Medicine and Joy

Over the past two years, the public discourse in Israel has focused on two topics: Social justice and the equal shouldering of the military burden.

Yoram Dori 370 (photo credit: courtesy)
Yoram Dori 370
(photo credit: courtesy)
Over the past two years, the public discourse in Israel has focused on two topics: Social justice and the equal shouldering of the military burden.
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 caftans.
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 public mind.
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 sect.
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.
I found 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.