Sometimes, it’s really simple.
I’d been asked to write a Shabbat message for the National Women’s Philanthropy Board for this week. (NWP is the women’s leadership group of the Jewish Federations of North America, and I’m on its Advisory Council.) The parasha is Acharai Mot – Kedoshim, in the Book of Leviticus. I did what I’ve been trained to do. I read the double portion, read commentaries and wondered how some of the obscure laws in both of these parashot could be made relevant in today’s world. I thought about what should I focus on, given the rich sources of instruction, especially in Kedoshim. I started to write, walked away to let my thoughts settle.
And then, the earthquake happened in Nepal.
All of a sudden, that most basic of all Torah values – “love your neighbor as yourself” – right there, in Kedoshim, Chapter 19:33, in the middle of the portion of the middle book of the Torah, came to life.
It was not a question of whether Jews would help in Nepal, but how quickly could the help be mobilized. There was simply no doubt in my mind that my federation, and each of yours, would be able to work as one, within our federation system of collective responsibility to fund the needed humanitarian relief and rescue.
Nor was there any doubt that Israel would be one of the first among the nations to respond, or that our overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee would be on the ground, working with local agencies. And I was sure that Ofer Mirin, the amazing doctor who created the IDF mobile field hospital unit, would be taking that unit to Nepal, just as he did in Haiti, in Japan, in the Philippines, and on the border of Israel to treat Syrian refugees – and that Ofer and the IDF would be able to rely on our financial assistance, through the JDC, to purchase the equipment for the field hospital.
And sure enough, within a few hours, the mailboxes were opened, the email blasts sent out, and there was a Facebook post from Ofer Mirin, on his way to Nepal.
And yet, along the way, some of us encountered questions from some members of our own Jewish communities: with all of the issues facing Israel and the Jewish people, why the effort to help in a small, impoverished country so far away?
The answer goes back to the simple truth in this week’s double portion: we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. And, of course, there was the obligation of Jewish mutual responsibility, to care for our Jewish family, because there were some 2,000 Israelis at the height of the trekking season in Nepal. But we could have rescued the Israelis (how amazing is it, by the way, that all but 11 Israelis have now been located, and that Israeli parents and their newborns are already home in Israel?) and left.
That’s not what Jews – Israeli, American, or otherwise – believe in. We live the Jewish value of loving your neighbor as yourself every day. And we demonstrate those values in the financial support we provide through our national system.
Finally, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that what allowed us to be able to respond in mere hours, right after havdalah, was the fact that our infrastructure was in place already.
Build the infrastructure, be ready to respond as a collective and simply live the commandment: love your neighbor as yourself.
Leslie Dannin Rosenthal
NWP Advisory Council