I’ve noticed that there is something different about the giving that is going on all around me. Typically, when it comes to charitable acts of loving kindness, there is a giver and a recipient. The recipient is lacking something that the giver has and a match is made. Without both parties, no transaction would take place. As tens of millions of dollars (maybe it’s more than that by now) in cash and supplies pour in from all over the world, I’ve sensed something different about the giving: People aren’t giving because someone else is lacking. People are giving because everyone is “showing up”. This is a battle that is being fought from the front lines back but also from the rearguard all the way around the world and up to the front lines.
Stories of “a religious man” who stood at the El Al ticket counter on Motzaei Yom Tov and paid for the flights of dozens of soldiers who were heading home to enlist (not just on WhatsApp and Telegram – I heard this firsthand from a soldier), Gerrer Chassidim from Arad showing up to army bases with a hundred pies of pizza, countless duffel bags sent on commercial flights packed with supplies, notes, and goodies for our men and women in green, the endless logistics and volunteers necessary to efficiently collect, deliver, unpack, and distribute all of it…… communities joining forces and resources to put on a wedding for a couple whose venue was no longer an option, performers traveling the length and breadth of the country to perform for anyone (soldiers, wounded, displaced families) who could use a pick-me-up…. In my Yishuv, some of the “Dodas” were enlisted to paint the new concrete blockades that the Home Front Command was kind enough to drop off at our entrances (because why should safety be less than friendly?), a local handyman volunteered to build an awning over these new guard posts for shade (wasn’t Sukkos last month?), and the yeshiva boys filled sandbags for added protection.
There are WhatsApp groups for every conceivable idea. Among them and my personal favorite: groups of people who are not in the military but have cars and are ready willing and able to drive anything or anyone anywhere: supplies….a soldier to or from his base…..a fresh challah from a loving wife to her dear husband who has been called up….2 duffel bags of medical supplies that arrived at a distribution center from my brother in Florida (thanks Dr. Sam!) and were picked up, delivered and unloaded at their destination and then the empty duffel bags brought to our front door an hour later…. new winter jackets from a kibbutz near Herzliya to an embroidery place in Gush Etzion (I called that one in this morning and the volunteer was at the pick up spot minutes later) it is truly incredible! When I first heard of these angels on wheels, it was quite by accident: A fellow pulled up to our driveway and asked if we were ‘so and so’. I said no – that’s our neighbor and he casually mentioned that he is here to pick up a package to be delivered to a staging area. “I have a car. I am not on reserve duty. This is what I do”. It was that simple to him. I was blown away.
A Chabad rabbi (I know, I know – it’s always a Chabad rabbi) in the area met me at the check out counter at a housewares store with a smile and a stack of snap-lock storage containers: “Chayalim asked for 80 of these to protect their tefilin from rain”. So I bought two, the lady in front of me paid for four, and the guy in front of her got another 2. The store, for their part, graciously gave 20% off for the containers.
Speaking of stores and discounts, a collection for the bbq I wrote about last time netted enough funds to also supply a unit of 90 combat soldiers with some fresh undergarments (remember: you can’t do laundry in the field – these guys had spent 8 days in active combat without even taking their boots off for a few minutes). I sent a text to the proprietor of a store that had what I was looking for. I didn’t ask for a favor; just wanted to know what he had in stock. He called me back an hour later and told me to come in. He met me at the door and immediately showed me what he had set aside – and let me know that he was giving it to me for 40% off. I had a virtually identical experience the next day at another store shopping for…..you guessed it: socks and underwear! [sidenote: I’ve added ‘Captain Underpants’ to my list of possible epitaphs] and the battery packs we distributed in the North last week? given to us at cost….
