by Rabbi Meir Goldberg
Most of us know about the tremendous chesed, kindness, which abounds in the frum community. We are oftentimes reminded of the greatness that truly epitomizes Klal Yisroel, the Congregation of Israel – of which Hashem proudly proclaims, “Yisroel Asher bicha Espoer,” The Jewish people in whom I am glorified. (Yoma 87). However, we also want to let our secular brethren know about it so that they see that being a frum Jew is something which is beautiful in the eyes of Hashem and man. We want them to be exposed to the “Diracheha darchei noam,” “its ways are ways of pleasantness,” of our Torah and those loyal to it.
The Kiddush Hashem created by the residents of the Far Rockaway/Lawrence community during the blizzard of 2010 was both awe inspiring in its depth and majestic in its beauty.
Here is the story:
This winter was an exciting one for college campus Rabbis and their organizations. 20 students from my organization, Rutgers Jewish Xperience, as well as some 200 secular Jewish college students from dozens of campuses around the country, were on their way to Eretz Yisroel on various kiruv trips such as MEOR, Pathways, Aish, Ohr Somayach, Neve, etc, on a Dec 26 flight out of JFK airport.
I got a call from my colleague at Rutgers, Rabbi Yehoshua Lewis who was leading our group, apprehensively telling me that EL AL decided to board everyone at 6 PM despite a fierce blizzard and taxied towards the runway en route to their escape of the inclement weather. Then, disaster struck. Airport officials closed the airport and the EL AL plane was stuck on the tarmac for 9 hours until they were able to deplane. Needless to say, passengers were beyond frustrated.
My colleague from MEOR NYU Rabbi Aron Eiseman, texted me from the plane with his characteristic humor, “Fundraising is more fun than this.” By the time the morning came, with everyone safely back in the terminal, El Al delayed the flight for another 12 hours.
Thats when Rabbi Rafael Butler of Afikim Foundation and Rabbi Benzion Klatzko, national campus kiruv director, called families in the Far Rockaway/Lawrence community and asked them to help the students.
At that point, the Wolfson, Safir, Stahler and Renov homes became a staging point and call center for an incredible kiddush Hashem. Since cars and buses were unable to traverse the snowed in roads, a fleet of 10 – 15 SUV’s were prepared to be driven to the airport. Day laborers eager for snow shovel work dug out the SUV’s from 2 feet of snow. Emails were sent out to residents of the Far Rockaway – Lawrence community, well known for their hachnosas orchim, asking them to house and feed students. Dozens of families called in to volunteer their homes, beds and showers, despite the difficult conditions, with many of them being turned down because there was more than enough housing for these students.
The SUV caravan, led by R’ Elisha Finman and R’ Shaya Rubin of Jewish Fellowships International, drove for an hour to get to JFK (normally a 15 minute trip) groaning under the weight of hundreds of meals all prepared and given for free by Yanky Brach and his staff at Brachs supermarket.
While some students chose to stay in the airport, another 120 students were transported back to Far Rockaway Lawrence homes where they were given a hot meal, a shower and a bed. They were exposed to the wonderful gemillas chassadim so prevalent in the frum community, at the very beginning of their kiruv trips to Eretz Yisroel. As the day wore on, people from Far Rockaway/Lawrence drove to JFK and dropped off pizza, snacks and other goodies for students they never met, simply because they cared about another Jew. Students who started the day frustrated, tired, hungry and in bad spirits, were brought back to JFK rejuvenated, refreshed, satiated (stuffed would be more accurate), rested and in happy spirits. Yisroel Asher Bicha Espaer.
Rabbi Meir Goldberg is the Director of Rutgers Jewish Xperience at Rutgers U in New Brunswick, NJ. He resides in Lakewood, NJ with his wife and children. He can be reached at [email protected]