In the spirit of the nechamah we feel after Tish’ah B’Av, and my need to get myself immunized before the upcoming elections in Israel that will likely be contentious, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on the true, optimistic side of Israeli brotherhood. Israel is the place that every Jew can call home. But while we are all one big family, we live in a very polarized society. A patchwork quilt of many cloths makes up the fabric of our society, each group grounded in ideology vastly different from that of the others. But beneath the glaring differences in our dress, way of life, and belief system, much common ground binds us.
Shalom,* my neighbor’s Dati Leumi son, once traveled on a bus from Beit Shemesh to Bnei Brak and found himself sitting next to a chareidi man who bemoaned the fact that the particular bus they were on did not have a s’farim gemach. This was something he counted on to learn his daily daf of Gemara. Seeing the man’s disappointment, Shalom pulled out his own gemara, which he would use when he learned the Daf, and offered it to the man. The man, who until then had very limited exposure to the world outside his own community, was surprised to receive such an offer from a Dati Leumi young man. An enlightening discussion ensued during which the man asked Shalom many questions about the Dati Leumi community. The eye-opening exchange led to an unanticipated warm connection on both sides. The man and Shalom shared the gemara and learned the day’s Daf together.
My neighbor was waiting in a small room off the big waiting room at Terem, an Urgent-Care Medical Center that also conducts X-rays and other medical exams. Among the people in the waiting room was a young woman dressed in shorts and a sleeveless shirt that revealed multiple tattoos on her arms. Next to her sat a young chasidishe woman with her baby. Suddenly the number of the chasidishe woman was called. It was her turn to enter the X-ray room. She had planned to keep her baby strapped in her stroller while she had her test. The baby, however, had no interest in going in or anywhere near her stroller. The mother was struggling and didn’t know what to do. If she didn’t act fast, she would miss her turn. On cue, the woman with the tattoos offered to hold the baby while the mother had her X-ray taken. The mother thanked her profusely and did not hesitate to give her baby to this woman she had never met to watch over her daughter. The new “babysitter” had a way with children and managed to calm the baby immediately. The mother was able to go for her test with peace of mind. Beneath all of our external layers, a Jewish mother’s heart can see straight through to the heart of another Jewish mother.
Eli* decided to take his young children to the separate beach in Netanya one Friday afternoon. As the city of Netanya is up on a cliff and the beach is all the way on the bottom, going to this particular beach requires walking down many stairs. Someone told Eli of a way to drive all the way to the beach, thereby avoiding the stairs. But somehow Eli misunderstood the directions and ended up in the wrong place. He drove his car right into the sand. As hard as he tried, even with the help of people nearby, he could not extricate his car from where it was stuck. It was already late in the day and since there were no cell phones back then, Eli had no way to call for help, nor did he have a way to reach his wife who was already beginning to worry that they weren’t home yet. He began to panic. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a secular man with a ponytail came driving toward them in his pickup truck. He had seen them from the highway and realized from their dress that they were religious. He knew that Friday afternoon was a particularly problematic time for religious Jews to get stuck, and he could not drive by and leave them stranded. He drove up and quickly extricated their car. Eli was beyond grateful and offered to pay the guy for his help. The guy was baffled by the offer. “It’s my mitzvah!” he said. With that and a quick “Shabbat Shalom,” he was off.
Chaya* traveled with her husband Binyamin* and their siblings to Hungary. When shopping in the mall, Chaya tripped and fell on the escalator. She was bleeding, and when she reached the top of the escalator, she fainted. Other shoppers getting off the escalator noticed Chaya lying on the floor but continued walking right past her. Nobody stopped to help. Suddenly a couple did come over to help them. They didn’t look religious, but they were Israeli. Speaking in both Hebrew and English, they asked Binyamin and Chaya if they needed any help. Binyamin gave them a physical description of their siblings and asked if the couple could locate them outside the store and ask them to come in. A few minutes later, the couple returned but hadn’t found Binyamin and Chaya’s siblings. Binyamin said it was okay. They would figure it out. But the couple went back outside and wouldn’t leave them until they located their siblings. Devorah was recovering in the dressing room when she suddenly felt like she needed a drink. Binyamin called out in a loud voice, “Yesh Yisraelim po?” (“Are there Israelis here?”) Within seconds, a few secular Israelis were heading in their direction. One woman carrying a load of clothes she had intended to try on came to help. Binyamin took out some money and asked if she could use it to buy his wife a soda. The woman refused to take the money. She came back with a drink and then left the store. Apparently, she had used all of her shopping time to help Chaya and Binyamin.
Although we may look different from each other, and we even fight with each other not infrequently, in times of need we can always depend on each other. We are all brothers.