The Human Spirit: Unbridled love

Anyone who has lived here for a while knows that there are abundant acts of kindness that go unnoticed.

July 23, 2010 15:20
barbara sofer 88

barbara sofer 88. (photo credit: )

According to tradition, the Holy Temple, the destruction of which we mourned intensively this week on the anniversary of its destruction, Tisha Be’av, was lost to us because of literally unbridled hate. A seminal story records an incorrectly delivered party invitation, a host who humiliated the mistakenly invited guest and leadership who sat silent while the guest was humiliated. This wasn’t an ideological dispute, but a question of basic niceness.

Niceness doesn’t get much press. Hence, I want to pass along a few examples of exemplary behavior in everyday life.

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The first comes from a letter from reader Leah Hakimian, who was kind enough to pass along her personal story: “In honor of our 50th wedding anniversary, my husband and I spent Shabbat with our children and grandchildren at an Israeli resort hotel.

Our oldest grandson, a soldier, arrived at the last minute with a duffel bag full of dirty clothes. We had organized the trip well, but hadn’t thought about having to find a laundromat erev Shabbat.

We weren’t at home, so we didn’t know what to do other than to ask at the hotel for information.

We called the hotel reception, and spoke with Mrs. L. She asked if the clothes were for a soldier, and I told her that they were. ‘Then I insist on taking them to my own home and washing them myself,’ she said.

“Of course, we resisted. But she insisted. And so we brought her the clothes. We asked her to accept payment for this wonderful service, but she refused. ‘It’s my way of helping the state. My son will be a soldier next year, I just want to help.’ The next day, when we picked up the clothes, they were beautifully laundered and folded. She had done a perfect job and she still wouldn’t accept any compensation from us. We salute you, Mrs. L.”

THE SECOND story reflects the initiative of a busy Jerusalem working mother, who was inspired by Mayor Nir Barkat’s call to enhance the city.

While the Hakimian family was out at its resort, my husband and I were invited as “locals” to join young people making Shabbat dinner at Beit Yehudit (formerly the International Cultural Center for Youth) on Rehov Emek Refaim. We joined 135 young people, 25-35, under the auspices of a new initiative called Jerusalem Challenge.

The idea is to bring together the many young adults who arrive in Jerusalem in the summer, and to emphasize the excellent services and programs available in the city.

The good person behind the dinner was Lisa Barkan, a marketing executive and mother of two. Exceptionally outgoing, Barkan and her husband Jeremy, who made aliya from the US 23 years ago, had made a practice of inviting young visitors and newcomers they met on the street in the German Colony to Shabbat dinner, but that wasn’t enough.

“I was surprised at how many didn’t have plans for Shabbat, and I knew that as much as they were glad to meet us, young people would be even happier to meet each other,” said Barkan.

So two weeks ago she organized a communal dinner, found someone to subsidize it and charged NIS 50 a plate. She advertised with flyers and through social media on the Internet.

“Frankly,” she said. “I was astonished how fast we sold out.”

Jerusalem Challenge is a project of community centers Ginot Ha’ir and Beit Yehudit, Lev Ha’ir and the Jerusalem Center for Young Adults, but Barkan brought on board Nefesh B’Nefesh, ROI, Livnot U’Lehibanot, SPNI, Pardes, Presentense, Merkaz Hamagshimim-Hadassah, Volunteer Jerusalem, Hitorerut, Ma’agalei Tzedek, Ruah Hadasha, Mahanayim, Michael Levin Center for Lone Soldiers, Beit Morasha, Moishe House, Jewlicious blog and the Web site – in itself an impressive act of pulling together. Participants received a list of welcoming nearby synagogues of different denominations, but no one was coerced to go. A listing for Shabbat day also included yoga and a historical walking tour of Rehavia.

Young Jewish adults from Israel and abroad found seats at long tables where ice-breaker games of dominoes and pick-up sticks, plus Shabbat songbooks with transliteration, were spread out on white tablecloths. The two young men sitting to my right were brothers from Perth, Australia – first trip to Israel. Back at home, they rarely had a Shabbat dinner, and they were delighted to take part in one. They were conversing with an immigrant from Boston, a social worker, who had made aliya three days earlier.

Across from me was a married couple, sabra plus one-year immigrant, pregnant with their first child. Next to my husband was a sabra couple that was simply interested in meeting people – they’d picked up one of the flyers. About a third of the diners were sabras.

It was sort of an old-fashioned mixer around a Shabbat table, with good wine, light Torah talk, good and plentiful kosher food. Pardes rabbi David Levin-Kruss’s talk focused on the challenge in the wilderness of our biblical foreparents working together and being together, and how important finding common ground is. Afterward, the young people stayed around to play games, and – most important – for what today is called networking and what we used to call schmoozing. Soldiers, tourists, immigrants, sabras sitting around tables, not sending e-mail messages from a phone or computer screen, making friends without the suggestions of Facebook. They seemed to get along just fine.

Doing a soldier’s laundry, planning a dinner for 100-plus young people to mix and feel at home in Jerusalem – these aren’t earthshaking activities, just small acts of kindness. Anyone who has lived here for a while knows that there are abundant acts of kindness that go unnoticed. Even plain folks like us can do them if we take the time and effort.

Let’s remember: Unbridled hate brings down Temples. Unbridled love summons the divine presence.

The author is a Jerusalem writer who concentrates on the wondrous stories of modern Israel and its people.

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