By Yonason Rosenblum
5 Sivan 5769 • May 28 2009 YATED NE’EMAN Page 121
Who would not be put in an upbeat mood by a long walk to shul in Flatbush exchanging “Good Shabbos” greetings with every passing stranger? The last thing in the world that one would have thought of while contemplating all the smiling faces on the street was that a great threat hangs over the Jewish people. But it does. And that has to penetrate our consciousness. It grows clearer by the day that the West will do little or nothing to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capacity. The Obama administration is talking about letting talks continue until the end of the year, and then we’ll see. One does not have to be a seer to know how little Iran will have to do to create a ray of hope to further extend the “talk stage” after that. After all, President Obama’s call for engagement with Iran comes after more than five years of failed efforts by the Europeans, acting as America’s proxies, to gain Iranian acquiescence to slowing down its march towards nuclear weapons.
Many “sophisticated” American policymakers are already assuring us that the mullahs who rule Iran are neither insane nor self-destructive, in order to get us used to the idea of living with a nuclear Iran. Similar voices were heard in Western European capitals sixty years ago, assuring the citizenry that Hitler, ym”sh, was neither insane nor self-destructive.
If Western appeasement in the face of Germany’s arms buildup back then should have taught us anything, it is: When tyrants boldly lay out their goals, they should be taken seriously. And the Iranian leadership has been sufficiently forthright as to its goals.
Ahmadinejad has celebrated the creation of the state of Israel for gathering together the majority of world Jewry in one small place – the better to destroy them in one fell swoop. His “moderate” predecessors explained the logic of a nuclear exchange with Israel: Israel will be wiped out by one or two nuclear weapons, while Iran can sustain the loss of fifteen to twenty million people and still survive.
True, Ahmadinejad and the mullahs are but the stick in the hands of the Master to affrighten us. But as such, they are delivering a message that we ignore at our peril. Life may seem good in Flatbush and in dozens of other thriving Jewish communities, but this is clearly not the time for complacency. As individuals and as a community, we have to intensify the connection with Hakadosh Boruch Hu through Torah and mitzvos that we celebrate this week on Shavuos. We just carry on at our peril.
We cannot afford, for instance, to have our energies sapped by the machlokes and strife that has embroiled major Torah centers and institutions, and which lowers one and all and induces even bystanders from afar into destructive lashon hara and rechilus. There are many known and unknown individuals in our community who get it. I don’t know if they are responding directly to the backdrop of the Iranian nuclear threat – I rather suspect that it is very far from their thinking – but they are nevertheless driven by a desire to do whatever they can to lift up the Jewish people and repair our relationship with Hashem.
When I’m traveling, as I have been the last two weeks, I always seem to meet or hear about these meshugoyim l’davar echad upon whom, the Rambam writes, the world stands. After a Shacahris minyan in a decidedly non-affluent neighborhood, I was approached by someone whom I had met the day before at a bar mitzvah. He told me that the previous year he had spent $10,000 to run a pre-Shavuos publicity campaign, including in these pages, to encourage those fortunate enough to be able to leave shul during Yizkor to use those moments constructively rather than treat them like a school recess.
I did not see the ads and posters last year, but apparently they contained suggestions for how those few moments could be used – e.g., reciting Tehillim. I don’t know whether such suggestions are even necessary. After all, by the time we get to Yizkor, most of us have already been in shul for almost two hours of Yom Tov davening. That davening and the Krias HaTorah surely offers us enough to contemplate and internalize without a checklist of specific options. The necessity to provide such a checklist reflects how unaccustomed we have become in this age of omnipresent cell phones and other distractions to taking even a few moments to think uninterruptedly.
Be that as it may, I could not help be incredibly moved by the way that one unknown Jew was so filled with the desire to bring his fellow Jews just a bit closer to Hakadosh Boruch Hu that he spent so much money (of which I understood there was no surfeit) on a publicity campaign whose impact could never be known or measured.
In a similar vein, I was pursued last week by a young avreich in Lakewood, who must have called me twenty times to discuss his personal kiruv project. He has spent the last two years designing, producing, and printing business-sized cards that can be passed out to any non-observant Jew that we meet, with a list of Jewish resources to learn more about Judaism or to acquire a personal study partner.
His idea is that every Torah Jew should arm him or herself with packets of these cards so that one is always available anytime one meets a non-observant Jew. And he has given a great deal of thought to how the cards will work. Just by carrying the cards one is constantly reminded that we have a chiyuv to do everything we can to bring our fellow Jews to a greater knowledge of Torah. Perhaps we will also be reminded that because we are identifiable by our appearance as Torah Jews, we have an obligation to ensure that the impression we make in every interchange with those from outside our world is positive. Many of us are conscious of our obligation to reach out to our fellow Jews, but have no idea how to do so and are afraid to initiate conversation. The cards obviate the need to think of anything striking to say, and provide in compact form a great deal of potentially useful information to the one receiving it. Many who would never initiate a conversation about Torah with a non-observant Jew will nevertheless be willing to at least let him or her know where to access more information. And finally, the cards convey the message from the one handing them out: I care about you; I feel connected to you. That’s why I carry these around. Quite apart from the merits of the idea, I was struck by the determination of this young man to do whatever he can to make it easier for Jews to connect with one another and to Hashem. This anonymous project (the only thing known is his phone number, 718-501- 2110) offers its developer no honor – only the expenditure of time, effort, and money. And yet it gives no rest to him or those with whom he seeks to share his enthusiasm.
The impact of one project I heard about while traveling is clear and immediate. After a speech in Kew Garden Hills, someone told me about a neighbor who had been tormented by reading of the dramatic cuts in government support for large families in Israel, as a consequence of which there are many poor chareidi families lacking even food to eat. He began to go around from one neighborhood shul to another collecting after davening. That individual initiative, conducted through such collections, I was told, has netted $4,000,000 over the last four years, and is providing chickens for Shabbos and other necessities to 8,000 families a month.
The mesiras nefesh of the initiators of these projects and hundreds of other Jews like them, who have undertaken projects to help their fellow Jews, may turn out to be one of our best protections against the Iranian bomb.