Laugh or Cry?

letter-447577_1280

What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty. And not what some people think.

JTA ran an article about a couple that moved from the States, and found their niche of service. They provide Shabbos hospitality to soldiers who do not have homes that welcome them when they get a weekend off. Last year, they served some 3000 Shabbos meals.

Scott and Teresa Johnson, however, are not Jewish. They are evangelical Christians, and do not hide it. That makes their sacrifice even more significant. (I believe that it is more than likely that the journalist got it all wrong in making the assumption that evangelicals support Israel because they wish to see all Jews gathered there for conversion before the second coming. While there are evangelicals who believe that, they are not the majority, and not even close. The majority support Israel and the Jewish people because they take Hashem’s brachah to Avrohom (“I will bless those who bless you.”) very seriously.)

So while I am not discomfited by the actions or motivations of the Johnsons who deserve accolades rather than criticism, I can’t be comfortable with their providing a service we ought to be providing ourselves. Indeed, there are organizations in Israel devoted to the חייל בודד, the lone soldier. Did those who gravitate to the Johnsons fall between the cracks? Are those organizations not interested or not capable of providing a Shabbos table for those who want it? I tried to get some answers through contacts in Israel, but have not come up with them yet.

The gemara in Bava Basra 10B frowns upon accepting tzedakah from non-Jews. The practical application of that gemara is nuaned and complex (see Shut Tzitz Eliezer v.15 33:5-13, and Shut Mishneh Halachos v.5, teshuvos, #178). One of the ideas that emerge, however, is pretty straightforward: we don’t accept donations when they will be a chilul Hashem. This happens when others mock us for their having to provide what we should be offering our own brothers. Providing Shabbos meals to soldiers defending our country and having no place to go seems to me to be precisely the kind of service that anyone looking in would expect of our community. How could this not be a chilul Hashem?

Even harder hitting were these lines. We should not accept the report as accurate without corroboration. Yet it is disquieting that we cannot instantly reject it as impossible either. The fact that we can entertain its possibility is reason enough to mourn:

Oved Ben Yosef, 20, whose family originates from Yemen, ended up at Miflaht after his haredi Orthodox parents rejected him for joining the military. He hasn’t spoken with his parents in more than a year, but he says he’s found surrogates in the Johnsons. On weekends when he’s not on military duty, Ben Yosef stays in their guest room.

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19 Responses

  1. One Christian's Perspective says:

    Silky,
    Thank you.

  2. Silky says:

    To A Christian,
    The way I look at it, it’s like when you don’t see that your brother needs something and someone else notices and takes care of it. Are you grateful that your brother got taken care of? Yes, of course. Do you feel a bit bad and embarrassed that you didn’t notice the need? I hope so.

  3. L. Oberstein says:

    Now that Israeli politics is about to enter an election where drafting yeshiva students will be a main issue, why can’t the Netzach Yehudah – nachal chareidi- model be adopted by more of the charedi leadership. Doesn’ it make more sense than saying they will move the yeshiva to another country or tell all the students to sit in jail rather than do national service. The disparity is so wide that I don’t understand why there can’t be a middle way to integrate the chareidim into Israel’s economy.
    Are we just clueless in America about the mindset in Israeli yeshiva circles?

  4. One Christian's perspective says:

    “So while I am not discomfited by the actions or motivations of the Johnsons who deserve accolades rather than criticism, I can’t be comfortable with their providing a service we ought to be providing ourselves.” – By Yitzchok Adlerstein

    In reading this rather kind statement, I was stopped short by the “we ought to be providing this ourselves” (paraphrase) and asked “why” ?

    Christians are familiar with the teaching on “who is my neighbor” and as the story goes, a man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away leaving him half dead. A priest came and passed him, followed by a Levite who did the same but a Samaritan saw him, took pity on him, bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him’, he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expenses you may have.’ The teaching question was: “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hand of robbers ?’ The expert on the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

    For me, the “who is my neighbor” harkens back to the Ten Commandments which are summed up by “Love the L-rd your G-d, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This is something one does out of love for G-d and for his fellow man because he is created in the image of God. For a Christian, a neighbor is anyone who is in need.

