The Haredi World Pitches In

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The Israeli government has basically abdicated responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of refugees from northern Israel and left it to private relief organizations to deal with their needs.

The haredi community, with its plethora of existing self-help and charitable organizations, has leapt into the breach. Haredi soup kitchens, like Chazon Yeshaya and Meir Panim, immediately addressed the food needs of both the refugees and those still living in bomb shelters. Meir Panim is providing 5,000 meals daily for residents of the North, and Chazon Yeshaya has set up 38 distribution points around the country where refugees can receive free meals.

Yad Eliezer created a food distribution center in Tzefat that served the residents remaining in Tzefat and the entire surrounding area, including army bases where Yad Eliezer found soldiers without adequate food.

Yad Ezra Ve’Shulamit soup kitchens in Jerusalem, Sderot, and Eilat served an extra 1,000 meals per day during the war. In addition, the organization sent three trucks, filled with 1,000 hot meals, 500 loaves of bread, fruits and vegetables and diapers, to the North each week. The drivers went from bomb shelter to bomb shelter delivering supplies, and came under katyusha fire on several occasions.

Even a relatively small organization like Ezra V’chesed Mishnas Yakov, which normally helps feed 600 families a week, delivered $300,000 worth of foodstuffs to bomb shelters in the first week of the war. Volunteers of the Gerrer-run Refuah v’Yeshuah organization commandeered school cafeterias in Jerusalem and Ashdod to prepare hot meals for those stuck in bomb shelters.

Ezer Mizion ambulances ferried handicapped people from the North to the center of the country, and those of Rabbi Elimelech Firer’s Ezrah L’Marpeh organization brought patients in northern communities to their medical treatments, and in some cases from hospitals under fire to those in the central region. Yad Sarah medical supply centers continued to operate in the North, in some cases from bomb shelters.

AS SOON as fighting broke out, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman began going from bomb shelter to bomb shelter offering encouragement. (Approximately 60% of the 6,000 students in his Migdal Ohr institutions are from the North.) The fear and suffering he observed convinced him to move as many children as possible out of danger. He initially rented one campus for 800 children for 10 days. Four weeks later, he has 22 campuses housing 7,000 people – two-thirds of them children – and offering round-the-clock activities.

Just this week, the mayor of Nahariya begged Rabbi Grossman to take 1,000 residents from that shell-shocked city.

Much of this hesed has come spontaneously from the grassroots level. A young hassid with a large family took out a mortgage on his apartment in order to purchase food for the North. (He refuses to permit his name to be mentioned.) The proprietor of a small on-line toy store has spent the past four weeks purchasing and packing $50,000 of toys and games, many of them contributed at cost by her religious suppliers, for distribution in bomb shelters and community centers. Another woman announced at a pre-Tisha Be’av gathering on “forbidden speech” that she was looking for accommodations for a family from the North. Somehow word got out that she was matching families, and she has been doing nothing else since.

Such matchmakers abound. Ezras Achim in Beit Shemesh placed 150 families in empty apartments, or with other families. Lema’an Achai found accommodations with families for 200 refugees, and is hosting 350 more in seven Ramat Beit Shemesh school buildings. Those in the schools are partnered with local families to take care of needs like laundry and hot showers.

The Bnei Brak municipality provided space for several hundred refugees in two school buildings, and has opened five day care centers/summer camps for the nearly 1,000 refugees currently living in the city.

Lezion Berina, a religious high-school for Russian-speaking youth in Beitar, opened its dormitory to 100 Russian immigrants, and is providing them with three meals a day. A SHUVU high school dorm located near the prime minister’s residence has become home for SHUVU families from Acre and Nahariya. And Ezer Mizion rented a grassy campus in Petah Tikva for another 300 refugees from the North.

