An Edah Editorial
By Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz
Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz is the spiritual leader of Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem
in Montreal, Quebec. He is also a member of the board of the Quebec Israel Committee,
an Israel advocacy group.
Reach Out and Touch Israel
Loneliness is a curse. No one wants to be without a companion
who worries about their welfare. We all have an existential need, to quote the
old AT&T ad, "to reach out and touch someone".
I saw many examples of this lesson on a recent trip to Israel.
(I was part of a delegation sent by the Montreal Jewish community). In visits
to hospitals, shelters and shiva houses, I saw over and over again eloquent
testimony to the power of the hug and the handshake.
One image burned into my mind is of a father hugging his two
daughters. Right after our group drove into Haifa, the air raid siren went off.
We ran out of the car and took cover behind a tree. A couple, along with their
two young daughters, were already there. The two girls were crying and shaking
from fear. I watched as their father gently took them in his arms and hugged
them tightly. In the comfort of a loving embrace, the girls slowly calmed
down. Remarkably, even in this moment of crisis, a simple hug had made all
of the difference.
Elsewhere, we saw how handshakes and good wishes can make an
impact. According to the rabbinic tradition, a visit can improve a sick person's
health. At the Rambam hospital in Haifa, we visited Moshe, a 90 year old
immigrant from the Ukraine. Moshe was injured after a wall in his house
collapsed on him during a Katuysha attack. Moshe has no family left in
Israel, and was quite delighted to have visitors from halfway across the
world. As we left his room, he had twinkle in his eye, transformed by a
Comforting mourners, another rabbinic commandment that requires
touch, is a dual responsibility. First, we come to offer our support to the
mourners. In addition, we come to honor the dead. In one of the more
difficult moments during the trip, we visited the shiva for Yaniv Bar-On, a
soldier killed on the first day of the conflict, and met with Yaniv's
parents, Carleen and Erol Bar-On.(Carleen is a Montrealer who made aliyah
many years ago.)
We came to offer our condolences, and to show our respect for
Yaniv. We read
a copy of Erol's moving eulogy. It was a eulogy that he wrote through
tears, about a son sensitive and sweet, a true patriot with a passion for
life. Yaniv was a mensch and a good person, a military hero who gave his
life for the State of Israel.
Yaniv was part of unit 7, a unit started by Holocaust survivors.
survivors who founded the unit, did so to ensure a better future for the
Jewish people. Through their sacrifice, they transformed Jewish history
forever. They have left us an Israel that is a true living miracle.
Unfortunately, this miracle still requires sacrifices. This time, it was
Yaniv who had to make the ultimate sacrifice. That is why we came to his
shiva, to show respect for a hero who gave his life for the State of Israel.
While we had come to comfort others, we were also inspired
by what we saw.
We met with an American immigrant living in Tiberias, who told us how the
people of the city were greeting the Kaytusha attacks with a mixture of
determination and stubbornness. Indeed, this attitude was on display
wherever we went. At a grocery in Tiberias, the owner proudly exhibited a
sign that said "we are not afraid". While chatting with the owner,
avuncular elderly man, he reminded us that Israel had endured all of this
before, and would continue to thrive and grow. In the center Tiberias, we
saw the mayor standing out on a street corner handing out Israeli flags,
which were immediately taken by all passerby, who continued on, proudly
clutching their flags. We came to Tiberias to comfort; we left Tiberias
Saturday night in Jerusalem, I stopped in a store. The saleslady
told me her
brother had just got an "order 8", which means he has to report immediately.
She was worried about him, and asked me if I too was worried by the
situation, and perhaps planning to go home early. I told her on the
contrary, I had come because of the attacks, to show my support for Israel.
This response stunned her momentarily, and she then repeated a few times, "
I am so touched".
I realized then what Israel needs most. Yes, Israel needs our
and political advocacy. But most importantly, Israelis need us to "reach
and touch someone". Nothing can replace the personal connection. We need
call, to write letters, and yes, we need to visit Israel, to let Israelis
know how much we really care.