    On the other hand the comments: “They provide Shabbos hospitality to soldiers who do not have homes that welcome them when they get a weekend off. Last year, they served some 3000 Shabbos meals.” could have pointed back to Genesis 12:3 because they were performing a specific kind of service for a specific need to Jewish people or maybe, they were just being good Samaritans = the one who had compassion on them .

  5. Nachum says:

    “There are many opportunities for home hospitality for chayalim bodedim although I am not familiar with any frum organization that has made this their mission.”

    I can think of a few off the top of my head: The Great Synagogue in Jerusalem has a whole program for lone soldiers, including a place for them to “hang out,” do laundry, etc., and runs a monthly Friday night dinner. One of my cousins basically lived on a religious kibbutz when he was a lone soldier. There are at least a few others as well.

  6. dovid2 says:

    “Does anyone know anyone who knew Vanunu in his days in Bnai Akiva Yeshiva HS in Beersheva?”

    Are you looking someone to blame? Did Vanunu lose his bechira to get where he got?

  7. mb says:

    L Oberstein said “The history of the Yemenite Aliyah is one where their children were taken from them and made secular against the will of the parents.”

    Is this really true?
    Repeat a silly canard often enough…….

    [YA – Last I heard there were a few MK’s who believed it! The jury was still out on the outright “kidnapped” children. I was not aware that anyone disputed the fact that new olim were “allocted” to absorption centers according to their number of seats in Knesset, which meant that people were treated to a full dose of indoctrination of the beliefs and practices of each party, including those horribly opposed to observance.]

  8. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The case of Oved is painful. The problem is that we don’t know what else is going on there. In some families just going to the army would be cause for a rupture because they are extremely rigid not only in beliefs and halachic positions but also in how they respond to people with whom they don’t see eye to eye, i.e. the vast majority of the world. People are indeed needed who have the capability of relating to soldiers positively. Not even all knitted kipa people are so positive about the army in the wake of the nastiness of the evictions. But outreach is very touchy with people who have come from very combative family origins. Does anyone know anyone who knew Vanunu in his days in Bnai Akiva Yeshiva HS in Beersheva? Wonder how that played itself out.

  9. Mike S. says:

    As the parent of a Lone Soldier, I do not believe for a moment that these soldiers could not find a Jewish family to host them for weekends. When my daughter (the lone soldier) was looking for a family after an earlier arrangement came to an end, it took her less than a day to find a family. One experience my other daughter had may shed some light however. She was with a frum family for one Shabbos, and the father started to say he didn’t understand Lubavich. She thought he was going to talk about Messianism, but instead what he didn’t understand was “they talk to the frei”. If that is a common attitude, and I believe it is in Israel, it is not surprising that there aren’t so many chareidi families hosting lone soldiers. However, there is no shortage of dati le’umi, mesorati and secular Jewish families willing to take in lone soldiers.

    As for the fellow from the chareidi family, when you are taught that Jews with a different haskafa, even observant ones, are no different from Gentiles, well, sometimes you act on that.

  10. dovid2 says:

    Unfortunately, there are circles within the charedi world that ostracize Nachal Chareidi soldiers. They view them as off-the-derech, nebach cases that couldn’t find their place in the yeshiva. There are parents of soldiers serving in Nachal Chareidi who are embarrassed of their sons and try to cover up their sons’ whereabouts and going-ons from relatives, neighbors, and friends that they serve in the army.

  11. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Oberstein, You write:

    “The history of the Yemenite Aliyah is one where their children were taken from them and made secular against the will of the parents. If this soldier keeps Shabbos, what is the problem?”

    Based on my limited interaction with the yemenite community, they are, in the majority, what we in the US call centrist orthodox. There are two factions religiously, one to the right, but I believe, most follow students of R. Yosef Kapach ztl who work, go to the army, and learn torah. I have not seen a demographic study, but my guess is that in the main, and from my very limited observation, they have adjusted well into Israeli society while maintaining their traditions. I do not believe the attempt to secularize them was all that successful.