IN ADDITION to organizing hesed activities, the Torah community has been doing what comes most naturally: praying and learning Torah. An initiative launched by the Bostoner Rebbe and Rabbi Simcha Kook based on the idea that Moses drafted 1,000 men from each tribe to pray for each 1,000 sent to fight has caught on like wildfire. Internet sites matching Jews to pray and learn with the names of IDF soldiers were quickly oversubscribed.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef issued a call for all Sephardi yeshivot to remain open during the traditional three-week intersession after Tisha Be’av. And the three most senior figures in the Lithuanian-yeshiva world ordered all yeshiva camps cancelled, and forbade yeshiva students from going on outings and recreational trips. They urged all yeshiva students to continue learning during the vacation period, “without any break at all,” and expressed their support for those yeshivot that cancelled vacation.

NONE OF THE foregoing is meant to suggest that the haredi community has a monopoly on hesed activities, or is doing more than other communities. The outpouring of volunteerism across all societal lines gives more hope for Israel’s future than anything happening on the military front. The national religious community, which unfortunately has amassed too much experience caring for refugees, has been exemplary. (Volunteers from the national religious world are active in many of the organizations mentioned above.)

Rather I wish to dispel a common misconception that the haredi community views itself as removed from the rest of Israel – a misconception based on a confusion of politics and theology. From the outbreak of the war, for instance, round-the-clock prayer vigils have been maintained in the shuls of the anti-Zionist Eidah HaChareidis in Mea She’arim.

One of the animating concepts of Torah life is the vision of Klal Yisrael – the Jewish people – united by a common mission to reveal God to the world. The circumstances of modern Jewish life often make that ideal seem delusional. Yet whenever the occasion presents itself for haredim to act in accord with their belief in the inherent unity of the Jewish people, they eagerly seize it.

That is what has been happening this past month.

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post, August 11, 2006.

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18 Responses

  1. Jewish Observer says:

    “superb comments re the state of MO”

    – So superb that we can extrapolate their feelings about Larry and Curly

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    Mykroft & Joel Rich-superb comments re the state of MO.

  3. joel rich says:

    Mycroft (is that a first or last name?:-)) I mostly agree with your comments on MO and,as a card carrying member trying to act as I preached above, admit that if there are segments of the community that view “modernity’ as the ikkar, then we as a community need to better educate them. I would go a step past what the Rav you quoted stated – the first question is how much is enough? Depending on one’s abilities and mazal, can one find a career or a lifestyle that leaves more time for nonparnasah activities while not relying on others for parnassah? Once that hurdle is past, I agree 100% that the way we spend our marginal “free” time defines our priorities. Clearly limud torah should be an important part of that equation. As R’YDS often pointed out we are judged both as individuals and as part of the klal. IMHO we can’t be so selfish in our limud torah that we let our family and community responsibilities fall by the wayside. Also IIRC HKB”H spends some time each day “playing” with the Leviathan, I assume that humans also need some downtime. The dynamic balance required is a life’s work, but of course that is what, at least as I was taught, HKB”H expects of us.
    KT

  4. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    I agree with Dovid Landesman that my article would have been significantly improved by the inclusion of a simple disclaimer: “Neither is my point to compare or equate the contributions of the chareidi community to those of soldiers risking their lives in battle or the parents of those soldiers living in dread every moment.”

    I wanted to avoid self-righteousness, but I did not go far enough.

  5. mycroft says:

    Years ago, Rav Shach zt”l began the yarchei kallah in Ponovezh with a shmooze in which he said that the learning of the yeshiva is what protects the State, not the soldiers in the field.

    Yibadel ben chaim lchaim Rav Shach’s only son served in the Israeli Army. The son is probably considered dati leumi.

    I especially agree with Dovid Landesman’s last few sentences-even assuming that study and prayer protects the state as much as normal armed forces-it is certainly a arrogant thing to parade around saying it. I assure you that most reserveists receiving a zava 8 to go to Lebanon would have preferred to daven than risk their lives in the recent battles.

  6. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Dovid,

    I don’t think that was Rabbi Rosenblum’s intention was “self aggrandizement about the contribution of the charedim to the war effort”. The fact is that there is unfortunately much antipathy towards the Chareidim as an entire group–men, women and children, and someone therefore, has to defend this community and write things from their perspective.

    The charedim have also suffered from terrorism during the Intifada, and they suffer in their own way as well from poverty. Nevertheless, the Army issue will always create some type of distance, and thus a challenge to Ahavas Yisrael. This would also be a part of “the circumstances of modern Jewish life often make [unity] seem delusional”.

