Bradley Silberman turns pain into purpose with Be the Bubble
Recovery from a life-threating brain injury after an unprovoked attack outside a Johannesburg nightclub in November 2004 gave Bradley Silberman new purpose. Now, he’s sharing his transformative life lessons in his book, Be the Bubble.
“I’m grateful because if it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t be who I am today. There would be a big, big piece of me missing,” says Silberman, speaking of the injury that nearly ended his life. It’s this positivity that helped him turn darkness into light – a mindset he breaks down in Be the Bubble.
By living in your own bubble, Silberman writes, you protect yourself from external influences. You know you’re enough, your past, present, and future are distilled into the current moment, and you live your destiny.
“We all have a purpose in life, and through energies and societal indoctrination, we lose our way,” he says. “Even if we’re successful according to society’s definition of the term, it doesn’t necessarily make us happy. Be the Bubble is about connecting to who you really are and living life according to that.”
For Silberman, overcoming brain damage had a lot to do with this realisation. “I don’t recall anything about the incident, so I had to piece together everyone’s memory to form my own,” he says, discussing the night that changed everything. Just 22 at the time, Silberman was a first team rugby player at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), studying towards a BSc Mathematics degree. He went to the newly opened Tiger Tiger nightclub in Rivonia to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
The trouble started when one of Silberman’s friend’s put his head down, was accused of sleeping, and was subsequently kicked out. “My friend is black and accused the bouncers of racism,” he says. “Not being a fighter, I tried to calm the situation down. They still kicked us out but through the wrong exit. As we walked across the club again to get to my car, a bouncer came out and laid into me without me seeing him. The real damage was caused when I hit my head on the curb of the pavement.”
His friends “picked me up, threw me into the car, and rushed me to hospital. Thank G-d they did because if I had got there seven minutes later, I would have drowned in my own vomit. My brain was bleeding, and my body was in trauma so I was vomiting but because I was knocked out, I couldn’t release it.”
Silberman was rushed to surgery. “I was given a tracheotomy to breathe, placed on life support, and had an emergency operation to remove blood from my brain and reduce the swelling.” Afterwards, he was placed in an induced coma to recover from the trauma.
The prognosis was alarming. “They told my family that if I woke up, they could expect me to be sitting on the corner in a chair blowing bubbles for the rest of my life,” says Silberman. Yet, when he woke up a few weeks later, he felt like he’d had a “great sleep”. However, he’d suffered brain damage.
“I’m not sure if someone who is brain damaged actually understands that they are,” he says. “At the time, I certainly thought I was normal, but I wasn’t. I was speaking slowly, and I couldn’t eat food. My left leg was limp, and I had to drag it on the floor. My left eyeball was turned around and I had to wear an eye patch – everything was blurry. I couldn’t do anything on my own.”
Yet, retaining his get-up-and-go mentality, Silberman registered for a BCom in entrepreneurship at the University of South Africa (Unisa) just more than six months after the accident, against medical advice. “I’d read for two minutes and then have to sleep for two weeks. I had extreme migraines, and nothing would help except sleep. The doctors were right in that respect,” he says, “but maybe my decision to do it anyway contributed to my miraculous recovery.”
It took Silberman three years to recover fully and regain the ability to be responsible for himself in terms of relationships, friends, and life in general. Over the seven years it took him to complete his entrepreneurship degree, he also explored coaching, integrated therapies and meditation, and started businesses in the healing space. In 2007, his corporate-wellness business, Rejuve, was born. Today, he’s a successful businessman, husband, and father of two.
Yet, it was only fairly recently that Silberman decided to share his story and personal philosophy in the form of a book. After giving a talk to Chabad House Director Rabbi David Masinter’s community on Shavuot in 2019, the glowing reviews he received gave him the push he needed to put keyboard to cursor.
“I’d always said I’d write a book, when I’d achieved x, y and z,” says Silberman. “The same thing applied to my mindset about telling my story on stage. Delaying these things and worrying about what people would think was all about fear. After the rabbi shared the community’s great feedback, I decided to start my book.
“I realised that others’ opinions aren’t my problem – the main lesson in the book. The key element is embracing that fear of pushing yourself and stepping up.”
When it comes to violence from bouncers, the scene has changed, says Yanni Coutroulis, the owner of Taboo Night Club in Sandton. “In the past, there were a couple of big beatings for a lot of different people,” he says. “It’s not as much of an aggressive scene anymore.
“Post-COVID-19, [bouncers] have taken another stance – they don’t take nonsense, but they don’t have to hit to get their word across. It’s actually more the patrons that beat each other up.”
That’s not to say that there are no incidents – different club owners have different outlooks and tempers do flare – but many, like Coutroulis, have zero-tolerance for displays of aggression. “Once you get branded on social media, it’s detrimental to your business,” he says. “We have enough problems trying to make our businesses full and flourish after COVID-19, we don’t need those negativities.”