Two Thoughts for Rosh Hashana
by Jonathan Rosenblum
September 26, 2003
Rosh Hashana is a time for setting goals. That’s why I’ll be thinking a lot about Dr. David Appelbaum this Rosh Hashana. He exemplified how much one person can achieve in this world if he aims high enough.
"A masmid (diligent student) has time for everything." That was Dr. Appelbaum. Somehow he managed two full-time, high-pressure medical jobs, teaching Torah in a seminary, learning with his own children, and yet could find two hours a day for months to help a young couple whose child was undergoing chemotherapy.
When doctors at Hadassah Ein Kerem told Mimi Dombey that her husband had 12 hours to live due to degenerative liver disease, she thought to herself, "I can fight for life or prepare for death, but not both." The choice was settled when Dr. Appelbaum swept into the hospital. "Dead men don’t scream," he told Rabbi Moshe Dombey, his roommate from yeshiva days, and immediately began calling around the world in preparation for a transplant. Only because Dr. Appelbaum was willing to put down everything immediately and accompany his friend to Miami were the Hadassah doctors persuaded to let Rabbi Dombey travel.
Most new immigrants come hoping only to somehow survive. Not Dr. Appelbaum. From the minute he arrived, he set out to change the system. He took too seriously the religious imperative to become God’s partner in perfecting the world, to just go along.
Frustrated by the inefficiency and slowness of Israeli emergency care, which he felt resulted in many needless deaths, he set up his own emergency clinic, Terem, which became the model for many others. After the success of Terem, he was invited to head the Shaarei Tzedek emergency room on his own terms.
Within 15 months, he established a world-class emergency room. The day before his death, he lectured in New York on emergency room handling of catastrophes. Even from there, he was able to check on the emergency room by computer and see that no patient had gone unattended for more than 16 minutes.
"He never confronted a situation that he could not handle," remembers Rabbi Dombey. And that can-do attitude was the key to his success. With his infectious enthusiasm, he swept up others in his plans for perfecting the world.
When we pray for life on Rosh Hashana, we refer primarily to eternal life. Dr. Appelbaum proves the rabbinic dictum that the righteous live even after death. He lives through the hundreds whose lives he saved, the institutions that he created, which will go on saving lives, his students, and his children.
Two days after the suicide bombing that claimed Dr. Appelbaum’s life and that of his daughter Nava on the eve of her wedding, a social worker for families of children with cancer received a call from a mother whose son had just started a second round of chemotherapy. The mother related that the only volunteer on the oncology ward that her son would go to was Nava Appelbaum. Like father like daughter, and so too with the other Appelbaum children.
OUR SAGES TEACH THAT GOD judges us as we judge others – a lesson unheeded by all those so quick to judge the parents of the six-year-old girl in Ofakim who was left for sixteen hours in a van after her family returned very late from a family simcha. .
The parents are doomed to spend the rest of their lives in a nightmare from which there is no waking. Before their daughter was even buried, they were tried and convicted not only of carelessness but of not loving their children enough. They were not alone on trial; with them were all parents of what Israelis once referred to without cynicism as "families blessed with children."
"What do they care if they lose a child here or there if they have 11 left," wrote one commentator and many were quick to echo the sentiment. Yediot Aharonot’s large Friday headline read, "The father remembered that his hat was still in the van – but forgot his daughter."
Secular parents were quick to congratulate themselves on the greater love their children receive since it is "not divided into 12" – as if parental love is finite – and to insist that "this simply could not have happened to me."
But terrible tragedies, many of them involving far greater negligence than the Ofakim tragedy, happen every day in small families, as well as large. The day before a young child fell out of an 11th floor window in Beersheba, and the following day a mother of three left her infant locked in the car in her rush to get to a dentist appointment.
Most us – whether we are parents of one or fourteen – remember, with a shudder, a child darting into the street, or rolling off a changing table, or jumping head first from a high chair while we were temporarily distracted. Who has not endangered his children with careless driving or caught an infant’s hand as it was about to put into his mouth a marble or coin left on the floor. Happy endings do not make us better or more loving parents, just luckier.
This Rosh Hashana let us set our goals for improving ourselves and the world high – as high as David Appelbaum – but without looking down on others or judging them harshly so that we may all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
Related Topics: Jewish Holidays, Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur
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