Over the past two years, the public discourse in Israel has focused on two
topics: Social justice and the equal shouldering of the military
The first topic found expression in the Knesset general
elections. Many of the leaders abandoned the protest tents and demonstration
marches and moved to the Knesset benches. The second, the so-called equal
shouldering of the burden, or the call to recruit all eligible young people to
the Israel Defense Forces, became a focal point of disdain and contempt for the
haredi (ultra- Orthodox) sector and hatred for those wearers of fur hats and
Symmetrically, the feeling that anything even vaguely reeking of
haredism is intolerable was imprinted upon the Israeli public, and this sector
was sidelined by many good citizens. Enlightened, generally liberal people, who
support freedom of expression, freedom of sexual identity and freedom of
religious worship, became extremists and stone deaf when the matter of the
haredi sector and its activities came up. The parable of draft-dodging from the
IDF, in the language of the secular sector, and the attempt to attack the bible
studiers on the other hand, were paramount.
Good deeds and social, humane
solidarity, which are the hallmarks of the haredi community, vanished from the
I was recently exposed to some haredi activities. I was
invited to visit the Assistance for Special Disabled Children Institute in Bnei
Brak. Here I found myself at the epicenter of exceptional good deeds carried out
for the benefit of children suffering from severe disabilities. All the children
had acute cognitive and physical deficiencies. Some were hooked up to
ventilators. Each child has a personal handler with dozens of additional
volunteers bustling about.
The patients are haredi, secular, Ashkenazi
and Sephardi children, from central Israel and from rural areas. There was a
single common denominator for managers and staff – they are all haredi and all
answer to Rabbi Yehuda Marmorstein.
My visit to the institute was
accompanied by CPA Reuven Schiff and personnel from his firm who came to nurse
the children for one day. A team from the Medicine and Joy Organization arrived
together with us, the visitors.
This organization is, yes, a haredi
association run pro bono by Rabbi Yisrael Tzishinsky, of the Gur
The fourth floor of the institute in Bnei Brak contains a school, a
pediatric hospital and a clinic for babies and toddlers. There were very
difficult scenes to view. At one point I froze and wished to leave. But at that
moment, the Medicine and Joy staff began whooping it up. One at the large
electric organ keyboard, the other grasping the microphone and singing and a
third frolicking about among the ailing waifs. From freezing in place I was
immediately caught up in the singing and dancing. The joy reflected in the eyes
of one nearly totally paralyzed infant thumped me out of my frozen state. I,
together with all the other guests, began dancing among the beds.
myself drumming on trays next to the beds and shortly thereafter prancing about
the room with a wheelchair. To see the faces of these children, to imagine a
smile on a paralyzed face, to see the efforts of a tiny little girl trying to
move her hand to drum – all this filled me with the joy of creation, with a kind
of human vigor.
There I learned that Medicine and Joy is not only the
name of the organization, but its way of life. I discovered how joy contributes
to medicine, if only for a fleeting moment.
From a conversation with
Tzishinsky I learned that, in addition to these activities, they send out
medical clowns to hospitals.
He revealed that they operate four
ambulances, all financed by donations from good people. The ambulances transport
chronically ill patients to treatment sessions, at no charge. All, as I stated,
the work of haredim.
In the matter of the draft, I must admit that I am
far removed from the position taken by the haredi public. In my eyes, enlisting
in the IDF is an obligation and a privilege and the haredi community should
participate. But from here to absolute negation, disdain and accusations of
apparent parasitism, the distance is vast.
Medicine and Joy and the
Assistance for Special Disabled Children Institute taught me that there are
beacons of light, shining for miles around, from within the haredi community,
which I wish could serve as a role model. It is crucial that the public
discourse change, even if only slightly.