During the holiday season, we often read inspirational stories that raise our awareness of the plight of the needy and celebrate a spirit of helping the unfortunate who have suffered from hard luck, injury and hurt.
I would like to share a different holiday story to you, one that shows how the foundations of religious teachings and celebrations of miracles can inspire an individual to reach inward, not outward, to help them struggle against debility and ill-fortune within an ethical, spiritual framework.
This holiday story is one about the moving individualism of a young man whose strong religious beliefs have motivated him to overcome a devastating, crippling illness and to also build — and rebuild — a successful entrepreneurial business.
Elchonon Hellinger, 26, of Miami Beach could easily be the Dickensian subject of a holiday story about someone living with a serious, debilitating illness. Since infancy, he has suffered from Neurofibroma Type 2, which causes the continuous growth of benign tumors — a malady that affects one in every 60,000 people.
This young man grew up constantly undergoing serious operations (he has had 20 surgeries to date). He had to wear a brace to walk during his childhood and went deaf at 18 (he regained his hearing with an auditory brain implant at 21).
Despite the constant debilitating effects of his illness during his childhood, Elchonon always fought back to try to live as normal a life as possible as he attended a Yeshiva in Miami:
"It was hard…very hard. Kids were mean. I just wanted to be like the rest of them, but going to doctors, the surgeries, wearing a brace, was very difficult. But I was the smartest kid in the class and I never saw myself as being disabled or limited. I always gave it my best," recalled Elchonon.
In addition to his religious education, as a teenager Elchonon began selling unlocked open box and refurbished cell phones and Bluetooth headsets and speakers on e-Bay in 2004. Despite the operations and continued deterioration of his health, he worked hard and successfully grew his sales operation, incorporating his Thriftycomputer.com business in 2009.
Instead of taking the easy way out and declaring bankruptcy, Elchonon chose to rebuild and make good on his debts.
Soon after expanding his business, Elchonon ran into issues with payment processors and found the business short of capital-he could not pay vendors or meet customer orders. But instead of taking the easy way out and declaring bankruptcy, Elchonon chose to rebuild and make good on his debts to his suppliers and customers.
"That was the right thing to do. People were owed money — I believed it would have been dishonest to walk off from the debts incurred from my own mistakes and faults. My father taught me that it's not about how much money you make, it's how you make your money. Our buyers are people like us, I see them as individuals that we are selling to, not in terms of profits or dollars," said Elchonon.
"I'm a God fearing Jew and God commands us to be honest," he added.
So Elchonon joined up with his brother Yosef, working with him 16 hours a day, six days a week, to rebuild Thriftycomputer.com. They worked out agreements with their payment processors and suppliers and paid them off, cut overhead, and reformed their business model.
Today, Elchonon and Yosef are busy at Thriftycomputer.com filling holiday orders — and Elchonon continues to overcome his physical disabilities in the work environment:
"For one, it is hard to communicate with people in the office, but that has been getting better, I have tumors in my left hand and no use of my right hand, so typing is difficult. Sometimes the tumors are very painful and it requires great effort for me to stay calm. I cannot make any phone calls, so I need to delegate those calls or talk to everyone via chat or email. In addition, I am often at the doctor and have to take off for surgery," he said.
Elchonon has never given up or relied on any charitable agency to assist him. Instead, he has solely persevered from his strong belief in God and the boundless support and love of his parents and family:
"All I want in life is a fair chance to prove myself. Being physically disabled does not hamper my ability to operate a successful business. I don't see myself as disabled, but just facing more obstacles than others that I need to overcome."
Elchonon is truly a brave young man-and a real smart mensch, and his tale is an inspiration to all.