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 simple visit.

Comforting mourners, another rabbinic commandment that requires the personal 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. The 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, an 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 inspired.

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 financial help and political advocacy. But most importantly, Israelis need us to "reach out and touch someone". Nothing can replace the personal connection. We need to call, to write letters, and yes, we need to visit Israel, to let Israelis know how much we really care.


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