I recently got involved in an angry discussion that was a painful reminder of how much further Israel’s religious have to go before we can think about claiming any sort of high moral ground. The argument came out of a seemingly innocuous situation: a Facebook plea for charity for a sick 13 month old girl. We were told that tens of thousands of dollars were needed within only a few days, so that she could receive treatment overseas for a condition which would otherwise lead to the loss of her leg.
Yet, the request seemed a little too vague. A link was given to a website covering the girl’s background, but was only available in Spanish, and at first, no information was provided for credit card donations. The poster simply gave bank wire details and even offered to pick up cash. After a little investigating, I was not comfortable, and I decided not to participate.
But one of the people who saw the request was not satisfied to simply ignore it. She asked some rather pointed questions about the poster’s legitimacy, and finally pronounced that the whole thing was a scam. Based on what I had read, I thought that statement was a little harsh. But I could understand where she was coming from. In this day and age, even the people who collect tzedekah door to door have sophisticated appeals and letters of approbation, which have all become the trappings of validity. Still, I personally chalked up the whole thing to a friend of the family’s who was naïve, but probably honest.
Within a few minutes, someone else decided to stick up for the original poster. She told us she had checked, and that she personally vouched for the both the charity, as well as for the girl’s situation, and that the person in charge of the charity was an important staff member at one of Jerusalem’s major hospitals. But the skeptic was still not convinced.
“I don’t know this hospital,” she said. “I’m not Jewish.”
Apparently, that was enough set the person who was defending the original poster over the top. She spouted words that were so unpleasant about why someone who was not Jewish should come to Israel, and how sad it was for the skeptic’s children not to be Jewish, that I could see why it would give frum Jews a bad name. I am an Orthodox Jew, and as such, I have certain beliefs regarding intermarriage. However, I still support Israel’s right of return, in honor of all those who were deemed Jewish enough to face a ghastly fate. And I certainly would think twice about insulting someone who cared enough about Israel to move here and participate, which is a lot more than most of my 100% Jewish former neighbors are planning on doing.
You never know whether the words you choose can become the tools to push someone away, or if they could be used to pull someone close. People can take a circuitous route to Judaism. I started off as a teen working in a Jewish summer camp. Eventually, I went to visit a Conservative shul in Detroit with my then non-practicing Jewish boyfriend. And because that synagogue had time for me to ask any question that I could come up with, I became comfortable enough with Judaism that I eventually felt I needed to immerse myself in it every second. I’d like to think that I would have made it to Israel with or without a history of support by almost everyone I encountered during my journey, but seeing how hard it is for people who are intermarried to get the respect they deserve just for being human, sometimes I wonder.
So, through this experience I learned two lessons. The first is that sometimes a poor presentation hides a true need. And the second is that we have to consider how we treat each other, even when we don’t agree with someone else’s behavior or decisions. Both suspicion and contempt are cancers that feed off the best of what humanity has to offer. I don’t know if the little girl will be able to earn enough to have the surgery she needs to keep her leg from being amputated. I truly hope so. But our own ugly behavior may lead us to cut off some of our people, which is also a tragedy.
If you are interested in helping the little girl, Bluma Scaler, please get in touch with Matan B’Seter Bambi online, or you can ask to speak with Rachel Slopovsky at 02-6526721 (Israel) or 718-436-6556 (America), who can answer additional questions about the case. If you donate online, please make sure to follow up by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone, so that the funds are directed to Bluma, and not the general fund.