(Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Press.)
There have been no less than three national elections over the past year here in Israel. The fighting and political jockeying, ever reaching new record-breaking levels, is not for the fainthearted. Just as the dust appears to settle, a new earthquake begins, threatening to unravel all arrangements previously agreed upon through blood, sweat, and tears. But with all the division, there are times that our caring and unity shines through. Certainly, during this most recent period of the coronavirus, it is obvious how much we really do care about one another. But there are other times as well.
Two days after one of our more recent elections, as though providing an immediate antidote to the bad taste left in my mouth due to the election experience, the unity we have as a nation despite our sometimes-stark differences radiated in a such a glaring and profound way. The warm, fuzzy feeling engendered by my experience will remain with me forever, even if the flame of discord once again rears its ugly head.
That afternoon, as I basked in the pleasure that comes when spending time with old friends, I had no idea of what lay ahead. My good friend was visiting from the US and a few of us met for a lunch reunion of “the girls.” My plan after lunch was to drop my friend off at a gas station where her relatives would pick her up. My daughter and her friend joined us for the ride. I pulled into the gas station, let my friend out, and proceeded to drive toward the parking spot her relatives had just pulled out of. This would give me a chance to daven Minchah before I filled up with gas. As I pressed down on the gas, it seemed as though my car suddenly turned into a horse and I was galloping through the gas station totally out of control. I pressed on the brakes but my “horse” was undeterred and kept racing to the finish line, whatever that was going to be. Luckily, somehow all people and cars managed to move out of my way. My car finally stopped when it knocked down a pillar of concrete and crashed into the metal frame surrounding the gas storage tanks (marked flammable).
Baruch Hashem, nobody was hurt, although we were all shaken up quite a bit. My friend, who hadn’t yet pulled out of the gas station, came running over to see if we were okay. Panic and concern were written all over her face. I assured her (and tried to assure myself) that we were all fine. She very reluctantly left with her relatives. She continued to call me approximately every ten minutes to apologize for leaving and to see how we were doing.
For the next hour and a half, despite the chill in the air due to the change of seasons, my heart felt continuous and unrelenting warmth. During this time, I met up with a cross section of the finest that klal Yisrael and Israeli society have to offer. In a flash, whoever was nearby came running to see how we were and what they could do to help. My car was stuck and I wasn’t even sure if it would be safe to drive even if it were released. Surrounding my car were chareidim, datiim leumiim (national religious), chilonim (secular), men and women, old and young, rescue personnel who happened to be nearby due to another accident in the vicinity, people with much experience in roadside assistance, and people with no experience at all. Some people came to help with my car; some people came to comfort and offer an encouraging word. Some stayed for a few minutes, others for what seemed like eternity and wouldn’t leave until the situation was fully resolved.
In the end, it took a whole group of men working together to free my car from the metal frame. It was not important that members of this group obviously had different outlooks on life and religion. It was inconsequential that none of these men knew me or each other. Nobody had to ask anyone else to join the effort – it was clear to all that there was a Jew in need and they would do whatever needed to be done.
When my car was safely back on the ground, I thanked each helper. Of course, nobody thought anything special of what had come so naturally. At this point, I was afraid to drive my car, as my brakes hadn’t worked properly. One of my helpers, a soldier named Yaniv, offered to drive my car for me and said that I could drive his. This he offered to a total stranger who had just crashed her car. Since I don’t drive a stick shift, this wasn’t an option. Yaniv then said he would drive my car around the gas station and test whether all the systems were working properly. My car passed his inspection but I was still a bit shaken and more than a bit hesitant to drive. Not a problem at all. Yaniv gave me his phone number and promised to drive right behind me on the highway. He would not leave me until I gave him the go ahead. All this for someone he never met and, in all likelihood, will never meet again.
Division? Lack of unity? Sin’as chinam? No! Not when it counts. We may have our fights and quarrels, but deep down we all care about one another. We are family and as such we will always be there for one another in times of need.
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Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.