People of Book pay penalty: myopia, vision impairment

Talmud: good for the soul, bad for the eyes.

That's the official diagnosis from Meir Schneider, founder of the S.F.-based School for Self-Healing and longtime proponent of natural healing methods.

According to his patients, he's a miracle worker when it comes to improving vision.

Schneider offers himself as living proof that the eye is more resilient than most bespectacled folk think. Born legally blind, he has restored up to 50 percent of normal vision, thanks to his own yeoman efforts over many years.

He even proudly possesses an unrestricted California driver's license

Born in Ukraine and raised in Israel, Schneider plans to share his discoveries with the public and other professionals at the second North American Conference on Natural Vision Improvement, to be held Saturday and Sunday, April 26 and 27 at Lone Mountain College, University of San Francisco. The itinerary includes free workshops on eyestrain, near-sightedness, macular degeneration and other key topics.

Central to the success of the conference are leading Jewish doctors whom Schneider has invited, each an expert in differing aspects of optometry, ophthalmology, neurology and alternative medicine. Among them are Jacob Liberman, Marc Grossman and Ray Gottlieb.

Even San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown has gotten on board, officially proclaiming April 21 to May 5 "Vision Awareness Weeks."

Schneider especially wants to get his message out to Jews, who, he notes, suffer disproportionately from an array of vision problems. The explanation is simple: Jews read more.

"Yeshiva bochers all have eye problems," says Schneider, citing studies that indicate "a higher prevalence and degree of myopia" among Orthodox Talmud Torah students because of their study habits. Sustained close vision, varying print sizes and even davening, all contribute to vision impairment.

Short of the Messiah, Schneider says help is on the way.

"Vision can improve," claims the healer. "I was born with cataracts and saw less than one-tenth of 1 percent of normal. I was reading braille until 17."

Unlike many blind people who learn to live with their disability, Schneider refused to accept his condition.

Even after botched surgeries left his lenses scarred, Schneider managed to improve his eyesight doing a series of exercises taught to him by a librarian at the braille library in Tel Aviv. "I spent up to 13 hours a day making a connection between the brain and eyes."

Those exercises were based on the controversial Bates method, which contradict conventional medical wisdom on vision correction. Nevertheless, Schneider's eyesight improved so dramatically, he decided to dedicate his life to expanding the techniques.

Schneider moved to the Bay Area in 1976, earned his doctorate (with a thesis on muscular dystrophy) and opened the School for Self-Healing in 1980 and never looked back.

Among Schneider's techniques and advice: Try to limit close vision, such as staring at computer screens all day long. "Pay attention," he says. "Look far. We have a beautiful city, so look at the trees, birds and stars. Balanced use relaxes the eyes."

Part of Schneider's inspiration is drawn from bedrock Jewish sources.

"I'm a Jewish philosophy student," he says. "If you read Maimonides, [Martin] Buber, Kabbalah and the first Commandment, you understand there's only one power. It's strong and it heals. Maimonides talked of barriers between us and God, and accepting the power of healing as a way to get closer to God."

Though one might suspect mainstream medicine would look down on natural healing methods like Schneider's, the good healer begs to differ. "Their knee-jerk response is that they're against us," he says, "but many are open minded about what we have to offer."

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.