May 28, 2024
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May 28, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Finding the Strength to Care

As the afternoon hours of the fast day marched on, the 17th of Tamuz felt as if it would never end. Being among the longest and hottest fast days of the year, I closed my eyes in the hope of embracing a much-awaited nap.  However, I was suddenly stirred by the ringing of my phone. Seeing that the call was coming from my sister in Israel, I quickly answered. While she sounded perky and upbeat, my stomach was growling and my head was pounding. I cynically thought to myself that hers is the voice of someone who had already broken her fast and enjoyed her coffee.  Knowing that hunger brings out the grumpiness in me, I longed to quickly end the call and go back to sleep. I closed my eyes and listened to her as she began to tell me the story of Daniel Altov, a 21-year-old man from Jerusalem whom she had recently set up with an amazing girl and the couple was now engaged to be married.  She went on to explain that Daniel was the oldest of four siblings, and tragically, their mother had passed away from cancer five months earlier.  However, as their family was still coping with their loss and grief, his father had taken ill and unexpectedly passed away from kidney failure only three weeks ago.

I then opened my eyes and sat up. I reflected upon the pain of this young man—an orphan who will walk to the chuppah, without having his parents at his side.  How terrible it is for a groom to start off his first joyous year of marriage, eclipsed by the year of mourning for both of his parents! I immediately asked how I can help. My sister invited me to imagine how much joy it would bring this couple if they could start their lives with some of the basics that they could not otherwise afford—furniture, appliances and perhaps even a few enhancements to make the wedding that much more beautiful.   While I knew that my capacity to donate was limited, I recognized that anything we could do to diminish the feelings of loss on their wedding day would be the greatest of mitzvot —not only for helping fund their wedding, but to care for the orphan. Thus, I accepted my responsibility to do whatever I could and was committed to at least put forth my efforts.

I told my sister that I would be happy to make a token contribution, but felt that even if I asked around, I was not optimistic that we would be able to raise very much money for them.  I promised, though, that I would not let that stop me from doing my part.  I then said goodbye and closed my eyes to return to my nap. However, as the significance of the 17th of Tamuz sank in, I could not fall back asleep. I pondered my responsibility to care for my fellow Jew, even one I have never before met. Therefore, despite feeling tired and hungry, I summoned my focus and energy recalling the teaching from Pirkei Avot—that the burden was not solely mine to bear, yet, I was not free to walk away from it.

I therefore took to Facebook and posted a simple message—asking if anyone were interested in joining me for this mitzvah. I was shocked the next day to wake up and find a handful of responses from people who spanned the country, as well as the range of Jewish affiliations and observance levels, all of whom had jumped at the opportunity to get in line and help their brother in a time of need. I felt encouraged that we could now put together several hundred dollars to show our support. Yet, one of the donors suggested that we create an online fundraising campaign that can be shared more broadly, and thus, offer the Mitzvah to more people. Again, unsure about the outcome, I told myself, “just put in your effort, the rest is up to heaven.”

After a few minutes of tinkering on the computer, I launched a simple fundraising page: www.youcaring.com/danielswedding

Sure enough, by the end of the day over $2000 had been collected and within a week, nearly $5,000! Even more surprising was the fact that most of the donors are people I do not know and never would have been able to ask. This shows the power of what we can do when we care enough to take a single step toward helping another person. All we have to do is put forth our part—and allow God to do the rest.

I have been overjoyed with the knowledge of what we, as a people, could accomplish collectively when we just take the time to care. More profoundly, however, I am humbled by the generosity demonstrated by so many kind strangers, who ran to contribute gifts large and small. While Daniel will not have his parents at his side during his wedding, we hope that through the outpouring of love and support, he will be reminded that he is part of a larger family that loves him and stands by his side as he walks beneath the Chupah on that special day. Mazal Tov Daniel!

Thus far, one-third of the total fundraising goal has been achieved. To play a part in Daniel’s wedding, please join us by going to: www.youcaring.com/danielswedding.

Rabbi Ari Sytner is Director of Community Initiatives at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future. He resides in Bergenfield. Training community leaders, rabbis, and rabbinic students in the art of Jewish leadership, Rabbi Sytner uses his talents and passions to reach and inspire the full spectrum of the Jewish people. Originally from Monsey, NY and a student of Rabbi Berel Wein, he has served on the pulpit for 13 years in Des Moines, Iowa and Charleston, South Carolina.

By Rabbi Ari Sytner

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