    Great people were able to overcome the distances to greater extents: There is story about Rav Kook Zt’l refusing to prosecute zealots who attacked and publicly humiliated him. There is also an incident with Rav Shach Zt’l who would not cry upon his own surgery without anesthesia, yet burst into bitter tears upon learning of a helicopter crash involving soldiers he didn’t know.

    Ordinary people can overcome the distance to an extent as well, for example, by joining together on certain volunteer activities, as Rabbi Rosenblum mentions regarding the above mentioned organizations. The two communities can also come together on issues which affect both communities, such as opposing the Gay Pride Parade. In a different form of unity, the Chareide community also welcomed the communities of Gush Katif who wished to join them.

    In general, this would seem to be analogous to an extended family member who is very close to his relatives, and is at their home more often than not, and becomes a ben bayis. Despite these circumstances, there will be some type of separate identity between him and the nuclear family, due to the different shared experiences. To whatever extent the separate identity exists regarding the two communities, it is a by product of the golus existence, and I don’t think that it is possible for most people to totally overcome it.

  7. dovid landesman says:

    Yonatan Rosenbloom’s article was a source of light in a world that has very much turned black – especially in view of the government’s abdication of its responsibility toward its citizenry in the North. “Mi k’amachah Yisrael.”
    That said, however, I must admit that the tone of the article disturbed me. Forgive me for nit picking and for perhaps finding fault instead of heaping praise on the charedi institutions who continuously step into the breach and perform chessed for every segment of the population. I cannot help but feel that with all of the chessed and with all of the feeling of achdut, there is something that is still fundamentally lacking in our [yes, I do consider myself to be a bona-fide charedi if only because there are no other alternatives] contribution to the war effort. As long as it is religious Zionist and chiloni soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield, we would do well to do our work quietly and humbly, doing all that we can to stay out of the limelight.
    Rosenbloom’s article, published in the Jerusalem Post, is a misguided effort to show the general public that we are not parasites but rather, contributing members of Israeli society. I do not choose to go into the question of whether the blatt studied in the Mir is equal to the tank crossing the border. It is immaterial to the general audience who will never be able to equate the two. Years ago, Rav Shach zt”l began the yarchei kallah in Ponovezh with a shmooze in which he said that the learning of the yeshiva is what protects the State, not the soldiers in the field. One of the prominent hesder roshei yeshiva was in the audience – he was himself a Ponovezh talmid – and went over to Rav Shach and pointed out that just as one is forbidden to say “kochi v’otzem yadi” so too is one proscribed from saying “btzidkati”. The Torah makes it clear that our success is “b’rishat hagoyim”.
    Self aggrandizement about the contribution of the charedim to the war effort in a support role is completely out of place. From my own experience – and I served in the IDF – I can assure you that a mother who has lost a son on the battlefield, or a wife whose husband will never return, will never be able to accept the implied “shalom alai nafshi” that permeates this attitude.
    Dovid Landesman

  8. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Joel,

    “One of the problems imho of modern rhetoric…is that it does not seem to encourage soul searching or seeking of common ground”

    I agree with your statement in general, regarding rhetoric, soul searching, and common ground. I thought, though, that Rabbi Rosenblum’s article did not have this problem, because notwithstanding that it was focused on the accomplishments of the Charedie Community, it nevertheless acknowledged positive attributes of a different community(“the national religious community… has been exemplary.”)

    Regarding self-criticism in general, there have been articles in the Charedi press which are indeed self-critical and do acknowledge room for improvement. I think that the issues to consider are A)is the topic something that the charedi community considers to be a fault according to its core principles, and B)the limits on what one can engage in publicly. For example, the Chareidie community does not consider it a fault that a significant number of its members engage in full time Torah study, although others find this to be a fault. Nevertheless, there is public acknowledgement, that the community has grown, and that there needs to be opportunities created for those who can not learn full time.

