An Invisible Need, an Absent Gemach

Over the years, our community has become greatly enriched by the proliferation of a diversity of gemachs.

Yet there is one gemach, and to the best of my knowledge not found in any community, that now more than ever would benefit our community the most.

Gemachs were among the first institutions established by Jewish immigrants to the United States from Eastern Europe. One reason for their prevalence was that banks were reluctant to give loans to low-income Jewish borrowers. 

While gemachs are best known for lending people money on a short-term or long-term basis, the gemach concept today has expanded to include tangible goods for almost every need in the life cycle, everything from cribs to car seats, wedding gowns to washing machines, Sifrei Torah to Sefarim, walkers to wheelchairs.

Gemachs fulfill financial, physical and even spiritual needs with well-managed loans that provide relief and respite for those in extreme circumstances. Understanding the importance of these Gemachs, people of greater means lend money to the gemachs or stock it with necessities.  Countless people rely on the generosity of these donors and gemachs – and the cycle continues.

Yet, with all these well-functioning Gemachs, there remains in our community a dire need for another Gemach, one that will fulfill the community’s metaphysical needs and whose loan terms transcend time or place. 

The Emotional Gemach.

Tragically, there exists a growing number of children and teens, men and women, who feel marginalized by our community, even viewed as outcasts.  Events beyond their control have thrust an unwanted spotlight upon them.  Yet, they have done nothing wrong to deserve this and have worked hard to lead healthy and productive lives.

These individuals include survivors of child sexual abuse, women abused by their husbands, the spouse and children of abusers or family members of those convicted of egregious crimes.

All these individuals committed no crime. Quite the contrary.  But by disclosing and reporting the wrongful actions of others – and most acutely, often by a person they knew and trusted – they have placed themselves in an unwanted and unfortunate position.  They have become the topic of whispers in their community.

Sophisticated whisperers at that.

A child or adult survivor of sexual abuse who overcomes their inner conflict and braves disclosure should be given the emotional support of his or her community. He should not be branded as a moser, one who reports on his fellow man, and therefore be shunned. On the contrary, such an individual should be praised and supported as someone who has put the interest of protecting others above his or her own personal turmoil.

An unknowing wife whose husband is arrested and convicted of sexual abuse should receive the emotional support of her extended family, friends and the community. More often she is shunned, asked to leave her apartment, loses her job, her children expelled from school – all for a crime she neither committed, nor had any knowledge. Yet, she is suffering unbearable emotional distress in a vacuum of communal support.

The woman whose husband physically or verbally abuses her, mercilessly sapping her emotional and physical strength, requires a pint of emotional plasma – not pity, stares or whispers. 

The divorced and lonesome ex-husband without his kids or a divorced and drained ex-wife with her kids – both often very alienated by the community each desperately seeking communal emotional support.

The woman whose husband embezzled millions of dollars from members of his own community and feels so ashamed that she is compelled to relocate and uproot her children from school and friends, needs a lifeline.

The teenager who is going through a period of adolescent turmoil and who does not conform to the community’s mode of dress or behavior will feel even more isolated, vulnerable and consumed with self-doubt when rejected by a Yeshiva for not fitting in. He requires emotional acceptance, a compassionate understanding not  communal rejection.

Why is it that during tumultuous times when individuals such as these require our emotional support, oftentimes they not only do not receive it, they may even be shunned or cast away?  They should not be re-victimized when what they most require is support, our communal support.

We need an Emotional Gemach in every community, a gemach where each of us who possess a heart, patience and understanding can contribute our time to provide emotional support in moments of turmoil and self-doubt to those who can then draw from it and rebound.

Why not substitute five minutes of gossip with an hour of emotional support?

A monetary loan, furniture or other physical items may also be needed by these individuals, but without doubt, each and every one requires an intangible good, an invisable emotional lift.

In the Mi SheBerach LCholim, the prayer for the sick we say every Shabbos morning, it says Refuas HaNefesh U’Refuas HaGuf. We beseech Hashem to first heal the soul and then the body. The soul, the emotional state, oftentimes requires greater solace than the body.

Many people at this time of year prior to Pesach contribute to Maos Chitim a fund to purchase food for the needy. Many others contribute to a gemach. We can name this new Emotional Gemach- Chizuk Neshamos, the strengthening of souls.

Think about how you and your community can create the structure to fill this dire need in our community. How can each of us provide a resource, a gemach of emotional support?

Az Yashir Moshe is a song of praise to Hashem for the Jewish nation’s physical and spiritual journey from Egypt to Israel, from bondage to freedom. Countless people today require the equivalent of an emotional journey from isolation to acceptance, from inner turmoil to emotional freedom.

Let’s help them with our emotional support and provide them with Chizuk Neshamos.


About the Author
David Mandel is Chief Executive Officer of OHEL Children's Home and Family Services in New York