A few weeks ago, Mishpacha editor Rabbi Moshe Grylak introduced me to two Klausenberger chassidim who have created a medical referral organization, R'faeino, with branches in Israel, Switzerland, and the United States, an an annual budget of many millions of dollars. That meeting brought home to me one of the unique aspects of the Israeli chareidi world: The entrepreneurial spirit for which Jews have been variously praised and reviled throughout history has been channeled almost exclusively into chesed activities. In place of business entrepreneurs, we have chesed entrepreneurs.
We need one more – a chareidi chesed entrepreneur to organize efforts on behalf of the 1,700 families uprooted from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. Those families have suffered a human catastrophe at every level.
Their belief in the imminent redemption, triggered by Israel's miraculous victory in 1967 followed by the large-scale settlement of the Jewish people's historic heartland, has been dealt a sharp blow. So has the concomitant belief in the state and army as instruments of that redemptive process. The settlers' sense of themselves as part of the mainstream of Israeli society has been destroyed by the way Israeli society coolly turned its back on them.
The Jews of Gaza have lost more than their homes. They have witnessed the destruction of their lives' work, with few prospects currently being offered them of rebuilding.
The Gaza communities were not suburban bedroom communities; they were communities bond together by a common intensity of faith and commitment. For the overwhelming majority of the Gaza settlers, their highest priority is preservation of their communities.
For the government, however, it is easier to simply provide each family with a check, and leave them to fend for themselves. According to Yitzchak Meron of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, a group of volunteer attorneys representing the settlers, the government did not respond to the Legal Forum's requests beginning last November to discuss communal arrangements.
Only in May did the government approve a plan for the Nitzanit dunes between Ashkelon and Ashdod, which is currently slated to hold no more than 20% of those uprooted. Settler proposals to replace the Gaza settlements with others in the Negev have thus far received little response from the government.
The government, of course, blames the settlers for not negotiating with them earlier over post-evacuation plans. But wherever the onus of blame lies, the fact remains that with the school year about to begin most of those uprooted do not know where their children will be attending school, much less where they will be living or working.
Those currently living in hotels or dormitories around the country can count on being moved many times as the hotels fill up for the Yomim Noraim and the students return to the dormitories after summer vacation. Each of those moves represents its own small trauma.
The chareidi community has not been indifferent to the pain of those uprooted from their homes. In a radio interview last week, Rabbi Yigal Kaminetsky, the chief rabbi of Gush Katif, spoke of the "unbelievable" outpouring of support for those temporarily housed in Jerusalem hotels, including from residents of Meah Shearim, Gerrer Chassidim, and bnei yeshiva. Rabbi Aharon Feldman, Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael, and his wife visited the refugees in the Shalom Hotel in Beit Vegan. And my office received many calls last week from those eager to help and wondering how to do so.
Yad Eliezer, which has received hundreds of thousands of tons of free for poor families from Gush Katif farmers over the years, was early on the scene, as were Chassidic groups from Sadigura and Karlin-Stollin. Boys Town, a residential educational institution in Beit Vegan, offered free room and board to every boy from Gush Katif from 12 years old and up. Boys Town even offered to provide facilities for groups of students from different communities who want to keep learning together, and to hire their teachers.
These examples are illustrative, not exhaustive. Yet there is still room for coordination of chareidi efforts. Helping fellow Jews need entail no identification with the original Gaza settlement effort, nor even any particular stance towards the Gaza withdrawal -- only the ability to empathize with Jews in pain. For those schooled to grasp far more subtle distinctions in Tosofos, that should not prove too fine a distinction.
There is much that individuals can do if properly coordinated – Shabbos invitations, relieving stressed parents by offering to take their kids to the zoo, doing laundry for those without access to washing machines.
Those whose world has been devastated, and whose long-cherished verities have been called into question, deserve from us an outstretched hand, a friendly smile, a shared tear.