From The Depths Of My Heart An Open Letter
As the horrific news from the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn., massacre unfolded, I became uncontrollably emotional, which left me speechless and all I could do at that moment was lift my crying heart to Hashem and beseech the Almighty to spread his grace upon the ravaged families in Connecticut and to heal the world that is suffering so much at this moment.
In evaluating this disaster, I could begin a diatribe about the lack of true gun control in our country and why was it necessary to have a AR-15 .223 semiautomatic rifle in one’s home, or are we treating the mentally ill in the best way possible, and do we have proper security in our schools and in our places of worship. But that was not in my thoughts at that moment. The more I learned of the tragedy, I realize as a rabbi my aim must be to think of the best way to ameliorate the pain that parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends are going through at this moment.
I remember well when Aaron the Kohen Gadol, brother of Moshe, was faced with the death of his beloved sons. The Torah describes his reaction: “Vayidom Aharon,” Aaron was silent. When words are not able to express our pain and despair, it is best to remain silent and to try to be one with ourselves and find a way to move on with life, as difficult as it may seem, and to pour our love and embraces on those around us and tell them how much they mean to us and to find the solace in greater brotherhood and greater understanding amongst all of us.
In this vein, we need to educate our youth to pursue hobbies and interests that are less involved in the latest craze of watching movies where zombies eat people and video games that are based upon how many people they can kill and maim as a success in winning the game. Our children must be educated in more ways and means towards refining character and in refining society in general. As a rabbi, I must encourage people that they have choices in life and those choices should be made to bring about a more G‑dly society that is advocating kindness, understanding, and peaceful solutions to our problems and to learn to tone down the rhetoric of hatred and violence.
I penned a letter to the families who are suffering and said simply: “I want to express my extreme sadness and the sadness of our Lido Beach Synagogue family to the community of Newtown, and particularly the families of the victims. As a father myself, I know that this tragedy is a parent’s worst nightmare. This is a moment for America to come together and do what we do best—support one another as we try to recover from this inexplicable horror. May G‑d console you in your hour of bereavement and may the souls of your beloved children and mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives repose in peace in the heavenly abode.”
To our Lido Beach Synagogue our lesson is simple but extremely important: This is our time for more expressions of love, understanding, and compassion to our families and friends. And pray to Hashem to bring about a more peaceful world where all mankind can live in peace and tranquility.
With faith in a better world and in mankind and love in my heart,
Rabbi Daniel H. Mehlman
Lido Beach Synagogue
Connecting The Dots
Most of the time your articles are insightful and offer a fresh perspective. You are good at taking disparate information and finding a theme. You connect the dots. But your discussion in “No Time or Space” (From the Editor, December 21), disappointingly failed to see the point.
I refer specifically to your question, cited so often, by people on the defensive “why the actions of just a few individuals are used—and effectively so—to cast aspersions on entire communities and institutions, indeed on our whole way of life.”
The answer is simple and even obvious. The communities and institutions and even the individuals being observed now are insular and closed. Thus, when a person in Jewish garb, looking Jewish with beard and yarmulke and hat, sits in a courtroom accused of horrible things done to young girls, or is accused in the press of doing things to young boys for that matter, those people are the only glimpse of Jewish life that the outside world sees, so it seems as if “all of them” are like that.
In that light, people who extrapolate the Jewish communal values from one view of one bad actor are not anti-Semites, and they are not even wrong. That is the empirical evidence they have to go on and that becomes a fair observation of an entire group or people. Intelligence assessments have been made by the CIA on less.
In fact, you missed the deeper point. What really happened in the last two weeks is that the entire range of orthodoxy, from the Chassidic right to the Modern Orthodox, was indicted in the press for issues related to abusive behavior against children. Right to left, there was a major stink in the air, due to only one bad actor in each community—and still, we all look terrible for it. And we should.
Thus the real concern is not why the media pick on us. The real question is how the entire range of the Jewish community has been indicted in the press for incredible behavior by Orthodox people. This week’s news, coupled with the situation last year in the Sephardic community and Madoff in the liberal Jewish community, shows the world in a graphic way that the entirety of the Jewish community is beset with extraordinary issues across the spectrum of human relations—money, betrayal, rabbis as fraudsters, Ponzi schemes, and now sexual abuse. In each case, a single person. Put it together, and you have quite a horrific cross-section.
Ask yourself the bigger question, Mr. Editor: With all those cases casting Jews of all stripes in a negative light in a short period of time, one has to wonder with concern, what is going on with Jews in America? You are a perspicacious man with the ability to connect the dots. Connect them. What is going on?
