In Plain Language: The power of one

Good will always conquer evil; light will always dispel darkness.

March 30, 2017 12:04
Painting by Pepe Fainberg

Members are allowed to return following a bomb threat at the Jewish Community Center in Louisville, Kentucky, earlier this month. (photo credit: REUTERS)

As “headline shock” goes, last week was particularly disturbing. First, we learned of the arrest of the Israeli-American teenager who has been sending bomb threats to Jewish institutions throughout North America, causing immense fear and foreboding in more than two dozen communities. At the same time, there was a tragic terrorist attack in the heart of London – of the ramming, stabbing type that we in Israel have become all too familiar with – that resulted in four deaths and many more injuries.

What was so stunning about these events was the fact that they were carried out by lone criminals. A single, demented individual working alone from his room in Ashkelon caused thousands of people to evacuate synagogues and Jewish centers, sparking an unprecedented apprehension among American Jewry that reached all the way to the White House. There was an air of panic that filled the chat rooms, as if some huge antisemitic movement was on the rise, targeting Jews wherever they gathered. Instead, we discovered, it was a sick, solitary, wayward genius – to our utter disgrace, one of our own – that was perpetrating all this madness.

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In England, another Islamic fanatic was setting one of Europe's grandest capitals on its ear. Armed with just two knives and a steering wheel, he was able to throw London into temporary hysteria, even causing the Parliament to be placed on lockdown. Though British politicians spoke bravely about maintaining stiff upper lips and business as usual, there was a palpable anxiety about where and when the next outrage might occur.

We have come so far so fast in our technological achievements; we are so proud of the safe and sophisticated world we have seemingly built around us. But these events dramatically bring home just how vulnerable, how at risk we really are at every moment in our lives. The steel and stone, brick and brass fortresses we think we live in are really made out of cardboard, susceptible to the single, puny match that can rapidly send it all up in flames.

But there is a flip side, a positive spin to be had here. For if one person has the power to destroy so much, a single person can also accomplish a world of good. Special individuals, if they dedicate their God-given abilities to the right cause, can defeat evil, relieve suffering and change the world for the better.

Our primary paradigm for this, of course, is Moses. One special man, incorruptible, a lover of justice, he set himself against the powers that be to revitalize and rescue an entire nation.

Humbled by the challenge before him, acutely aware of his own limitations, he nevertheless taught the Jewish people that degradation was not our destiny, and that freedom, not fear, was the inalienable right of every man and woman. He taught us to fix our gaze not downwards on the shackles of our slavery, but upwards, towards God – and forward, toward the Promised Land.

While Moses may be gone, we are blessed with many modern-day heroes who exhibit that same drive and determination to lift others to greater heights. I offer three such examples: Joseph Gitler looked out at Israeli society and saw two glaring problems.

Thousands of his fellow citizens – and a full third of Israeli children – live below the poverty line and struggle to survive; many of them go hungry every single day. At the same time, there is an obscene waste of food in our country, more than enough to feed the masses.

So Gitler created Table-to-Table, later to become Leket Israel, in order to “rescue” Israel’s food resources from restaurants, catering halls, bakeries and fields, and distribute them to the needy. Leket’s army of volunteers now reclaims more than 150 tons of produce weekly, provides 15,000 hot meals and prepares sandwiches to disadvantaged children in more than 100 schools. Talk about your pyramids; one man, literally, sits atop this phenomenal food chain.

Michal Belzberg was preparing for her bat mitzva – it was her 12th birthday – when a suicide bomber struck Jerusalem’s crowded Sbarro restaurant in August 2001, killing 15 and injuring 130. In the wake of such sorrow and destruction, Belzberg felt that she could not hold a celebration, so she canceled her bat mitzva party and contributed the expenses to victims of the attack. She also encouraged friends and family to give the victims everything they’d planned on giving her. Belzberg and her family raised over $100,000, but quickly realized that was not nearly enough to address the suffering of the growing number of Israelis affected by terrorism. In that moment, One Family was born. The organization, led by Michal’s parents, Chantal and Mark Belzberg, and a staff of professionals and volunteers, reaches out to victims of terrorism, providing emotional, material and psychological support where it is needed most. One brave, caring girl from One (loving) Family.

It was recently announced that retired Lt.-Col. Tzvika Levy will receive Israel’s Lifetime Achievement Award this Yom Ha’atzmaut. It is a prize well-deserved and long in coming. For more than two decades, Levy has dedicated his life to the members of the IDF, becoming known as “the father of the lone soldiers.” He has tended to their every need, providing them with food, gifts, a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on. “They are my heroes,” says the selfless Levy, who has visited our home numerous times and is a legend in every IDF base. Levy was recently stricken with muscular dystrophy and learned of his award while in a hospital bed, on oxygen. In characteristic fashion, he appealed to the nation to embrace the soldiers and “fill in” for him until he gets well. If anyone deserves a blessing, it is him.

I’m sure each of you reading this article has someone in mind who has made your world better. Feel free to sing his or her praises, but even more important, use your own unique strengths to be that one who makes a difference. Good will always conquer evil; light will always dispel darkness.

■ The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; [email protected]

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