We are Hal Rothbart’s family and friends, and we’re deeply grateful for any help you can give to support his continued recovery from the major stroke he suffered in February, 2018. With humble and hopeful hearts, we are turning to our friends, family, community — and yes, even strangers — for the money we need to keep providing Hal with the support he needs as he continues what doctors have called a “miraculous” recovery. We are working to raise $50,000, which will provide 12 months of Care Team support and continued physical therapy, plus money for a bathroom renovation at Hal’s home. The hope is that in a year, Hal will be able to come home to live.
Thank you so much for reading more below, and for chipping in to help — your support in any amount is truly meaningful to all of us, especially to Hal himself.
Who is Hal Rothbart?
Hal has always been someone who defied the odds. He grew up in dire poverty in the slums of Brownsville, Brooklyn, raised largely by his much older sisters, and then a local Irish barmaid who took him in. In high school, he made a promise to himself: to get an education and find a way to help others. Some told him that leaving his tenement block would be impossible, but Hal graduated from City College of New York at age 19, before moving to Ann Arbor and earning a graduate degree at the University of Michigan.
Ever since, Hal has devoted his life to improving the lives of the people around him. His personal, lifelong goal has been to make 3 people smile every day, a goal he has accomplished through his genuine kindness, friendliness, and curiosity, a clever joke, a bad pun, or by bursting out spontaneously into song. He’s known for finding out the life stories of every person who crosses his path — and has passed out literally thousands of blank journals over the years, encouraging people to record their own stories.
For decades, Hal has thrown himself tirelessly into supporting his family and his community — as a mentor to high school and college students, a youth baseball and basketball coach, and working behind the scenes with local theater groups, helping bring dozens of plays to life, from musicals like Fiddler On The Roof to dramas by Swedish playwright Lars Noren and his longtime friend, the accomplished playwright OyamO. Though he acknowledged he wasn’t the world’s best singer, Hal loved visiting nursing homes to bring music and laughter to residents. “The folks who can hear me the least are usually my biggest fans,” he observed.
Hal served his country overseas in the U.S. Navy, then continued to serve through his work as a peace activist. In recent years, after retiring from a 25-year run at the University of Michigan, Hal started a small publishing company, helping over 30 people publish their own books. And since 1989, Hal has played a central role at Deep Spring Center, a locally-based dharma center with an international following, founded by his wife, Barbara Brodsky; he has been many students’ first point of contact, with his unique brand of welcoming inclusiveness. “I called to find out about a meditation class,” one student remembered. “Within an hour, Hal had asked me fifty questions, consoled me while I cried, and then bounced some rap lyrics off of me. I’ve been a part of Deep Spring ever since.”
In February, 2018, Hal suffered a major stroke. Doctors gave him only a 3% chance to survive the first week, and when he was still alive after a month, gave him a 5% chance to ever get off of life support. As Hal has always done, he’s completely defied the odds.
With sons Michael and Peter, days after his stroke.
Now, 18 months later, Hal is in a nursing home, improving day by day, inch by inch. From the beginning, his mind was alert and he understood everything said to him, but he could not speak. Now he’s beginning to speak, and to be able to express his feelings and needs, with the support of a speech therapist. He’s even begun to sing again! For months after the stroke, his brain could not recognize the right side of his body. With weekly aquatic physical therapy, he’s able to stand in the pool and even walk, moving his “paralyzed” right leg. While doctors call his progress miraculous, to those who know him well, it’s simply a testament to his lifelong perseverance and will.
Hal is utterly cogent and present. He’s become the darling of the nursing home staff on his wing, who call him “charming”, “endearing”, “our sweetheart.” He has learned to feed himself, to put on a shirt, shave, brush his teeth and even to use a tablet to communicate and watch his favorite movies. He does all these things with quiet courage and persistence. It’s not his way to feel sorry for himself.
Yet all these advances don’t come without cost and effort.
Hal with Barbara, his wife of 51 years, on a recent trip to the Matthei Botanical Gardens.
Hal’s wife Barbara has been a consistent presence at his side (along with other friends and family) and, crucially, she has also assembled a “Care Team” for Hal to offer support and care beyond what she and the nursing home can manage. This hired team includes Occupational Therapy graduate students, among other knowledgeable and compassionate souls. Hal’s nursing home offers only the basics — a bed, meals, skilled nursing care when needed, and an aide down the hall. Hal’s Care Team, however, teaches him new skills, helps him stretch and strengthen his body, and works with him to improve his speech through a customized iPad app. The Care Team also gets him up in a wheelchair for hours every day, strengthening his body in meaningful ways, and helping him to make trips to his favorite parks, museums, and to the home he’s shared with Barbara for 48 years. This renewed sense of freedom has been perhaps the most crucial and morale-boosting of all.
All of this is possible because of the Care Team’s devoted and thoughtful work — dedicated and hard-working people who provide an impressive level of service for a reasonable rate. Beyond the Care Team, Barbara and her family have also been paying out of pocket for most of Hal’s therapies, which are not covered by Medicare. The physical therapy Hal receives has been absolutely instrumental, profoundly boosting his progress.
All told, the costs to support Hal’s continued recovery are $3,500 a month. Barbara and Hal have already spent their retirement savings on his care, and any remaining funds have all but run out.
Please help us to support Hal, who himself has supported so many people to live better and richer lives! With your help, he has a good chance of coming home in a year and again living a productive life.
We give our deepest thanks to everyone who has lent their amazing support in so many ways since Hal’s stroke — and to everyone who is helping us to reach this GoFundMe campaign goal. We’re truly grateful for your incredible kindness and generosity.
The Family and Friends of Hal Rothbart
Yes, Hal is still determined to make 3 people laugh each day.
Aquatic therapy has been a gamechanger for Hal.
Hal at Michigan Stadium, 18 months before the stroke. He’s determined to attend a U. of M. football game again next fall.
Hal Rothbart: Friend, neighbor, community leader... and rapper?
- Joshuah Bearman
- Kimberly Spinazzola
- Jen Tracy-Duplass
- Jonathan Burton
- Yaoyao Du
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