    Also, there are limits on how much one can engage in publicly. In public discussions, there is always a risk that one is giving ammunition to the enemy so to speak, especially in the case of the Charedi community which has come to view itself as a community under siege, because of public antipathy. I do feel, however, that there should be appropriate non-online forums where laymen can brainstorm, and have a healthy outlet to express their opinions, in an honest and open way, in order to come up with ideas for improvement. Regarding seeking common ground with other communities, that is a different issue, and perhaps someone else has some ideas.

  9. shmuel says:

    In Yoma we recently learned that although the kohanim are obviously part of the larger klall Yisroel, they still required a seperate kapparah of the kohen gadol’s bull in addition to the sair lazazel. Making a MiSheberach specifically for the soldiers of the IDF in addition to asking Hashem to protect the entire community would seem to be equally appropriate.

  10. mycroft says:

    Joel:
    I agree with your point. Of interest is how the term MO is used by some of the more \”serious\” MO figures.
    One a Rav who is currently in the olam haemet once said that Agudah is the classical MO group-they aren\’t strictly pietists-they try to improve the world in tikkun olam. That Rav stated in response to the group that many call MO-orOrtho lite-they aren\’tOrthodox-maybe friends of Orthodox give money to Orthodox but not Orthodox. Another Rav who is a couple of generations younger in response to a guest Rabbi in his schul who stated how bigOrthodoxy is stated he doesn\’t see it – unless people spend their free time learning etc rather than watching Kinck games etc-they don\’t really believe. he didn\’t want to get into the debate how people spend their working hours-but free time-even if go to schul on Shabbos for a coupel of hours but yiddishkeit is not the centre of their lives not Orthodox.
    Both figures associated with YU-not fromthe chareidi side.

  11. joel rich says:

    I appreciate R. Rosenblum’s post as it makes me more fully understand R’ Brill’s(YU) inclusion of engaged Yeshivish under the category of modern orthodox. Without commenting on the content, the rhetoric (used in the classical meaning of the word) is quite modern.

    One of the problems imho of modern rhetoric as seen in the political and the blog worlds is that it does not seem to encourage soul searching or seeking of common ground but rather focusing on “our” strengths and “their” weakness. Recognition of ones own areas for improvement is a rarity and viewed as weakness. It does encourage talking past each other, ignoring others cogent points , and scoring of debaters’ points versus real discussion.

    Perhaps it’s the nature of the beast but the lack of ability to sit down on a one to one basis and be fully candid is a great loss.

    KT

  12. mycroft says:

    I wrote before and I still agree with R. Rosenblum on positive actions for what the chareidi world is doing-but I read tonight about the death of David Grossman’s son in Lebanon. David Grossman is a well known secualar writer and certainly left of center in political matters. At the end of the was he was opposed to continuing it-along with a couple of other famous writers. However, his son and their chevra serve in the IDF and put their lives on the line-few chareidim are not poresh from the civc duty of helping defend the inhabitants of the country from destruction. Note one need not believe for an iota in a messianic Zionism=Rav Soloveitchik certainly was not one-but the idea of Jews who ut their lives on the line to defend other Jews is one to be admired. Not a halchik posek but I believe many would say that a Jew who dies defending another Jew died al kiddush hashem-irrespective of anything else. It is at least to be admired as the Maccabees of Brooklyn were.

    One need not get into any historical discussions of whether Zionism was good or bad but the mizuut is that there are more Jews in Israel than in any other country.and the mizuut is if the State got defeated it is not simply that the PA or Hamas ,Syria Hezbollah etc would let the Jews who live in Israel live there bnachas etc.

    That is not to take away from the charge that currentIsraeli policy and US policy is atrocious for the poor. I wish some of Cross Current writers would in a separate piece address the issue of a states responsiblity to take care of the poor and needy.

  13. Harry Maryles says:

    But to pray “for the IDF” is praying for the well-being of a secretary in a military office in Tel Aviv while ignoring the civilian residents of Akko, Kiryat Shmona, and Haifa.

    The IDF is hardly only a secretary in a military office. And in any cas, this is very far from the point I was making. No one, God forbid, said that one should pray only for the IDF. My point was their public refusal to pray specifically for the very people whose lives are on the line. Had they just said in answer to the question, that they are praying for everyone, I would have had no quarrel with that.

