Friday, September 17, 2010

Some good words about...Haredim

Further to our post about the amazing activities of New York`s Satmar Bikur Cholim, a reader from Jerusalem forwarded the following article - published some years ago in the Jerusalem Post - by their late and great columnist Sam Orbaum.

Jerusalem Post

Some good words about...Haredim

Let's talk about the haredim...No, wait! I've got some nice things to say.

It is easy to play devil's advocate with the haredim, because for all the justifiable harsh criticism they earn, there is so much goodness to report. Strictly "Not Page One" stuff this is, for good news is no news.

Every time a journalist writes a negative piece about them, we hear the same refrain: "Sure, bash the haredim. Why don't you ever write anything nice about them?"

OK. Here goes.

Their charity, social consciousness, good deeds, communal welfare and human kindness may be unparalleled among the communities of this country.

From birth through to death, you can be helped by one do-gooding haredi concern or another. There's a wealth of well-established, nationwide organizations like Yad Sarah, providing free medical equipment for all who ask. Children with Down's go to Shalva, with cancer to Zichron Menahem.

My sister was once laid up with a broken leg, and haredim came to her home with cooked meals. Free, of course - though they gratefully accepted a donation to keep the service going for others.

The kindly folks at Ezer Mitzion run a fleet of more than 30 ambulances - free, of course - to transport children suffering from cancer, from anywhere in the country to the Children's Hospital in Petah Tikva. While undergoing treatment, the patient and his family can stay at the nearby Ezer Mitzion Convalescent Home.

The list of gemahim - free loan organizations - is endless.
And there are the little people.

Yeshurun, a Habad-affiliated restaurant in Tel Aviv, feeds any beggar who walks in.
Remember Bella Freund? A haredi woman, she leapt into an inflamed lynch mob attacking an Arab terrorist who had stabbed two boys in Jerusalem a few years ago. For half an hour she protected him with her own life, physically absorbing the assaults herself, motivated by her religious convictions.

I'VE had occasion in the last few years to be in a hospital, and that is where the haredim are most outstanding. Making no noise about it, they simply go about helping people.

They didn't ask first who I vote for, what shul I go to, or whether I write negative articles about their community.

Every day, a happy haredi lady from Ezer Mitzion - she's fulfilling a major mitzva, which is why she looks so happy - goes room to room offering cooked meals to families attending patients. These ladies do not make a point of reminding their benefactors that the food is provided by those nasty haredim; they wish you "bon appetit" and "be healthy," and they're outta there.

Arab patients at Hadassah-Ein Kerem sometimes get upset when Ezer Mitzion passes them over - but why aren't there Arab gemahim?

Fridays are a favorite day for people scoring mitzva points. A bent old man distributes little hallot with a mumbled "Gut Shabbos"; someone brings around Shabbat candles for the women; performing the mitzva of visiting the sick, some haredim just make the rounds and offer a word of encouragement.

A couple of times I asked what group or sect they represent, and all I got was a shrug or a smile. Decency for the sake of decency alone.

The highest form of mitzva is giving of yourself anonymously. With not even a thank you as payment, the reward is knowing you've helped your fellow man.

In my case, I was a fellow man who has been critical of these very people (but we agreed not to get into that). No matter: They had what I needed.

PRECEEDING my bone-marrow transplant, the hospital requested several dozen donations of platelets (thrombocites). It's quite an imposition, to find that many people to go all the way to the hospital, get tested, and then return to be jabbed in each arm and thus kill an hour or so. Many acquaintances, religious and secular, responded to my need.

As we struggled to fill the quota of donors, word got around, somehow, to haredi circles. Two carloads of yeshiva students went to the hospital and rolled up their sleeves for me.

I managed to contact one of them, and asked why. "Oh, we like doing it," he answered cheerily. "We do it all the time."

Absolutely unbelievable.

The other day, I went to Kupat Holim Meuhedet in Ramot for a blood test.

I was too late; Asher, a haredi man behind the counter, said I should return the next day, and told me until what time. But he erred, and the following day, I was again too late, by a few minutes.

It turned out, though, that he was more haredi than mindless pakid: "Oy," he said, crestfallen, "it's my fault."

He asked the nurse to draw my blood, and - get ready for this - he took the vials, hurried to his car and drove into town to get my blood to the laboratory in time.

To a religious man, this was the right thing to do.

It was mind-blowing.

There's a common thread that runs through these tales of the unexpected, and it gives me an idea:

Draft every single haredi, man and woman, old and young. Put them not in the army, where they're of little use, but in the hospitals.

In that altruistic way, even the most anti-Zionist among them could justify serving the nation; the boiling resentment toward them would be stifled; the savings to the health-care system would be enormous; the sick would benefit from the world's most overstaffed, caring, devoted hospitals.

They could replace the legions of foreign workers tending to the frail and infirm. At no cost. To the benefit of everyone. To the betterment of Israeli society.

Who, then, could say a bad word about the haredim?


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