By Daniel Chejfec
Let me tell you a story. I will change the names to protect the privacy of the individuals involved, but the events are true.
I met this person – I will call her Ruth – many years ago and a whole continent away. She was a good friend, and as a teenager I dated her once or twice, but the relationship never evolved into anything more than friendship. She eventually married and I lost track of her for a while.
When I reconnected with her (the magic of Facebook), I learned what happened with her in the years in between contacts. She was married and very much in love with her husband – but her husband had been diagnosed with an incurable disease. She was an only daughter; her parents had passed away and their only son lived in Israel. That was when the financial collapse of the country hit. They lost most of what they had and her husband's health was deteriorating, making it more difficult each day for him to go to work. Their son started to consider coming back to Argentina to take care of them. He was already married to a Sabra and they were building a business together. My friend felt wrong about allowing her son to leave Israel and come back to a country which at the time was at the very bottom of the barrel.
So my friend and her husband decided to make Aliyah. In addition to all the usual fears associated with leaving the place where you grew up to go to a country in the other end of the world, there were the issues associated with her husband's health. Working with shlichim of the Jewish Agency, they addressed the issues one by one, and they eventually moved to the Galilee, near Haifa where their son lived. After going through the ulpan to learn the language and give themselves time to get somehow acquainted with their new environment, she went to work at an office as a bookkeeper (she had an accounting degree from Buenos Aires) while her husband started a medical treatment.
I learned the other day that they have become grandparents for the second time. She is still working at the same office – now as office manager; he recovered enough to start working as a salesperson at a store. He is not cured, but his illness seems to be under control, and both of them are now greatly enjoying their lives as grandparents.
Sometimes, as a professional, I need a shot in the arm to remind me why we do what we do. It is not just about the big issues – it is more about the day-to-day events that can look like miracles. When we loan a piece of medical equipment, or when we give away a food gift card, or when we help a child learn the aleph-beth – it is not about the big pronouncements of the importance of Tzedakah and Jewish Education (although they are certainly very important). It is about Ruth and the other thousands of Ruths that over the years were touched by what we do.
It is about treating people (and each other) with dignity and respect; it is about listening and do what we can to help. Albert Einstein, the physicist-musician-humanist once said:
“From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of each other - above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”
The Federation is a tool to give back, and it can be as effective or ineffective as we make it. That is why I do what I do.