A RINGSIDE SEAT TO KLAL YISRAEL'S CHESED
By Yonoson Rosenblum | MARCH 22, 2022
Jews have reached deep into their pocketbooks to rescue as many of their brethren in Ukraine as possible
I recently happened to see a clip of investor Warren Buffett, in which he discussed with a group of young people how one evaluates one's life. Money isn't the measure, he suggested. Like them, he also eats fast food. And his expensive suits look no different from theirs once placed on his dumpy frame.
Then he recalled the remark of a longtime friend of his, a Holocaust survivor, that every time she meets someone, she asks, "Would that person have hidden us?" Buffett noted that he knows people whom even their own children would not hide.
Buffett's conclusion was that the quality of one's life can be determined by how many people would risk their lives to save you from certain death.
I was reminded of his remarks last week when a family of four from Uman arrived at our home around midnight. Now, I have no wish to compare our taking in a family whom we did not know to hiding Jews during the Holocaust. (We knew of them because the husband is my daughter-in-law's first cousin.) We were definitely not risking our lives or those of our loved ones.
Nor has their presence been any burden. The rooms they are occupying are empty in any event and are ones I rarely have occasion to enter now that the original occupants have departed to build their own families. And our guests could hardly be easier or more interesting. The two children, four and a half and three, are impossibly cute, and converse easily in English.
The mother is high energy and an upbeat spirit, despite being in her seventh month of pregnancy. She grew up in Serbia, under constant NATO bombing, and is used to living under difficult circumstances. Apart from being thrown from her seat by the speeding bus driver on their way out of Ukraine to Hungary, and suffering a severe gash on her forehead, accompanied by heavy bleeding, she handled the four-day trip from Uman, including nearly 24 hours without any food on the concluding leg of the journey, without complaint.
I will admit that I wasn't all that enthusiastic when my wife first told me she had invited the family to come and live with us. I'm rather enjoying — like one of the characters in Dov Haller's current series — being an empty-nester, with the apartment only filling up on Shabbos and chagim. I view the empty rooms as opportunities to add new bookshelves, and rather enjoy having my own bathroom after all these years.
But I had nothing to answer when my wife explained her invitation: Without knowing that they have a place to go, they might decide to remain in Uman, with potentially dire consequences. And in that case, we would be culpable at some level.
It then dawned on me that my wife was offering me a "biggish" mitzvah of the type that might not come my way again. I generally do not have any trouble with any mitzvah that does not involve dancing — not that my observance is characterized by extreme punctiliousness. Here, however, was an opportunity to push myself a bit.
Over Shabbos, a friend told me that his parents, a well-known rosh yeshivah and rebbetzin, had once taken into their home a ger kattan for around a year. When asked why he had done so, especially after having raised to adulthood almost his entire, large family, the rosh yeshivah replied, "How often does one get the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of 'You shall love the ger [to such a degree].' "
I guess that pretty much sums up my feelings.
ONE OF THE GREATEST BENEFITS from our guests has been the opportunity to observe the sheer goodness of Klal Yisrael from a ringside seat. They have been deluged with chesed from every direction.
On their first full day in Eretz Yisrael, I sent out a message to the neighborhood email list describing the mother's need for someone to examine the gash on her forehead. Not long thereafter, a medic from Ichud Hatzalah was at our door. After examining her, he determined that the hospital in Kerestir, Hungary, had done a good job gluing her forehead, and three full days later, there was no possibility of stitches, even if they were needed.
That evening, they went down to the Kosel to give thanks for having made it to Eretz Yisrael, and for having ended up in a neighborhood where both husband and wife had previously studied and had many friends. While they were gone, a new neighbor came by to let me know that one of the largest Israeli shoe chains was offering free shoes to refugees that night in Har Nof.
The next morning, our guests reported how everywhere they went the previous evening people came up to them to wish them the best and offer assistance. Apparently, father's and son's Na-Na-Nachman kippot identified them as likely recent arrivals from Uman.
Meanwhile, I was inundated with responses to my posts on the neighborhood list — including davening times in the Breslov minyan, and offers of help from members of the local Breslov community and many others. Among the numbers I received was that of the woman at the local community center charged with responsibility for any incoming refugees. Since our first conversation, she has called repeatedly to discuss schools for the kids; medical treatment, despite their lack of insurance; and just to find out what they need. She sent her sons with treats for the kids and a beautiful doll before Shabbos. And just today, she showered them with diapers, food, and all sorts of basic necessities. Even then she did not forget more presents for the kids, who were transfixed their first night in our apartment by just the basic building blocks and Clics used by our grandchildren when they visit.
On Motzaei Shabbos, the little girl reported severe tooth pain. Within a short time, one of the mother's friends had located a clinic offering free dental care, and the next morning, the little girl had her cavities filled. That night another friend called with news of a hospital in Bnei Brak offering a comprehensive prenatal exam. The representative of the hospital even offered to pay for a cab ride from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak, and the next day, there was staff on hand to entertain and feed the children during the many hours in the hospital. And the best part of the daylong trip to Bnei Brak was the hospital's promise that it would handle the delivery and all associated costs without charge.
Finally, another friend called them to say that he had located an apartment in Beitar and was busy looking for beds and furniture. A private individual is offering rent support of $1,000 per month for at least three months to any refugee.
Of course, these multiple acts of chesed pale in comparison to stories that have appeared proclaiming the heroism of Chabad shluchim all over the Ukraine; of the Karlin-Stolin Rebbe's emissaries in Yad Yisrael, led by Rabbi Shmuel Dishon and Rabbi Yaakov Shteierson, who have been active in the Ukraine for decades, particularly in Kyiv and Lviv; of Rabbi Moshe Fhima in Belarus; and of Rabbi Shlomo Bakst of the Tikva organization in Odessa (an old friend from kollel days) and his team, who led out hundreds of children from the local Jewish orphanage. And there are many more who should be named.
Jews have reached deep into their pocketbooks to rescue as many of their brethren in Ukraine as possible. The CEO of the Chesed Fund told me last night of the multimillion dollar campaigns run by Karlin-Stolin and Ichud Hatzalah, and of numerous smaller campaigns by local organizations doing around-the-clock, lifesaving work.
A friend, who many years ago founded the Lezion b'Rina school for Jewish kids from the Ukraine on behalf of the Karlin-Stolin Rebbe, has barely had time to speak for weeks. He did mention in awed tones, however, the dedication of the Israeli consulates in the countries surrounding Ukraine to which Jews are escaping.
But just my spot as a bystander to a tiny sliver of the overall communal response has filled me with an overwhelming pride in being a member of Klal Yisrael.