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The Anatomy of an “Amazing Community”

We are an amazing community. Sometimes, however, it takes adversity and tragedy to be able to recognize it.

This came to mind when reading an article last week penned by Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby. Jacoby is an Orthodox Jew and a member of the Young Israel of Brookline. Recently, his family experienced a personal challenge that brought out the amazing nature of numerous communities. In his column, Jacoby writes how his 16-year-old son Caleb, a student at the Maimonides Jewish Day School, went missing for some 80 hours.

After describing the torturous sense of despair and anxiety that he and his wife experienced, Jacoby continued with the main thrust of his article: “After more than 25 years of working for newspapers, I figured I knew something about stories that grab public attention. But the intensity of interest in my son’s disappearance was extraordinary… It astonished the police, too. ‘You have an amazing community here,’ the detectives working on the case told us more than once. Tips, queries and offers of help surged into the Brookline Police Station. Maimonides, the Modern Orthodox Jewish Day School where Caleb is an 11th-grader, coordinated a local search effort involving more than 200 volunteers. But offers of aid came pouring in from strangers in other states and countries, many of whom were prepared to drop everything and go anywhere needed to search for a teen they didn’t know from a city many had never been to…”

 

Jacoby goes on to praise the numerous communities, Jewish and non-Jewish, that so identified, empathized and sympathized with him and his family. “During the worst ordeal of our lives, my family experienced the best that human beings are capable of. That was a blessing I’ll never forget or ever cease being grateful for.”

 

SOLIDARITY DESPITE DIVISION

 

Reading the article got me thinking. There is so much goodness in our communities. Yes, we are horribly divided into umpteen groups and sub-groups. Within Chareidi Jewry, there are many groups. Similarly, there is much division within Modern Orthodoxy and there is much that separates Chareidim from Modern Orthodoxy. What we sometimes fail to recognize amidst all of the sniping and snarkiness that often gets more play than it deserves – primarily due to the roiling free-for-all of the blogosphere, which seems to bring out the worst in people, and from an eager secular media that seeks to capitalize on reporting divisiveness – is that there is so much goodness.

 

The default button of regular, wonderful, everyday Jews is compassion, goodwill and the desire to help. In the bein adam lachaveiro sphere, this is not even considered remarkable. It is considered normal. And that is what is truly remarkable.

 

THE DESIRE TO HELP A FELLOW JEW, REGARDLESS OF WHO HE IS

 

Sometimes we fail to properly appreciate that deep solidarity. When we hear about a lost child, we don’t start thinking and making cheshbonos about what kind of child s/he is, where s/he goes to school, what kind of tzitzis he wears, or how she dresses. It makes no difference. A child is lost and may be in danger. Parents are frantic and we must help them. Not only that, but we deeply want to help them, because the last thing we want is to see a fellow brother or sister enduring pain or suffering.

 

I remember first recognizing this wonderful trait some twenty years ago, when a young girl from Brooklyn named Suri Feldman got lost on a school trip to a large park in Massachusetts. I remember how hundreds of volunteers from Brooklyn got on to buses to join search teams. From Lakewood, too, I saw hundreds of volunteers going on buses, dropping everything they were doing to help find a lost child. When she was found, the hundreds of searchers, mostly young men from Brooklyn and Lakewood, erupted into enthusiastic dancing, jubilantly singing, “Chasdei Hashem ki lo somnu.”

 

Boruch Hashem, that story, just like Caleb Jacoby’s, had a happy ending.

 

A COLLECTIVE “HUG” FROM KLAL YISROEL

 

How many times have we heard terrible stories and how Klal Yisroel came together in such meaningful ways to help one another and to daven for one another? Just this past week, we were all shaken by the tragic, unimaginable story of the young kollel family from Yerushalayim whose two young children died from poison left behind in the house by an exterminator. Two surviving boys are still fighting for their lives.

 

Throughout the entire world, Yidden are davening for them and shedding tears, wanting nothing more than to hear the good news that the two boys are getting better. The father, Rabbi Shimon Gross, told MK Ruby Rivlin, who came to be menachem ovel at Schneiders Hospital in Petach Tikvah, where the boys are being treated, “We feel that we are being hugged collectively by all of Am Yisroel.”

 

So many tefillos, so many good kabbolos. The innate goodness of Klal Yisroel emerges during such trying times.

 

SHARING IN SIMCHOS BY HELPING

 

In truth, it is not only in tragedy, but in good times, too, that we see so much goodness amongst Klal Yisroel. For example, when a new baby is born, so many come forward to chip in, prepare meals, help with childcare and the like. We give rides to others just because we want to help. We stop to help someone with car trouble just because we want to help a fellow brother.

 

Ask any baal simcha how many people chipped in to help them take care of the myriad details involved in arranging the simcha, be it a bar mitzvah, achasunah or a bris.

 

It is unfortunate, therefore, that all this goodness is sometimes overlooked or treated as “the way it is.” These things are remarkable. We should continuously internalize and think about how blessed we are for being part of an amazing community.

 

ANOTHER DEFINITION OF LOST CHILDREN: LOST SOULS

 

One caveat is perhaps in order. A lost child always engenders tremendous sympathy. We know what the dangers are in the big bad world out there. The innocence of a child, the danger to a child, and the wrenching pain of parents are a combination that arouses tremendous sympathy.

 

There are, however, other lost children and lost souls among us who should perhaps engender a similar wholesale mobilization of resources, effort, and emotional and physical energy. Those lost souls constitute the mageifah, the plague, of the many young people who are spiritually lost and are falling into the black hole of spiritual destruction, unhappiness, depression and worse. They and their parents need all the help and support they can get. Not syrupy, foolish and insensitive commiseration, but real assistance. We must look out for them and possibly invest more effort to ensure that they don’t fall and, if they fall, to help them out.

 

In addition, there are so many older singles among us. Yes, there is awareness and many people are involved in the tremendous mitzvah of trying to find them shidduchim, but we all know that as much as is being done, more still needs to be done. Is finding a partner in life for an older single also not a form of helping a lost soul connect with its source?

 

Yes, it is easier and less complicated to jump on a bus and join a search party for a young, vulnerable, lost child – and that shouldn’t be minimized – but perhaps we can push ourselves even further, think beyond our comfort zone, and add even more “amazingness” to the amazing community we already are.

 

CLARIFICATION RE: LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE

 

It has come to my attention that there are some who mistakenly misconstrued my article last week titled, “Inspiration by Spook: What Happened to the Am Chochom Venovone?” as a strike focused on one particular person. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Readers of this column know that it is devoted to the discussion of ideas, not individuals. What prompted me to write the column was the aggregate of several incidents heard recently in which hisorerus by spook and the like took a front seat, replacing initiatives and ideas that augment learning and middos. I am pained, however, that my words were wrongly understood by some to be referring to one particular person. They certainly were not.

 

Perhaps there is some merit to a dream being used as a springboard in encouraging comprehensive discussion about fundamental aspects of Yiddishkeit, hashkofoh, halacha and the like when done in conjunction with legitimate rabbinic guidance, but that is a question for a competent rabbinic authority.