Paralysis didn’t stop Bracha Fischel from becoming a skilled and sought out painter and lecturer. In fact, her circumstances only fuel her to advance her technique, even if she is “stuck” in a wheelchair. Always an active young woman, Bracha moved to Israel from Switzerland in 1991, where she met her husband, had three daughters, and worked as a nurse.
In 2006, she fell ill with rheumatoid arthritis, and her whole life was flipped upside down. After surgery, all four of her limbs were paralyzed. At first, she didn’t understand how she would live. “I couldn’t even hug my girls anymore.” Yet always a believer, she realized that “this wasn’t a punishment. This wasn’t a mistake. It just happened. I can be depressed about it, or I can make something of it.”
During her almost 6 months at the Tel Hashomer rehabilitation center, Bracha learned how to use her mouth to write and hold things. When she returned to her home in Tiberias, she continued developing her mouth skills by continuing the hobby she’s always loved – painting.
Painting Becomes a Passion
For Bracha as a quadriplegic, painting became her greatest gift – and she still had the power to give back and create beauty for the world. In 2007, she took a course with Hamburg Academy, and in 2013, she was accepted with scholarship into the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists LTD, or MFPA, a global network which requires artists to continue developing their skill – and was a good incentive for Bracha to keep learning, which she still does today. The MFPA has a branch in Israel with 15 artists, two who paint with their feet, and the rest with their mouths. The global network has about 800 artists.
Joining the network only continued to open up Bracha’s world, and she started to receive invitations to exhibit and lecture around the world. She exhibits annually in Switzerland, and her last exhibition was slated for March 2020, and it was the first time she had been invited to Germany. She was set to display 90 paintings and was looking forward to meeting the people of Germany, especially as an unofficial ambassador of Israel. Yet the day before her flight was set to take off, coronavirus canceled all travels and Bracha remained in Israel. Yet, the show went on, supported by the Jewish community and the German municipality, fulfilling her mission of connecting people through art.
With the many challenges of COVID-19, Bracha misses flying around the world and meeting new people. Being at home all day hasn’t been easy, but as Bracha believes, there is always a bright spot. For her 60th birthday last year, her daughters and friends donated to a fund to get Bracha a support dog. At first, she was hesitant, yet today, Dona the black Labrador offers Bracha a new level of independence. “The service dog needs to choose you,” she says. She received visits from two dogs before meeting Dona, and a match was made. Dona brings paintbrushes, refills empty water jug when she sees they are empty, puts paint rags in the laundry basket, and brings her phone to her lap. Today, Bracha and Dona are inseparable. And so is Bracha and her painting.
Giving Back Through Art
“Painting is my legs, my hands, my soul.” Her work is detailed, layered, gorgeously serene, and her talent and technique shine through. She uses acrylic and watercolor, often painting scenes from Switzerland and Israel, landscapes, flowers, and is now working on a piece for Rosh Hashana.
Not only does she paint, but she also lectures, volunteers, and advocates for inclusivity. She spent time with patients at Batei Avot, a nursing home, who didn’t have family who visited them, sharing that “I may not be able to hug them, but I can always listen.” She also continuously speaks up for disabled rights, whether it be calling out those who park in private handicapped parking spaces, or educational buildings which are not accessible to those in wheelchairs. She knows that if she keeps speaking up, it is not only for her, but for those with similar circumstances who will be able to one day benefit.
Not only that, every Friday, Bracha spends a couple of hours sending out personal messages and her latest painting to a global and growing list of people and her latest painting. She may not be able to move as much as she used to, but her lively, kind, and wise spirit continues to create ripples of positive change to everyone she touches.
When asked what wisdom she has to share she repeats: “There are healthy people and there are sick people. We can be depressed, or we can take what we have and do something with it. Even if it’s just a smile, we always have a chance to give. Yes, sitting in a chair is annoying, but life goes on, and God doesn’t make mistakes.”
Visit Bracha Fischel’s website here.