Acts of Kindness, Great and Small
Over the past month and a half, the unity of the Jews of Israel has been overwhelming. No one would ever hope for the tragic events that have aroused feelings of closeness – the kidnapping of three yeshiva students and Operation Preventive Edge in Gaza – but the tangible desire of Jews to draw closer to one another cannot be denied.
Tens of thousands of Jews, from across the Israeli spectrum, attended the funerals of two “lone” soldiers from America – Sean Carmeli and Max Steinberg – whom they did not know personally. And in communities across Israel, Jews are reaching out to one another with acts of chesed, both great and small.
Beit Shemesh, the scene of bitter intra-religious confrontation over the past two years and of a highly divisive mayoral election and subsequent re-run, has proven fertile grounds for various campaigns for unity. All sides of the religious and political divide in Beit Shemesh were eager to put the bitter feelings of the two mayoral campaigns behind. Two “unity” tefillah gatherings for Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach, H”yd, were the first steps towards doing so. The gatherings drew chareidi, national religious, Yerushalmi/chassidiche, and secular women. Two more are scheduled for this week on behalf of the soldiers in Gaza.
After 40,000 reservists were called up for Operation Protective Edge, Mrs. Sharon Isaacson, a member of the chareidi community of Ramat Beit Shemesh — Aleph, began thinking about a former student of hers at MMY Seminary whose husband had been called up, and how difficult it must be for wives of reservists taking care of children alone while worrying about their husbands. She decided – with the enthusiastic support of her husband and children – to do something. Between various communal forums, including one for national religious rabbis in Beit Shemesh, and calls to the head of the community center, social workers, and friends, she put together over several days a list of women in Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh whose husbands have been called up.
Then she started enlisting her friends in the chareidi community, who soon outnumbered the number of wives whose husbands were in service by a considerable margin. That turned out to be a good thing, for there was plenty of assistance needed – e.g., a woman just after childbirth, another woman with five little kids under seven. The first step of visiting with cakes and offering words of support and appreciation was soon followed by more concrete tasks – providing cooked meals, babysitting, driving, and shopping. Mrs. Isaacson even found a therapist to donate her services for a traumatized wife who was not coping with her fears.
While collecting her list of wives whose husbands were in Gaza, Mrs. Isaacson also began accumulating a list of women whose sons are in Gaza. Someone gave her the phone number of a Chassidic woman who lives in Kiryat HaChareidi, adjacent to the Modern Orthodox Sheinfeld community where the Beit Orot school, which was the scene of so much controversy nearly two years ago. She is one of the founders of a group called Ayin Tov, which includes women from both the various chareidi neighborhoods and the modern orthodox/national religious neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh. Among its members are women whose daughters attend Beit Orot and others from Ramat Beit Shemesh – Beis, home to the handful of crazies who harassed the girls. Ayin Tova brings the women together to get to know one another and create more ahavas Yisrael. That Chassidic woman immediately volunteered her group to contact women with sons in the army and to daven for their sons.
May these steps towards reconciliation in Beit Shemesh be the harbinger for Mashiach’s arrival this Tisha B’Av.