Here’s the thing (or one of them, anyway): there is an air of unity all around and it’s not from singing or even from pizza or sandwich delivery. It is a sense of togetherness that is expressed through a thousand or a million or tens of millions of individual acts and it is felt by everyone here. We, the Jewish People, have been dealt a heavy blow and our response as a nation is to strengthen one another. As I was cleaning up after a barbecue we arranged with Yeshivat Har Etzion for some 60 or 70 soldiers in and around Gush Etzion, the last group of young men had just sat down to wash and eat (after several other groups had come and gone back to their guard posts). They turned to me and insisted that I sit with them to eat. I told them that I wasn’t hungry and they still insisted that I join them. This was a seuda of dibbuk Chaveirim and camaraderie; not a “mission” or a “chessed project”. They wanted to learn about me and I about them. We shmoozed. They ate. They broke out cigarettes for dessert. Hugs, handshakes, and a pat on the back……and they were back to another shift in the dark and in the cold but they weren’t alone. After we finished cleaning up and I was about to leave, we heard the unmistakable iron dome “booms” (that’s what they’re called in Hebrew, anyway) nearby. The soldiers gathered around their communications device and 2 of them came to stand with me and my two boys…..and updated us and comforted the boys when they got the all-clear and we could drive home safely.
We delivered more meals to some hungry guys who couldn’t leave their posts and headed home.
Other initiatives include the family who picked, packaged, delivered and sold lettuce for a farmer who had been called to reserve duty and would lose his crop and his income if someone didn’t step in (The lettuce sold out in an hour once an announcement was made in the Yishuv email list), the daily rotations of volunteers working with our daughter and One Family Fund to match displaced families with willing hosts and/or empty apartments (some 350 families!!), and the never-ending and copious tzitzis-tying campaigns in so many shuls and yeshivot all over the country as Chayalim continue to request this part of their uniform which may have been discarded from their earlier days in the military. Everyone is showing up. Everyone is here, physically or otherwise. Everyone has been affected and everyone is in this together.
But this isn’t about that. Or, it isn’t just about that, anyway. You see, we all have our ways of obtaining information and in addition to the countless ‘News Sources’, that flood our eyes and our minds, the algorithms that feed so many of them mean that there are literally unlimited permutations of the plethora of tidbits. When we lean in the direction of feel-good stories, the likelihood is that those will be the ones we see. If we are interested (for now, anyway) in the antisemitic uprisings around the world (Hey College Campuses….we see you !), you’ll get that, and if you are reading about or watching the absolutely horrific testimonies of the brutal savagery committed by Hamas and their enablers, that will be what gets sent in your direction. The truth is that all of it is happening at once and while we sometimes like to think of darkness and light on a linear scale, one does not necessarily cancel out the other. The great Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz talks about Ohr VeChoshesh Mishtamshin B’Irbuvya: Darkness and light can function concurrently. In this reality, we see exceptional darkness and exceptional light. A friend and mentor recently Tweeted about adding light to turn hatred into love and I suggested that this isn’t a game of Othello. We can’t always flip a tile. As King Solomon says quite clearly (And The Birds sang rather sweetly) there is a time for love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace and while, as is widely quoted from Rav Kook z”l, light does indeed disperse darkness, some darkness needn’t be dispersed: it needs to be eradicated.
The first photograph at the top of this piece is that of a toddler’s shoe. It was photographed by my friend in one of the kibbutzim that was massacred on Shemini Atzeret 5784, October 7, 2023. That photograph and everything it represents is haunting. It conjures up some of the worst images we have ever seen and it is real and it is recent. And we must internalize what it means and never forget it.
As we do our best to process the horrors, the inspiration does not in any way counter or mitigate the evil that has been perpetrated. The inspiration is a result of togetherness and the limitless potential of our unified force and it is or can be very useful in keeping despair at bay. As elements of life have begun to slowly acquire some form of consistency, I appreciate the exceptions – the beautiful ones and the terrible ones – to keep me focused. This is not normal. We cannot white wash or even dim the tragedy and the desecration. But we can do our part to show up and to meet the exceptionality with some of our own. If dissonance is crippling, then meeting exceptionality where it is, may just be the appropriate response.
May we vanquish the darkness and continue to bask in the light long after it is gone.
As always, thanks for listening……
P.S. Most of the kids started (some) school. Yay!