After the letter to the editor I sent you regarding the sewer issue was published (“Sewage Inadequacy Strikes Again,” November 30), we got the following results. We are grateful for the first step in the right direction that the Five Towns Jewish Times was instrumental in achieving.
After all these years of sewage endurance and my recent outreach expressing the urgency to update the sewer system in our area, I salute County Executive Ed Mangano of Nassau County for his expedient response in sending a sewer investigative team down to Harborview North in Lawrence. We are looking forward to a future upgrade to our system in the same way that the City of New York is providing for Far Rockaway. Time will tell, and hopefully we too in the Five Towns area will be able to get the upgrade needed to keep our homes and streets free of invasive sewage.
(This letter was received with a donation by the Community Assistance Fund.)
I fully sympathize with the victims of the recent storm; nor would I minimize their misfortune. However, it occurred to me that, as a Holocaust survivor, I might be able to offer a ray of hope to those who are now suffering.
I lost my dear father in the Holocaust as well as many, many relatives—all wonderful people who deserved a good life.
After Hitler took over Austria, we learned that our landlord was a secret Nazi. One day he had my father arrested and put into a concentration camp. Soon thereafter, he came one day with two henchmen and told my mother, “Juden raus!” (“Jews out!”) and with that he ordered all our possessions to be thrown into the street. Our neighbors who had previously been so friendly to us now came and all laughed uproariously at our misfortune. Then they cautiously came and pawed our things. They took what they liked. My mother was not dismayed. She bade us children remain while she searched for a man with a pushcart. She loaded up the few things that were left and we marched off to a relative.
We were fortunate in that my dear mother and we three children survived. We came to America literally penniless. An aunt took us in and we stayed for a week. Then my mother got a job in a factory, a literal “sweatshop.” But she earned enough for our bare necessities. With time, things got better. Alas, my Mom is gone and so is my dear husband, but I have so many blessings to thank Hashem for.
I write this only to give courage to the victims of this storm. With Hashem’s help they will yet thrive. Not to give up hope.
Sometimes we just have to start all over again.
(I do not know whether you think that my story can brighten people’s outlook. If you think so, please pass it on. Thank you.)
Smooth Sailing At Local Assisted Living
As Hurricane Sandy approached, in addition to concerns about evacuating and securing my home and family, I had the added concern for an aged parent whose ability to care for herself is limited. Thankfully, my mother received extraordinarily good care, during the storm and its aftermath, at the Long Island Living Center. I am writing out of deep appreciation and to bring to the attention of our community the existence of an excellent kosher facility in our midst.
So much could have gone wrong, and yet everything was done right. Prior to the storm, I was advised that contingencies were well planned at the LI Living Center in advance meetings, and I was reassured that I would be able to evacuate my own home and care for my family while the needs of my mother were to be ably and seamlessly met.
For one thing, my mother’s aide was invited, along with her husband, to sleep over in the Long Island Living Center so there would be no interruption in my mother’s care during the hurricane. After the storm, when I visited my mother there was no power but generators were in place. Personnel equipped with flashlights climbed up the stairwells to service the residents who could not come down while the elevator was out. Medicine and food were cheerfully brought up to all in a timely fashion. For those who could come down, they dined in the dining room, flooded with light through the large windows, in a natural manner, as if they were in any fine hotel.
Several times during the week following the hurricane I arrived after 5 p.m. Ami Shetreet, the administrator, his wife, and other staff members were still on premises to ensure the orderly running of the facility. Considering all the chaos and lack of services and supplies in Far Rockaway, and all the logistics involved in caring for an aged community with many medical needs, the orderliness and the upbeat, get-it-done attitude of the Long Island Living Center staff were remarkable.
Had my mother been home, there certainly would have been difficulties beyond description.
Thank you to Long Island Living Center for your dedication, and for your capable handling of a crisis, as well as for the fine management of everyday living in your facility.
Recognizing The Role Of Sh’or Yoshuv
There have been many articles in recent weeks about the amazing organizations and individuals who stepped up during this tremendous time of need. However, one local mossad which has been mentioned in numerous articles, yet only in passing, deserves a tremendous amount of hakoras ha’tov.
Following the devastating rampage Hurricane Sandy took in the Far Rockaway/Five Towns area and the complete loss of power, the bachurim of Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv were sent home until power could be restored. However, instead of closing its doors, Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv opened them wide and became an incredible center of chesed for our community.
On the first erev Shabbos following the storm, Achiezer staged an effort which provided food for Shabbos to hundreds of families remaining in the neighborhood that Shabbos. That effort was only topped the following erev Shabbos, when the three local grocery stores joined forces to provide Shabbos once again to hundreds of families, again staged out of Sh’or Yoshuv’s dining room. During the days in between, Sh’or Yoshuv was a gateway for hundreds of volunteers who converged on the dining room and were armed with garbage bags, gloves, and facemasks and dispatched to all corners of Far Rockaway, Bayswater, the Five Towns, Belle Harbor, and Long Beach to pump water and clean up homes.
