Rabbi Jay Yaacov Schwartz
Ramat Beit Shemesh
It all began this past Sunday, close to two weeks into the war. My 7 year old son, Akiva, was feeling anxious, sleeping in the mamad (secure room) night after night with his older brother, Elimelech. He asked me, obviously thinking about our upcoming trip to NY for our oldest son’s wedding, “Abba, does the plane have a mamad?” All I could say is that I thought that the airplane, with HaShem’s help, would fly high above any danger (at least I hope so).
Experiencing the frustrations of war time in Israel, riveted to our phones and our mobile devices, and occasionally dashing to our secure rooms, it was clear that it was time for us as a family and community to do something tangible to show our strong feelings and love for those that are putting their lives on the line for Am Yisrael and our safety.
We put out a call in our local community of Ramat Beit Shemesh that Kanfey Shemesh, our Torah and chesed organization, was arranging a pre-Shabbat visit to the soldiers and was planning to deliver elaborate Shabbat baskets to the soldiers and their families. We chose to focus on Tel HaShomer Hospital because of my personal connection there, as I will explain…
This past year, I have been privileged to teach a course in Chaplaincy for rabbis and therapists in conjunction with Neve Yerushalayim and Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem. I worked with the extraordinary Chief of Neurology at Herzog Hospital, Dr. Yakir Kaufman, a Lubavitcher chossid and a pioneer in the field of Jewish Chaplaincy in Israel. Dr. Kaufman made sure that our course included four Chabad rabbis assigned to four major hospitals in Israel, including Tel HaShomer Sheba Medical Center, where it so happened many of the wounded soldiers from Gaza War have been taken for treatment and recovery. One of my students, Matisyahu Bergman, the assistant Chabad shaliach to Tel HaShomer, and the veteran Senior Chaplain there, Rabbi Levi Gopin, helped us arrange a large group visit that turned out to be an incredible experience that helped us touch the lives of so many people in just one day.
My wife, Chani, and several of her close friends, including Mrs. Dina Shaw who is very active in so many Torah causes, organized a meeting in our home to plan the gift baskets. I soon received pledges from some of our board members in New York, including Josh and Bryna Landis, and Dr. Gabe and Anat Levi as well as our dear friends Michael and Bonnie Gerbitz of Ramat Beit Shemesh. The word spread via e-mails that Mrs. Shaw posted on three local list-servs. Many, many volunteers contacted us expressing their wish to be involved.
By Wednesday night, all of the donated items were purchased and assembled at the Shaw residence (see attached picture). These baskets, which included letters from our local yeshiva students wishing the soldiers well, food, drinks and personal items sold to us at generous discounted prices by Best Market, Holy Bagel, and Arthur’s Pharmacy. Some of the women baked personal challos to be placed in each of the baskets, as well as other home-baked treats. These beautifully wrapped baskets, prepared by our volunteers, were embellished with donated Mishpacha magazines, and pocket size books entitled Pearls of Emuna, as well as inspirational CD’s from Rabbi Shalom Arush, the famed writer of The Garden of Emuna. Soldiers in Gaza have been asking for these pocket size books, which contain the special ten Psalms that are considered a spiritual remedy and protection (Tikkun K’lali). With the monies that arrived from additional donations we also purchased many of these books to be sent to the front line in Gaza where hundreds and hundreds were being delivered along with tzitzit. Almost every soldier has been asking for these items for protection and for chizuk.
In close coordination with Rabbis Bergman and Gopin from Tel HaShomer we planned our day. Well over 30 volunteers: men, women and children, piled into some seven vehicles outside of our home. Everybody carried one of our elaborate baskets. Our group included rabbis and residents from Ramat Beit Shemesh as well as Beit Shemesh who had heard about our efforts and wanted to join us. We arrived at the hospital about 11:30 am and were met there by additional volunteers and friends of our from our former community of Lawrence NY.
Chani did an amazing job coordinating all the drivers and all the volunteers to make sure that everyone had a place and we all made it together to the hospital. Our large group began circulating through the various wards led by Rabbi Schwartz. We met and spent time with close to 20 families and wounded soldiers. Their tears and their heartfelt thanks poured from them with ease and with sincerity. Everybody had a chance to meet, visit with and give thanks to our giborim (heroes), whose mesirut nefesh has allowed us to realize our dreams of living here and raising our families here.
The reactions that we got from a broad range of people, from Dati to Chiloni, and from cities as far as the northern Golan to nearby Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, were truly uplifting. We conveyed our deep thanks and hakaras hatov to each of the families for their sacrifice.
Many of the soldiers had just returned from surgery, some of them had lost limbs or parts of them and were going to require extensive rehab. Still, their parents were grateful that they were alive and that they were on the mend. There was no feeling of sadness, just of relief, determination, gratitude and hope. One of the soldiers’ commanders told me that it was the chizuk and good will of all of us that gave the soldiers the strength to fight, confirming just how meaningful our reaching out to them is to them and how it makes an impact on them and gives them strength to persevere against this most bitter and evil enemy, Hamas.
I was able to offer many Mi Sheberach’s and recorded the names of the soldiers and contact information of their families so that we can keep our kesher with them into the future. As I told Rabbi Gopin, the soldiers and their families did us the great favor of giving us chizuk and inspiration. We came to give chizuk but received even more chizuk ourselves.
We also arranged for a medical clown, as well as the 6th, 7th and 8th grade students and choir of Talmud Torah Darchei Noam, where our sons attend yeshiva, to perform in the main lobby area, as well as in the Children’s Ward. The boys arrived by bus from their yeshiva, along with Assistant Principal, Rabbi Levi Friedman and several of his staff. Rabbi Friedman conducted the choir who sang a rousing medley of songs which brought tears and joy to everyone, including a number of Tehillim which were recited for the entire group. Many people with their heads uncovered reached for napkins to cover their head and many tears were shed, as people were visibly moved by our presence, our music and our message. A well-known reporter from Reshet B, Ms Dikla Ahron, interviewed our group and recorded some of the choir’s performance.
Much like the miracles throughout the war, the improbable coordination of so many people in one effort in a place where we had never been before, was a great siyata dishmaya. We could not have hoped for a more positive experience.
We would like to especially thank Mrs. Dina Shaw for helping myself and Chani and devoting many long hours and offering her home where we could assemble the packages and for her great effort to see that every detail of this challenging journey went smoothly. As well, we would like to thank all those people who reached out to us via e-mail and who donated their time and money. We feel it was all extremely well spent and we hope to continue such activities to benefit our community in the days to come.
We called our visit A Shabbat of Refua (Healing) and Shalom. The items we offered represented the message of shlaimut (completeness) that we wished on the soldiers with a Refua Shlaima, a healing of the body, a healing of the mind and a healing of the neshama. I explained that our organization’s name, Kanfey Shemesh, is based on the pasuk: שמש צדקה ומרפה בכנפיה (מיכה ג’). The midrash teaches that this pasuk is referring to the healing of Yaakov after his encounter, wrestling and struggling with the angel of Eisav, the Angel of Death, as it says in B’reishis 32: ויזרח לו השמש…והוא צולע על יריחו (The sun rose for him while he was limping), meaning that the sun shone for him and healed him (Rashi). The sun is a metaphor is for faith in HaShem and His constant love, support and kindness for us as a source of inspiration and faith.
Rabbi Yaacov & Chani Schwartz
PS Our visit was reported on this afternoon on Israel Reshet Bet and will be highlighted in their Friday morning broadcast.between 6-8 am