5 good reasons why people who are blind should own cars, or: How to ‘think mitzvahs’

I. Cars for Blind People
(This is the first article in a series about “Thinking Mitzvahs”) First, we must begin with microwave ovens for blind people. Blind people might benefit from having microwave ovens because:
1. They are safer.
2. They go “bing” when the cooking or defrosting or reheating is finished and the popcorn or soup or casserole or baked apple is ready.
3. Everyone else has microwave ovens.
4. Many new microwavable foods are coming out which allow for a wider range of nutritional benefits.
5. Everyone has microwave ovens.
6. It is easy to put Braille on the keypad.
7. You don’t have to plan so far ahead, and why should blind people
— just because they cannot see — have to plan their meals differently than people who can see?
8. There are probably 15 other good reasons why, which anyone can
figure out if he or she just sits down and thinks about it or sits down with a friend and talks about it.

Solved by:  John Fling, Mitzvah hero, Columbia, SC, who tries to make sure his many blind friends have microwave ovens.

Who would have thought of it?
All of us.

Now, to the cars. Here are some reasons why blind people might want to own cars:
1. Everyone else has one.
2. They might need to go somewhere, and a friend or neighbor who usually drives them to that somewhere might have his or her own car tied up at that moment, and if the blind person didn’t have a car, he or she couldn’t get to the right place at the right time. The most common example would be the friend’s teen-age kid took the car out for a date or a night with friends down at the bowling alley, malt shoppe, or miniature golf course. This is by no means uncommon.
3. In case of emergency, there has to be an available car. It is life-saving, an issue of Pikuach Nefesh.
4. The blind car owner can lend the car out to someone else who needs
it, just like everyone else does in similar situations. The right to lend is a
matter of kavod-human dignity. The only difference is that one car owner can see and the other cannot.
5. One of the people in the audience once mentioned that this is a matter of personal property protection: when someone goes away on a week’s
vacation, he or she cancels the newspaper or asks the neighbors to take it off the lawn so a potential burglar won’t come by and take out the TV, VCR, computer, and jewelry. If some disreputable persons cruise the neighborhood looking for a likely candidate for a break-in, if they see a car in the driveway of every house except for the one where the blind person lives, it makes the blind person a much more likely victim.

Solved by:
John Fling, Mitzvah hero, Columbia, SC.  He bought a car for his
blind friend, Emily McKinsey (she could not afford one for herself), so she could do errands, go to the store, the movies, a picnic, anywhere she needed to go, without having to ask the neighbors to drive her around in their cars. It so happens he got there first, but —

Who would have ever thought of it?
Anyone of us.

II. Introduction, i.e., Conclusion
The answer to the question, “Who would have thought of it?” is not, “Mr. Mitzvah Hero X or Ms. Mitzvah Hero Y.” That is too easy an answer. The correct answer is always, “I would have thought of it.”

All of us could have thought of these things, these grand mitzvah
schemes, these solutions to problems, if we would only spend some time using our minds, imaginations, and talents thinking about them.
And once we think of these new ways to do some Tikkun Olam, the next step — the critical one — is to do it, to make these imaginative
breakthroughs happen in real life.

This article comes as a result of (1) spending time with people who
think mitzvahs and act on those mitzvah thoughts, (2) mentioning these topics in my lectures, and (3) getting spontaneous responses from the audiences. Read on, and see how it works.

