this!’”
Congiglio, who expressed genuine concern for the victim, says the unfortunate episode should remind the public that lightning has the potential to inflict extreme damage — or worse.
A single direct hit can carry 100 million volts of electricity.
“This man literally had a horrible shock,” he says. “Long after this leaves our memory, he may well experience lingering medical effects, both physically and psychologically.”
Coniglio stresses that severe lightning is the most dangerous weather event in Colorado.
“Conservatively, three to six people are killed each year by lightning, which is 30 times more dangerous than tornadoes,” he says. “It just doesn’t attract the same level of media attention.
“It’s crucial for your readers to realize that lightning is very dangerous, and very deadly.”
The HEA community is arranging a fund for the Hibshman family. (303) 758-9400.
Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News