Thursday, October 14, 2021

A Jewish Hero for Our Time

Rabbi Margaretten with the 4 children he helped evacuate and their mother (BBC)
Among the many Jews that have made a Kiddush HaShem in my lifetime, one Skverer Chasid stands out. I don’t think there have been too many Jews of any persuasion that that have made the kind of Kiddush HaShem that Rabbi Moshe Margaretten has. More than once.

Back in 2018, his organization, Tzedek, was directly involved in getting the Trump administration and congress to quickly pass prison reform. (Having gotten those 2 bodies together on any issue was alone a high achievement.) But nothing tops the following. After hearing the story about…   

…four children hiding from the Taliban in an apartment in Afghanistan's capital Kabul… a rabbi thousands of miles away in Brooklyn, New York, (picked) up his phone and (made) a crucial call. 

His reputation grew and he started getting calls in the middle of the night from people… crying and saying 'rabbi help me, my life is in danger'.

By now Rabbi Margaretten has helped a great number of Afghan refugees. People that were in  danger of being persecuted, tortured, or executed by the Taliban for being involved with the previous government or collaborating with  the US military during their 20 presence there. From the BBC:

 "On the one hand I'm very happy for those I've been able to help, but on the other it's very sad - there's a limit to how much I can do."

 Rabbi Margaretten set up a team he says works day and night to process paperwork and visa applications for Afghan nationals at risk. "They know what they're doing," he says.

 The biggest expense, he adds, is getting people out of the country, but his association also pays for their stay at safe houses and hotels, and for food, clothing and medical bills.

 This article should be read in full.

What makes this story particularly amazing to me - and a major Kiddush HaShem - is that none of the Afghans Rabbi Margaretten helped rescue were Jewish – save one. The rest were Muslim!

Why does he do this? Why would a Chasidic rabbi in Brooklyn dedicate so much of his time, energy and resources to help Muslims that live thousands of miles away? Here is what he said: 

The answer is very simple," he says, "my parents and grandparents are all Holocaust survivors".

I think it is more than that. There are a lot of us out there who are ‘children of the Holocaust’. Myself included. We are often asked if we would do the same thing righteous gentiles did -risking their lives to save us - if the tables were turned. 

Many of us say we would. But at the end of the day when we see the kind of thing going on in Afghanistan after the US abandoned it, how many of us did anything but shrug, say ‘pity’ and move on - without thinking anymore about it? I admit being guilty of that. 

No one was more outraged than I was about what happened in Afghanistan after US troops left and the Taliban took over (with lightening speed!) The human tragedy unfolding before my eyes on the nightly news was overwhelming. But I did nothing about it other than discuss my outrage here. Not that I didn’t want to. I had no idea what anyone like me - who had no connection to Afghanistan, the US government or any kind of rescue agency -  could do about it.

That did not, however, stop this Skverer Chasid. He got a lot of Afghan refugees out – prioritizing those who were the most danger.  He saw tragedy, thought about what his parents and grandparents went through in the Holocaust and sprang into action. 

This says a lot about the character of this man. He understands the value of human life – regardless of what religion they practice. He understands the concept of Tzelem Elokim - being created in the image of God. He did not hesitate. 

If only the rest of us would be like him. If all Orthodox Jews were like that, it would be a different world. Sadly many of us are nothing like him. Many of us think only about ourselves or are immediate surroundings. Some of us are even guilty of the opposite of a Kiddush HaShem! Sadly there have been too many such cases. But even among those of us that have not participated in a Chilul HaShem, I think we can learn a lot from Rabbi Margaretten. God bless him.