Some time ago I stopped going to Torah classes. It’s not that they’re boring, or that I don’t care. I just fall asleep. This is such a straight fact that I can use a class to combat insomnia, jet lag, you name it. And if the class is in Hebrew? Forget it. I may as well bring a pillow so at least I’ll be comfortable. So it’s somewhat surprising to note that I was not only present but awake and moved to tears three quarters through a Hebrew Torah class tonight.

Now mind you, I do try to stay awake at these classes. The circumstances need to be perfect. I must have a front row seat on a chair that’s comfortable but not too comfortable. There must be food and lots of it, and naturally all within arms’ reach; and plentiful drinks with caffeine of course.

And so it was tonight; a lecture that was hosted by my good friends, organized by another good friend, benefiting an important cause I believe in, and I had helped to promote the event; yes, indeed, if ever I was obligated to attend anything it was this one. Luckily, all of my necessary conditions were met quite nicely. I made myself comfortable and settled down, bracing myself against unwanted snoozing.

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The cause was JobKatif, which frankly is a cause anyone would believe in… if they heard of it. Most people – unless they were living in a cave – recall the expulsion of 8,000 residents of the communities of Gush Katif in 2005. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, little babies…all had to leave their homes and the communities they had built up and lived in, some for as many as 30 years. Not only did every one of those people lose their homes, but they lost their livelihoods as well. Hundreds of families lost their farms, their businesses, and in fact 85% became unemployed.

Demonstrating for Gush Katif just one month before the expulsion.

Demonstrating for Gush Katif just one month before the expulsion. Photo courtesy Laura Ben-David

One might think that the government would compensate these people for the enormous sacrifice they made and, indeed, that was the plan and the expectation. For whatever reason, the reality was far from the promises made and thousands were left to flounder without permanent homes and any realistic means of support.

Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, the man who had come to deliver the class on ‘lashon hara’ (derogatory speech), founded what’s known as JobKatif. An incredibly selfless man, he made it his personal crusade to rehabilitate these broken families, provide employment counseling, business mentoring, professional retraining courses and academic scholarships. While they have already helped thousands, there is much work to do as there are hundreds of families who still do not have sustainable livelihoods.

All this I’ve known for a long time and in fact wasn’t mentioned at all for the first portion of the lecture as he explained, in Hebrew, when and how it is appropriate to use lashon hara. It mattered not whether it was interesting (it was), or whether I understood (I did). It was a lecture, and I was tired. Luckily, I had all my previously mentioned conditions, and I ate and drank my way through, sometimes pinching myself under the table to stay awake.

Then he told a personal anecdote that grabbed me and made all of my efforts to stay awake unnecessary.

As part of his tireless work for JobKatif, Rav Rimon speaks all over Israel and the world sharing his knowledge and sharing their plight. And so he told of one Shabbat when he was scheduled to speak to a girls’ school that was staying at the neighboring kibbutz Kfar Etzion. He walked in a driving rain, arriving to a locked gate, and found no one around to let him in. Somehow the rabbi got in, though he would not disclose those details. He made it, soaking wet, to the final Shabbat meal where he was to speak.

When he was finished, the girls were all very appreciative and they each came over to thank him before they filed out. One girl remained behind though. She said, “I want to thank you… for saving my family.”

Rav Rimon was stunned, and asked her to please explain.

She went on to say that after the evacuation her family was in shambles. Neither of her parents had work and there was no money. There was constant fighting in her home which got progressively worse. Finally, her parents could no longer take it and decided to get divorced. It was the lowest point in their lives. Then JobKatif stepped in.

Rav Rimon told how the girl explained, “First my father was helped to get a job. A few months later my mother found work. Slowly, gradually, our house became a home of happiness once again. Looking at my parents now, it is impossible to imagine that they ever considered divorce. So thank you. Thank you for saving our lives.”

And then the tears came. My tears. (Admit it, aren’t your eyes a bit misty?)

After the lecture was finished, I asked where this story was written. “It isn’t,” he answered, to my great surprise. I suppose they are so busy with the critical work that remains, that they don’t take the time to write down the stories. I thought it needed to be written down. Now it is.

JobKatif needs to raise $1.5 million to fully implement is incredible programs. For more information or to donate click here.