Friday, August 13, 2021

Do the Jewish People Have a Monopoly on Kindness?

Yosef Shapiro (VIN)
It was an amazing effort that led to a successful conclusion. 7 year old Yosef Shapiro of Flatbush (a section of Brooklyn that has a high percentage of observant Jews) was found after a six hour search. He went missing during a camp trip to a park in Canarsie. 

I cannot imagine the horror his parents felt upon being informed he went missing. That horror was picked up by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio who tweeted the following: 

“As a father, my heart goes out to this family. I can’t imagine how they must be feeling tonight. If you have any information, please contact the NYPD. Let’s bring this boy home,”

The police were indeed contacted and immediately commenced upon a massive response ‘combing the area by air, land, and sea’. But they were not the only ones searching for Yosef: 

Shomrim has volunteers from Flatbush, Boro Park, Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Staten Island, Far Rockaway.

Hatzolah has volunteers from Canarsie, Flatbush and Boro Park. 

What was amazing about this was the way the observant community of Brooklyn sprang into action. Hundreds of observant Jews dropped what they were doing and joined in the search during a dark, hot, and rainy evening. Yosef was eventually found. From YWN

Sources tell YWN that a Hatzolah member searching near the beach heard a child saying “Tatty”. In the pitch dark, additional resources were sent to that location. Sure enough, Yosef was found. He was taken to Maimonides Hospital for observation, and is in good health. He was being discharged at around 11:30PM.

I am told the police were really impressed at how our people responded and credit us with the successful conclusion. 

I love happy endings like this. I can only imagine the relief and pure ecstasy Yosef’s parents must have felt upon his being found. 

What troubles me though is the aftermath. There has been a lot of ‘patting ourselves on the back’ about what we, the observant Jewish community did. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, ‘Mi K’Amcha Yisroel!’ – Who can be compared to Your (God’s) people! (Chazal tell us that this phrase is written on God's ‘Tefillin’ so to speak.)

Yes our people responded like the compassionate, caring, dedicated human beings we are supposed to be.  But the Jewish community does not have a monopoly on that kind of Chesed and determination. I am aware of similar situations where entire communities of non Jews have had that kind of compassion and determination. Some at the risk of  - not only their own lives but that of their entire families. 

I wish I could remember more details. But the following inspiring story is true. I heard about it many years ago. I was shocked to find out that at the height of the Holocaust, an entire city in France refused to treat their Jewish citizens any differently than they had in the pre-Holocaust past. Which was as complete equals with full rights to practice Judaism as each and every Jew saw fit. Not a single Jew was handed over to the Gestapo. Even though the penalty for hiding a Jew was death. 

Somehow they convinced the Nazi guards assigned to that town to look the other way. For those Jews  there was no Holocaust. They lived freely and practiced Judaism freely until the end of the war. There was one conversion  however. One individual in that city who led the effort was a Christian minister who was so moved by that experience, he ended up converting to Judaism!   

And then there are all the Chasidei Umos Ha’Olam - righteous gentiles that risked their lives and the lives of their families - taking in Jews and hiding them. My own parents and brothers - as well as my wife’s father were the beneficiaries of these gentiles. 

It is obviously true that there were not enough them.  That is an understatement considering that 6 million of us were not given that option by their non Jewish neighbors. Europe was the epicenter of Jewish hatred. (Still is in my view). Far more non Jews turned us in than saved us. In many cases participating in our slaughter themselves. Even taking pleasure in it. 

But it has also recently come to light  that there were a  lot more than a few righteous gentiles that risked their lives for us than the we had originally thought. 

That we are only now finding out about it is because these truly great people did not think they did anything special. They believed they were just acting like human beings. And given the opportunity anyone would do what the same. (They were wrong about that.) So in the middle of the Holocaust in a continent where hating Jews was practically a religious obligation there were more than a few non Jews that felt otherwise. I wonder how many of us would risk our lives and the lives of our families to save non Jews if he tables were turned?! 

I think it would serve us better if we didn’t scream at the top of our lungs about how great we are compared to everyone else when we accomplish something like this. (I was sent a video of someone doing just that.) Yes, we did something great. We, the Jewish  people, should be proud. But we should in no way imply that we have a monopoly on that kind of kindness. Because we don't.