    But to specifically point out that they are refusing to pray for the IDF BECAUSE of it being a Zionist entity at a time when they are the ones whose lives are in harm’s way, strikes me as extremely insensitive and a Chilul HaShem.

  14. Yaakov Menken says:

    JO, you are digging furiously for anything with which to mock. To any less jaundiced eye, RJR was referring to the evacuation of Gaza. Since the religious Zionist community represented the majority of refugees, and the refugees fell back, first and foremost, upon members of their own community, this led to the unfortunate reality of that community having \”amassed too much experience caring for refugees.\”

    I cannot begin to understand how you can term that remark \”patronizing.\”

    Harry, as I said in another thread, we all must (and do) pray on behalf of those whose lives are in special danger. Thus the \”partner\” plan created by the (charedi) Rav of Rechovot and Bostoner Rebbe, and approved by Rav Chaim Kanievsky. But to pray \”for the IDF\” is praying for the well-being of a secretary in a military office in Tel Aviv while ignoring the civilian residents of Akko, Kiryat Shmona, and Haifa. Is their blood less red? I do not know whether to call it foolish or cruel, but I cannot share your opinion that it is praiseworthy.

  15. Harry Maryles says:

    Rabbi Rosenblum is a man with whom I am generally in common agreement. So, too… here. The Charedi community indeed has been as involved in Chesed for the current refugees from the North as anyone in Israel. And as a spokesman for the Charedi world, I applaud Rabbi Rosenblum’s acknowledgement that the National Religious Party is in the forefront of this type of Chesed. So I don’t really have any real bones to pick with him on this issue.

    But I do think opening statement unfairly bashes the Israeli government. To say that “The Israeli government has basically abdicated responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of refugees from northern Israel” is to unfairly paint the government as uncaring about the human cost amongst their own people. This… at a time that they are immersed in a complex war for its very survival. I do not believe for a moment that they are as uncaring as th opening statement implies. Rather than disparage the government for not doing anything about refugees I think it would be a lot more productive to appreciate the complexity of the situation and the focus the government of necessity needs to have on the task of fighting our mortal enemies. I would be more Dan L’Kaf Zechus.

    The second point I would make is the fact that even though, laudibly, “round-the-clock prayer vigils have been maintained in the shuls of the anti-Zionist Eidah HaChareidis in Mea She’arim” …one should not gloss over the anti-Zionist component. Although I can understand and even to a certain degree respect (although strongly disagree with) their ideological opposition to the state, they have made a Chilul HaShem of major proportion by, at this time, publicly refusing to specifically pray for the welfare of the IDF..

    In an interview with a reporter from Rabbi Rosenblum’s own newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, a spokesman from the Edah HaCharedis was asked if his community would pray for the welfare of the IDF. He responded by saying they would not(!) because that would be tacit recognition of the Zionist State. Instead, he said they would pray for all of the Israeli people of which the soldiers are a part. While technically true, to point out their opposition to the State by specifically not praying for the soldiers of the IDF at a time when they are spilling their blood defending the Jewish nation and all of its residents is the height of insensitivity and is just plain wrong. And the Edah deserves to be scolded for it!

  16. suzan says:

    Am Yisrael chai

  17. Jewish Observer says:

    “The national religious community, which unfortunately has amassed too much experience caring for refugees, has been exemplary”

    – patronizing remark from a haredi toward a group with thousands who are actually fighting

  18. mycroft says:

    I essentially agree with everything Rabbi Rosenblum states. However, the cause of the Israeli government abdication is not just with the war-it is frankly something that was already evident last January when the Israeli poverty figures came out in record amounts. Meanwhile-many Jews-Frum and chareid along with chiloni were expressing satisfaction with the increase of many wealthy Jews in Israel. The problem is that in general or at least many truly aren’t concerned about our less succesful brothers.
    Sadly-Israel has copied the US in decreasing taxes on the wealthy and decreasing benefits on the lower(economically) classes.
    I believe Israel and theUS are the two countries with the greatest differences of income on the income scale.
    Obviously there were gdolei Israel who were hewers of water and carriers of wood-but im ein kemech ein Torah-if there is no bread there is no Torah.