Love is in the air,” the song says, but we sure haven’t breathed in a whole lot of it lately.
As we gaze out our windows at the horizons near and far, the view is anything but spectacular.
The countries that surround us are in a constant state of turmoil. Mercifully, they are preoccupied with beating up on one another, and so their guns are, for the moment, pointed away from us; but one never knows when the situation will turn, and a new and hostile front will open up.
At the same time, Europe is undergoing a crisis of epic proportions, certainly the greatest since World War II. Not only because of Paris paranoia, where French citizens – even the non-Jews – are afraid to walk the streets or gather in crowds – but because the whole continent has been overrun by more than a million “refugees,” an Islamist time-bomb that can explode in the near future and cause horrific damage.
And the United States, our stalwart friend and port in every storm? Well, the wind blowing from Washington isn’t very comforting either. America’s descent into isolationism, its ill-advised deal and embrace of Iran’s terrorist regime, coupled with Obama’s inability to distinguish between friend and foe, has created intense disillusionment among America’s allies, Israel included.
Is there anything left to smile about, to inspire hope? Any break in the clouds?
INDEED THERE is. And it starts with a story you might have heard about. This past Saturday night, I took my brother – who had been visiting with us from Los Angeles – to the airport for what should have been a routine El Al flight back to Tinsel Town. However, it turned out to be anything but routine. At 4 a.m. my brother, who is one of those lucky people who cannot ever fall asleep on an airplane, noticed that the plane was flying lower and slower than normal (you gotta love people who are fixated on the screen with the airplane’s stats, carefully noting the outside air temp and methodically counting down the minutes till arrival, rather than watching one of the on-board movies). Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, the pilot woke up the normal, dozing passengers and announced that sensors had detected a fire in the right engine; the plane would be making an emergency landing at Logan International Airport in Billings, Montana – 1,600 kilometers from LA.
The 300 passengers were bused to a waiting area in the Billings airport for what would be a 12-hour stay, until another 777 could be flown in from Newark to complete the remaining two hours of the flight to California. Refreshingly, there were few, if any complaints, and the crowd plopped down on the floor or on the few available seats to wait out the delay. But there was one problem: These were primarily Jewish passengers, and Jews can tolerate almost any deprivation – as long as they are fed.
But, being so close to their original destination, the El Al plane was out of food.
Oh, no, whatever shall we do? Well, the skeleton staff at the airport – remember, this was a Sunday, with very few flights scheduled – tried their best. A United Airlines volunteer drove several hours to come in and help manage the situation, and she found a few loaves of bread and some kosher hummus at the nearby Kosco, while the airport opened its coffee shop to provide drinks. But this was just a mere appetizer, a tease for the famished folk. And so, enter the cavalry, in the person of one Chavie Bruck, the intrepid rebbetzin of the Chabad of Bozman, Montana.
Now, this in itself – the fact that Montana, whose Jews account for one tenth of one percent of the state’s population, could even have a Chabad – is mind-bending. I mean, a Jew in Montana is about as common as an ayatollah at a JNF convention; in fact, I’d bet that the Jews in that room probably constituted the largest minyan ever held in the state. The rabbi at El Al in Israel had earlier notified Chavie’s husband Chaim of the plane’s diversion, and asked for his help. Chaim himself was on a flight to Minneapolis, but his wife immediately snapped into action. She gathered as much ready-to-eat food as she could – they had just received a kosher shipment the night before – piled her three children into the car, and drove 240 km. to Logan. Moshiach himself could not have had a more joyous reception, as Chavie dispensed the goodies: Bagels – of course – cold cuts, chocolate cakes, even cereal and milk for the kids. “She was the heroine of the hour,” said the rabbi.
THIS WAS Chabad at its very best. Now, one can certainly debate the efforts of numerous groups, such as Chabad or the Lauder Foundation, to prop up Jewish life in the Diaspora. There is legitimate cause to criticize the spending of huge chunks of Jewish money to build Jewish institutions in places like Tallinn, Estonia – where, as the Wannsee Conference notes, the local population murdered the entire Jewish community even before the Nazis invaded – or Poland, in which even the Rebbe himself forbade any Chabad houses to be built. Funds, many would argue, would be much better spent preparing and training what few Jews remain in these dead or dying communities to come home to Israel.
But it would be hard, if not impossible, to argue with the success that Chabad has had in reaching out to Jews all over the world in an exceptionally caring and giving manner. From the lavish mikve (ritual bath) in Shanghai to the backpacker’s hostel in Katmandu to the kosher restaurant on Ko Samui, Chabad provides a spark of Judaism in virtually every corner of the planet. (Note: This is how we know there are no Jews on the moon – there’s no Chabad house there!) And they do this in a selfless, gracious, non-judgmental fashion.
They seek no kavod (honor) for their work; their mesirat nefesh – personal sense of self-sacrifice – is a model for the entire Jewish world to emulate.
I was fortunate to have been “rabbinically raised” by the leaders of Chabad in my native Chicago. As a teenager, my rabbi presented me with a list of the Jewish patients at the hospital near my home and told me to go there on Succot, say a prayer for the health of the patients, and gently invite them to fulfill the mitzva of lulav and etrog. “You will feel better for doing it!” he assured me. He was right, of course. And when I prepared to embark upon my rabbinic career, and asked him for suggestions as to how to reach my fellow Jews, he gave me one, succinct piece of advice, in just two words: “Feed them!”
AND SO Chavie Bruck continues this great tradition. Her generous act earlier this week is perhaps the key to conquering the depression that understandably sets in when we see the dismal state of the world today. Try a little hessed, kindness.
Visit a sick friend.
Invite your next-door neighbors for Shabbat dinner – even if you don’t know their names. See who in your community needs help – and reach out to them.
Volunteer. Smile at the people passing by. Hug your kid every day. Don’t do it for the glory or the recognition, do it because it’s the right thing to do. And there’s a wholesome sense of satisfaction, an afterglow, that accompanies it.
My guess is that – like the passengers who eventually made it home to LA, tired but well-fed – you’ll feel like you’re flying at 30,000 feet in the air.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; [email protected]