    A few years ago, a yemenite jew who i was working with told me of a shiur by his local Rav, a student of R. Kapach, on a topic in eruvin. He sent me the shiur, a well done Powerpoint presentation. It would be sad but certainly possible, that the majority were secular and I was meeting a biased sample who were not; i think not.

  12. dovid landesman says:

    To L Oberstein
    As a very proud father of an NCO in Nachal Chareidi, now known as Netzach Yehudah, I can tell you that the unit is filled with young men who joined the army against their parent’s will and who suffer familial ostracism that is baffling. There is a mindset in some parts of the chareidi world that enlistment is equivalent to conversion. I have hosted many friends and soldiers who came to us for Shabbos because their parents will not allow them to come home because they might influence their siblings, or worse, harm the shidduch possibilities of their sisters! Some have been granted the status of chayal boded – lone soldiers – and receive additional compensation and benefits from the IDF as if they had no parents. The same is true of the Shachar programs in the Air Force, Navy and Military Intelligence; many of these soldiers – who return home everynight – can be seen in the Tel Aviv train stations changing out of uniform so that no-one will kn ow that they are serving.
    There are many opportunities for home hospitality for chayalim bodedim although I am not familiar with any frum organization that has made this their mission. It would be well worthwhile to explore creating such a framework.

  13. L. Oberstein says:

    “Oved Ben Yosef, 20, whose family originates from Yemen, ended up at Miflaht after his haredi Orthodox parents rejected him for joining the military. He hasn’t spoken with his parents in more than a year”

    This quote baffles me. There must be more to the story than his joining the Israeli Army to cause his Yemenite parents to reject him. It is too simplistic.
    My son Yoni recently enlisted, volunteered actually, in the Nachal Chareidi Kfir Division and is in basic training. As far as I know they daven 3 times a day and keep mitzvos. We are very proud of him. How could parents reject their child for such a reason.
    The history of the Yemenite Aliyah is one where their children were taken from them and made secular against the will of the parents. If this soldier keeps Shabbos, what is the problem?

  14. lacosta says:

    is it ironic that the most jewishly connected talk show hosts [medved and prager] are on a xtian radio network whose LA station features a messianic judaism program……

  15. lacosta says:

    Oved Ben Yosef, 20……

    —- one wonder whether his haredi parents would reject him any more if he were to go all the way—after all he already committed a cardinal sin …

    seriously, there are issues with the tzedaka issue as to the Settlement enterprise , which probably depends on Xtian US money [and hasbara/voters ] to stay afloat . as this will become a bigger bone of international contention , maybe it will be a case of an endeavour that jews just wont support, and if Xtians dont then that is an unsustainable effort al derech hateva… the only haredi angle of it that i can see is that Kiryat Sefer has given 1000’s of black hatted non-zionists the status of ‘international war criminal’…..

  16. mb says:

    “Oved Ben Yosef, 20, whose family originates from Yemen, ended up at Miflaht after his haredi Orthodox parents rejected him for joining the military. He hasn’t spoken with his parents in more than a year, but he says he’s found surrogates in the Johnsons. On weekends when he’s not on military duty, Ben Yosef stays in their guest room.”

    Gulp!

  17. Not Emes/Snagville says:

    Naivete is a beautiful thing. A blessing and a curse

  18. Shmuel says:

    This article also caught my eye & broke my heart. I personally don’t accept every “off the derech” story as true – especially when told by the media. Yet, at the same time, it is a fact that there are hundreds of “lone soldiers” in Israel who are being cared for in 100% secular frameworks. Many of them came to Israel from abroad, to serve in the army as a form of their commitment to being Jewish.

    The Orthodox world ought to be spending time, money and emotion on connecting with these soldiers and letting them know that we support them, care about them and that their commitment to being Jewish is wonderful. If we can connect them with learning of Torah & more knowledge of Torah observance – we ought to do so. Because it is tragic to see many of these young soldiers risk their lives and then, when out of the army, many basically get lost in some of the lowest parts of Israeli secular society.

    A light touch is best. We just need to be there, to care for these soldiers. No preaching. No efforts to make them frum. Just authentic caring & giving.