Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Waiting Together


I doubt the name Rayan Aourram means anything to you. I doubt it means anything to most of the readership of this newspaper. But about a year and a half ago, in February of 2022, in the village of Ighran in Chefchaouen Province, Morocco, Ryan, a young Arab Moroccan boy, fell down a hole. It was a long fall, more than 100 feet down inside a dry well. Millions of people across the world followed the rescue attempt that entailed special machinery, helicopters, TV crews, and every resource imaginable to extricate him. There were texts, tweets, and videos sent via social media and broadcasts among all of those participating in the vigil of the dramatic saga of the rescue attempts. Clearly, the fate of poor Rayan had become a spectacle for millions who never had heard of the boy or his village. Despite the obscurity of the location and the anonymity of the child, the saga had engrossed the Moroccan kingdom and the entire world.

The mission failed. After a number of days, they reached him. But Ryan had died. A royal statement made soon after his extraction announced his death, and King Mohammed VI of Morocco called Rayan’s parents to give his condolences, along with a worldwide chorus of politicians and celebrities. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed the condolences of Egypt, saying that it stands by Morocco during this sad time. French President Emmanuel Macron added his condolence tweets as well. So did actors and sports figures from many nations, postulating that the entire saga created unprecedented global humanitarian solidarity.

I remember the incident, because when I received a text from a Jewish news service saying that Ryan did not make it, it gave me pause.

At the time, I thought of so many sick children in the hospital who no one is fixated upon. I thought back then of so many children in deep pits struggling to get out, but there are no news teams and there are certainly not millions of dollars trying to extricate them.

Unfortunately, children pass away daily throughout the world, either from illness, accident, war or malnourishment, but the world hardly notices them or even knows about them. Their ordeals are private affairs. Their deaths become statistics.

But Rayan’s ordeal was different. Through the reach of social media, video and news crews, there was special attention given to this 5-year-old. Millions around the globe experienced his ordeal. Some may have felt his pain, some may even have prayed for him.

I do not see a world clamoring to get involved, send aid, pray and take note of the myriad children and young adults taken hostage in Gaza, sitting in caves or pits waiting for their salvation. I do not hear condolences from kings around the world, politicians, and celebrities.

Save for some Jewish activists who are posting their pictures, the Yiddishe shvuyim would be just numbers. There is no play by play that captures the hearts and minds of the world as if it is an exciting rescue mission taken straight out of a cinema action adventure film. And so we forget.

Indeed, the world is mostly obsessed with morbid curiosities that the news media plays up. They turn tragedies that have a life-span such as a boy falling into a hole into an event that sadly parodies contests that most certainly are inconsequential and petty when compared to human life. Millions of people just watched a game with players representing two teams, each trying to run a pigskin ball across 100 yards. The outcomes have no bearing on the welfare or sustenance of anyone in a life-altering manner, yet they sit riveted, watching the efforts of men battling for a prize in which they will have no share. People live vicariously through the triumphs and tribulations of others, without having the attachment to the reality of the actual people involved. It seems that they are more interested in tragedies that will result in a glorious or heroic triumph of the spirit, as if it were a contest of endurance. There are many, many boring tragedies, such as thousands of children across the Middle East and Africa who are starving or in war-torn conflict zones, yet I doubt there are film crews. Millions of viewers are not watching and waiting to see whether young Somalian children will get their bottled water in time or if they will die of thirst.

And they are surely not playing waiting games for the captured Jewish children hoping to be saved. That is our job. But it is hard.

The losses were so great and the numbers unprecedented in modern Jewish history. And for identifiable captives, the numbers may be unprecedented in anything we have known since the era of the Cantonistim.

Indeed, it is hard to intensely daven for so many day in, day out, with so many names of captives, of soldiers and of citizens. Some of us can melt down from tefillah overload. Yet, we must never let a day go by without having someone in mind.

More than 17 years ago, I was at a wedding where I met the current Bluzhever Rebbe, the stepson of the renowned tzaddik, Rav Yisroel Spira of Bluzhev, whose mesirus nefesh during the years of the Holocaust and beyond was unprecedented.

When I introduced myself to the rebbe as Mordechai Kamenetzky, the rebbe asked me if I was a grandson of Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky and if I was related to Rav Binyomin Kamenetzky. I affirmed that, indeed, I was a grandson of Rav Yaakov and a son of Rav Binyomin.

“I am so happy I met you,” he exclaimed. “Almost five years ago, I met your father and he asked me to daven for a grandson who was diagnosed with a serious illness. I did not have his number and I never heard or saw him since and I have not stopped davening. Please,” he asked,“do you know where I can reach your father? Or better yet, do you know who I am talking about? How is the boy doing?”

I was shocked.

“Five years ago? And the rebbe still davens every day for him? Yes, rebbe, I do know. You are davening for my son, and boruch Hashem he is doing fine. He is boruch Hashem married to a wonderful girl and they are expecting a baby very soon.”

I think about so many of the tragedies that we hear about and live with. They are not media spectacles in which we participate to see, “Will they successfully save the child? Will they rescue the hostage?” in the same way many engross themselves in frivolous challenges, like, “Will they hit the home run or make the touchdown?”

I remember the saga of Nachshon Waxman Hy”d and the intense tefillos in which we all participated. It was not easy. Multiply the number by 200.

I remember almost ten years ago the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel Hy”d. The tefillos went on with intensity, and then, some 17 days later, the terrible news broke. The world did not wait and watch. Neither the president of Egypt nor the king of Morocco made a day of mourning. We stood alone then, as we continue to stand alone now. But we do wait and pray and hope and pray. Day in and day out.

We are in the midst of a tzarah. There is no play by play. We do not have the world watching with us. Unfortunately, we are being told by our own that this struggle will be long and arduous, and thus our response of tefillah, teshuvah and tzedakah must be sustainable. It must be long and arduous. We may not have the whole world praying with us, but we have each other. And from each other we can sustain the long and arduous journey to salvation.



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