III. Body Casts and Heart Attacks
The problem:
1. Someone, somewhere, sometime, somehow has an accident, falls,
and breaks a bone in his or her back. It happens.
2. Prescribed therapy: a body cast.
3. Let’s say the patient also has a bad heart.
4. And let’s say that three weeks later the person has a heart attack.
5. And let’s say that the average time to remove a body cast so that the
emergency medical team can begin pounding the heart back to life or shooting epinephrine right into the heart muscle or using a defibrillator to give it the life-saving charge is 4 minutes and 29 seconds.
6. The result of the brain being deprived of oxygen for 4 minutes and
29 seconds: brain damage.
The solution:
1. Design a body cast that can be removed in 15 seconds.
2. Train emergency room staff to remove casts in 15 seconds just as
you train people to cook extra-rich chocolate chip cookies or play clarinet or learn to become proficient at Microsoft Word 29.3 on the computer.
The result:
People who would have become brain damaged for the wrong reason,
or who would have died for the wrong reason, would not have become brain damaged or died for the wrong reason. It didn’t have to happen. People with brain damage and deceased human beings ought to be much fewer in number than the way things are in reality: namely, too high a percentage of people become brain damaged or die for the wrong reason, like being wrapped in the wrong body cast. The sentences are complex and convoluted, but the idea is simple — let’s do all we can to prevent tragedy from happening, and let’s start with simple solutions.

Solved by:
Dr. Jesse Lipnick, Rosemont, PA, Resident in Rehabilitative Medicine, who designed exactly what the patients needed: an easily-removable
(15 seconds) body cast.
Who would have thought of it?
Anyone of us.
(One would allow a certain kind of expertise on the details, but the
broad strokes, the general picture — all of us could have figured this one out. In retrospect, it’s so obvious.)

Kids with therapy dog; courtesy of HAMA-Israel

IV. The Mitzvah Menagerie
(Once you start on this one, there’s no end.)
The Problem:
Finding ways to use animals to make the lives of human beings happier
and healthier, and more fun, plus a few other ways to do some Tikkun Olam with our furry, feathery, and scaly friends.
Bunches of Solutions:
1. Getting animals into residences for elderly people, either as part of a
visiting or resident pet program. It is happening already in many old age
homes. For example, Hannah Katz is a cat that lives at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington.
The best of the best: 90 birds, 2 dogs, 4 cars, 2 rabbits, 1 rooster, many
hens, plus hundreds of plants to take care of, plus an abundance visiting kids of all ages, plus a summer camp for kids on the grounds of the residence: Chase Memorial Nursing Home, “The Eden Alternative”, Dr. William Thomas.  Of ultimate significance — and to be remembered when everything else in this article is forgotten: in less than 2 1/2 years, they have cut the quantity and cost of medications in half. Any
statistician or social scientist who would want to do a rigorous study of the relationship of pets, plants, children, etc. to a reduction of medication in old age homes is invited to start there, at The Eden Alternative.
2. Getting animals into hospitals
A. Visits with pets
B. A Pet Room, i.e., having a special room set aside so family
members and friends can bring in the patient’s own pet
3. Getting birds to lonely people
4. Getting videos of animal shows (National Geographic, PBS specials,
commercial movies on video) to lonely individuals who love animals but
(a) aren’t well enough to care for them, or (b) are allergic to them. Bring popcorn, friends, the video, and make an afternoon or evening of it.
5. Training animals to assist individuals with disabilities — dogs, monkeys, horses, dolphins
6. Giraffes, i.e., finding good people doing good things in this world,
and who take risks while doing these good things for the benefit of others, designating them as Giraffes for sticking their necks out, and publicizing their work (The Giraffe Project, 206-221-7989).11
7. Saving injured birds of prey
8. Saving all kinds of endangered species (call any animal shelter, any
veterinarian, any wildlife foundation).

Solved By:
Many people whose lives and work we might want to study: Lis Hartel
founder of modern therapeutic horseback riding), Dr. Bonnie Bergin (founder of Canine Companions for Independence), Ann Medlock (founder of The Giraffe Project), and a few of the others listed above.
But we must remember, these programs had to start somewhere, sometime, had to get their first push into reality by Some One.
Now, who would have thought of these things?
Any One of us.

I will share more ideas, problems, and solutions about Thinking Mitzvahs in the weeks to come

About the Author
Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 500 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values, besides reading from his own poetry. He is the author of 29 1/2 books on such topics as Mitzvah heroism practical and personalized Tzedakah, and Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well. Siegel has been referred to as "The World's Greatest Expert on Microphilanthropy", "The Pied Piper of Tzedakah", "A Pioneer Of Tzedakah", and "The Most Famous Unknown Jewish Poet in America."
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