Each day at 3 p.m., laundry was picked up and yesterday’s clean laundry was dropped off. At 12:30 and again at 4 p.m., hundreds of families were served hot meals provided by Achiezer. Children played in the hallways, while men and women of all ages were able to sit in a room with lights powered by their generator and volunteers served delicious hot food and lent a listening ear to those who were suffering.
The gym was transformed into a full “department store,” staffed by volunteers under the leadership of the Genacks and offering free clothing of all types for all ages. Trucks pulled up at all hours of the day and night delivering clothing, diapers, and other baby needs as well as food and other needed supplies. The parking lot had a large tractor-trailer receiving the community’s sheimos.
These services were provided by Achiezer, but the physical space which made these services possible was this holy yeshiva, built on the ideals of its former rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Freifeld, zt’l, which opened its doors to our community in this time of need. Together with the kol Torah emanating from the bachurim who remained behind and the daily minyanim which never ceased, this beautiful edifice in our community represented the three pillars on which our world stands, Torah, avodah and gemilus chasadim.
Thank you, Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv!
Thank You, Project Nivneh
Dear Project Nivneh,
Words cannot express our deepest hakarat ha’tov to you, the organizations, the volunteers, and the wonderful community that completely stands behind you as you help all of us “victims.”
My husband and I are people that never take anything from anyone. We have never needed anything. We have everything we always wanted and needed. My husband and I are both working professionals and are raising our five beautiful boys together and we are not missing anything. We have all the food, clothes, toys, books, and sports equipment needed for all of us. What we have, we built together without any financial help from anyone. We have worked hard to do that and we are so blessed and fortunate to have the strength to continue that till today. We have so much fun and laughter coupled with warmth and love . . . what more does someone need?
When our good friend “Sandy” came and swept our home away (not exactly literally . . . though it feels like that), we felt so lost. We felt like we had lost everything we worked so hard for. Our sefarim, the couches, the chairs, the tables, all our pots and pans, food, blankets, linens. We were saddened and depressed. We lost “our stuff.”
When the boys ran to look for their “stuff,” they saw floating baseball gloves and bats, their bicycles flipped over, all the coloring books and crayons drenched. Their box of Thomas trains was soaked through, Lego was filthy, the Wii was gone and the DVD’s were all ruined. They felt like they too had lost everything and all they could say was “Ma, when are you going to buy me a new glove?” or “Da, can I get a new DS?” I heard, “Ma, we need to get more Lego” and “Ma, when we get a new house, can we get a new Wii?.” This was heartbreaking. My husband and I were so wrapped up in ourselves and thinking about what we had lost. But on their level, our children had lost everything they owned and had too. They, too, wanted their “stuff” back.
We have since moved to Brooklyn and are working on getting our home and lives back together. The days fly by so fast and there is so little time between work and carpooling back and forth to Long Island and trying to be “normal” around the kids. Who has the time to think about buying the “small stuff” for our kids when we are just crazy trying to just put back the “big stuff,” like our walls and floor?
And then on a Thursday night as my husband and I were out to dinner, I received a phone call asking me how old my boys are because Nivneh would like to give them Chanukah gifts. I was completely overwhelmed at this call . . . smiling and crying at the same time. I mean, what do my kids need? They have everything they need. If they need something, I can go buy it, right? Wrong! Who has time for that between work, car pool, phone calls to FEMA and the adjuster, and running all the smelly clothes to the cleaners and watching that our heat is still on and working with contractors and kitchen people. We were not ready for this. And then it clicked, yes, my kids need stuff. Even if they don’t need, they want stuff. And so I gave the amazing girls at Nivneh my boys’ ages, and shortly thereafter an amazing box of “stuff” was waiting for us at our neighbor’s home.
The boys were so excited. The balls, the stickers, NFL cards (Aaron is the happiest), the games, puzzles, Cars stickers and books, Jenga . . . they were pulling it all out with huge smiles.
To our children, the smallest “stuff” made them feel the “big stuff.” Words alone cannot express our sincerest gratitude, gratefulness and deep appreciation for the toys and games you have so beautifully given our boys on Chanukah. From the wrappings to the ribbons, the packaging . . . none of your hard work and efforts went unnoticed! You literally lit up their eyes and it gave my husband and me so much nachas to see them so happy. We felt so happy too.
With much love and appreciation for all you efforts, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
Amy and Yitzie Englander
and our boys, Shai, JoJo, Aaron,
Ezra, and Dovi