Rescued from Death Zone| November 30, 2021
Alight. Five stories of salvation
Miracles surround us. Often, they’re muted and barely noticed. But sometimes, Hashem pulls aside the curtain of nature, and reveals His Hand openly
By Zecharia Grossman, as told to Mindel Kassorla
Several summers ago, a couple of friends and I decided to do a weeklong road trip up and down the coast of California.
On the last day, nearly everyone flew back home in the morning. But one friend and I stuck around because our flight out of San Diego wasn’t until that evening. We had a full day to enjoy La Jolla, and after finding a good deal on Groupon, we decided to go snorkeling. There we could see the famed La Jolla Cove, one of the most beautiful scuba and snorkeling locations in the country.
At the snorkeling gear rental shop, we asked the lady behind the desk if she had any recommendations for especially interesting sites. Excitedly, she suggested a specific beach with deep caves where the enormously high tides brought in tropical fish from Hawaii. She said these beautiful creatures only come in every few years, and we were really lucky to be able to see them.
We couldn’t have been more excited. Putting down a deposit, we took our gear and were on our way.
The shore was essentially a U-shape, and we swam out from the lowest point toward the bend where the caves were. My friend is a lifeguard, and I’m a pretty decent swimmer myself. But the swim was close to a mile and a half, and I guess I’d severely underestimated how long that is — or overestimated my swimming capabilities. Or both.
After about 20 minutes or so, I was feeling very tired and needed a break. We were nearing something in the distance that we knew couldn’t have been the shore yet. Getting closer, we saw it was a wall of rock, and just before it, there were rock formations protruding out of the water. It looked like a good resting spot, so I decided to swim toward it, to sit for a few moments and catch my breath before we headed toward the caves.
But before I could reach the formations, I got sucked into what I was later told is a riptide. A powerful current forcefully threw me toward the rocks — which I then discovered were dangerously sharp, with barnacle-type crustaceans that pierced my skin. The riptide was so strong and high, and its waves were rolling so quickly, it created a whirlpool effect. I knew if I were to get sucked into it, I was a goner.
My friend was far out, helplessly watching in horror. I heard him shouting in the distance, asking if he should come closer. But I told him not to; it would be a risk to his own life. Pummeled by these impossible waves, I was struggling to stay on the rocks — my only anchor from drowning — which itself was excruciating because they were so jagged. My fingers were cut to the bone and the skin on my back was shredded.
I could feel my energy begin to ebb, but I fought on. Painful as it was, I continued to hang tight for about five minutes — which felt like forever.
As my strength was waning, I realized I had only one Savior, and I davened an intense tefillah.
The Sea Patrol only covers that spot — an area they later told me is called a “Death Zone” — on occasional days, and today just “happened” to be one of those days. No one called them to our rescue — Hashem sent them our way just as I was on my last breath, about to give up.
The Sea Patrol came by with a team of Jet Skies and executed a multi-man operation. They expertly created a human chain, and dragged me onto an ocean stretcher. It was in the nick of time.
I was brought to shore, badly wounded, and the lifeguards bandaged my body like a mummy. Passersby thought I’d been attacked by sea lions.
The whole experience was so terrifyingly traumatic that for a long time afterward I had flashbacks and nightmares. It was only once I made my seudas hoda’ah to openly thank Hashem for the neis that the nightmares went away.
I don’t usually tell this story in public forums, but because I see what an effect pirsumei nissa can have, I feel it’s important to share the inspiration.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 770)
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