A few years ago, on a very hot day, I was driving on a highway not far from my house. As I exited I noticed an elderly gentleman. He caught my attention because it was definitely not a typical place for someone to be walking. When I stopped my car and asked him if he was lost, he told me where he was going and assured me that he was fine. As I drove away, I calculated in my head how far away his destination was, how old he looked and how humid it was outside. I turned my car around and pulled up next to him.
I rolled down the car window and said, “I know you told me that you don’t need help but please let me give you a ride. You will be doing this for me.” I told him that if someone had seen my father walking such a far distance in such hot weather, I would hope they would stop for him. He agreed on one condition—that I don’t take him directly to the door but just drop him on the corner instead.
As we headed out, he shared with me how Hitler, yemach shemo, made sure that he and his fellow bunkmates walked for miles each day in all kinds of weather. Before he got out of my car he turned to me and said, “I was always taught that Bnai Yisroel is an am kulo chesed but until today I did not experience it firsthand.” By now my tears were flowing. I looked to see where he was going but he was nowhere in sight. (When I told my kids about meeting this kind stranger, they were convinced their mother had given a ride to Eliyahu Hanavi!)
This gentleman’s words always stuck with me but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I was able to experience firsthand the exact same feelings he did.
On Friday night of Shabbos Chanukah my daughter, son-in-law and their family experienced a devastating fire that destroyed the contents of their home. We are so grateful to God that all of the family members were going to be eating the Shabbos seudah with us at our home and, therefore, no person was hurt in the fire.
Word quickly spread about what had happened, and the outpouring of true chesed by our community was immeasurable. Led by Rabbi and Shevi Yudin and Rabbi and Sarah Markowitz, our entire Fair Lawn “mishpacha” sprang into action. Even the greater tri-state area community helped and showed their support in time of extreme need. Immediately after Shabbos, packages were dropped off at my home. Amazingly, by the end of the evening, there was enough clothing and toys to keep a small country going!
Our school communities were there for us as well. I was convinced Rav Ronen of Yeshiva Haatid (where two of my grandchildren attend yeshiva) must have made havdalah in the car because he was in our home almost immediately after Shabbos with compassion, help and support. Rabbi Price of RYNJ, where I am a teacher, was on the phone almost immediately asking how our school community can be of assistance. Gan Yavneh and the Kol Chaverim school community showed their amazing support as well.
As the news of this devastating fire spread, a GoFundMe page was set in place. Family members and friends helped serving food and cleaning up, and started shopping for the entire family to help ease the shock and pain. At 11:30 Rabbi Yudin and Rabbi Markowitz came to write a replacement ketubah for my children. I must admit it was kind of interesting for my children to have their children at this event.
On Friday our children and grandchildren went to the police station. The fire chief was there as well. Our grandchildren gave out thank-you posters and treats for the men and women who helped put out the fire. One of the police officers told me that in all the years he was in Fair Lawn he cannot remember anyone coming in this way to express their thanks. While all this was going on I couldn’t help but think what a Kiddush Hashem we were making at that ceremony.
Just as I thought the amount of kindness was truly at a peak, I was astonished there was even more to come! On Sunday afternoon a very distinguished-looking gentleman knocked at our door. He introduced himself as the senior pastor of a local Baptist church. He handed me an envelope and said this is what his church collected to help my kids get back on their feet. I was so overcome by their kindness and generosity I started to cry. What a life lesson to be learned.I do know from now on I certainly will be more cognizant of our global community, especially when they are in need.
On Thursday evening, in the pouring rain, we heard fire trucks and police cars. They stopped in front of our house. I must admit it was unsettling, but when Santa, his elves and members of the choir got off the truck with gifts for my grandchildren and the carolers singing “I Have a Little Dreidel” and “Oh, Chanukah,” I was never prouder to be a part of such a wonderful community. It definitely was a “Wow” moment for me to see such sensitivity to the religious needs of others. On a lighter note, my youngest grandson had a wonderful take on the caroling. He said “Santa is real. He was just here, and he is Jewish because he knew the song about Chanukah.”
And two weeks later on a Sunday we experienced another act of outstanding chesed. Two sixth-grade boys from Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey (RYNJ), Rafael Wasserfauf and Amir Glasser, came to our home bearing gifts for our 5-year-old grandson’s birthday party. It is hard for a 5-year-old to comprehend what happens when everyone around him is coping with a loss. The boys were also dressed as superheroes but, even without their costumes, they would still be superheroes to us. We all benefitted from their kindness.
So what did I take away from all of this? I have a stronger, deepened sense of emunah. I truly believe Hashem watches and protects my children and that He has a master plan—we just are not privy to what that is. I am so grateful to Hashem for making sure they were all safe. Material items can always be replaced, but the acts of true unconditional chesed know no bounds!
My 8-year-old grandson said it best. On that Friday night of the fire as we sat around the table cutting his birthday cake, he said, “Before we eat my birthday cake, I want to make a special bracha. Thank you Hashem that my brother, sister, Abba, me, Mommy and my whole family are safe.” As my husband remarked, “That kind of says it all.”
The words of my passenger from many year years ago still resounds loudly in my mind: Bnei Yisroel is truly am kulo chesed. Yes, we are.
By Honny Aron