July 16, 2024
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Speaking to Hashem: My Visit to the Rimel Family

Just after Thanksgiving weekend I had the tremendous opportunity to visit the Rimel family, victims of a tragic car accident outside of Jerusalem on December 3. During my years of studying in Israel I was a frequent Shabbos guest at the Rimels in their beautiful hilltop yishuv (Neve Tzuf) nestled in the mountains of the Shomron. I wasn’t able to contact the family before I departed for Israel, so I arrived with very little by way of expectations. I was so inspired by what I witnessed that week in Jerusalem that I felt responsible to share it with our middle schoolers.

“Shaare Tezedek, Jerusalem’s flagship hospital, felt more like Garden State Plaza than a medical center,” I told the students. It was a far cry from the serenity and orderliness of our American health centers. The entryway was filled with family members, friends and rabbis of the numerous patients. People entered with bulk-sized grocery bags of freshly cooked food, to the point that the smell of schnitzel replaced that of the usual latex and disinfectant. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Where is everyone going?” After all, most hospital rooms are shared between three or four patients, with very little room for visitors to gather!

I quickly noticed what the crowds were doing. They lined the hallways, interspersed throughout, with a book of Tehillim or an open Chumash. It occurred to me that these typical Israelis, whether they were wearing a jacket and tie or ripped jeans and tattoos, understood something that I really didn’t. My thought process was something like this: “I came here all the way from the States and I’m ready to help! Put me to work!” Yet it wasn’t until I stood by the bedsides of Ephraim Rimel and Etai Rimel, both medically sedated, that I realized how little I could actually do. I don’t know how this didn’t occur to me earlier; I had high expectations. I can’t heal them; I’m not their doctor, and that’s not my job.

But the throngs of people in the halls, the patients’ loved ones, knew exactly what their job is. They have been trained just as well as any of the doctors in the ward…but in a different field: the field of speaking to Hashem. These people know that they aren’t there to perform procedures or to give their medical advice; that’s not their job. Their job is different, yet equally essential. I couldn’t help but admit to myself that I was also trained for the job that the Israeli bystanders were working. I didn’t grow up in Meah Shearim, or in the Jewish quarter, nor did I attend a cheder or a talmud Torah. I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, by regular, fine people…but I was lucky enough to be exposed to a world of spiritual reality that most of my peers weren’t privy to.

I stepped toward our middle schoolers and said, “I think you all are also trained for this very job.” I asked our students to zoom out, for a moment, of Bergen County and think about how many children their age have been exposed to genuine prayer; how many of them would know what to do with seven minutes of silent Shemoneh Esrei? Very few of them. In fact, they are among a unique percentage of children in this world who have extensive knowledge and experience in any Orthodox religion! We may not be trained to perform surgery; but we are certainly trained in the secret language of Hashem…and performing that job is no less valuable than that of a neurosurgeon! I urged our students to make an effort to utilize just a few moments of their precious tefillah time to do the job that they’ve been trained to do. Despite the mammoth challenge of having a fully focused davening, we can dedicate some precious moments to those whose lives depend on us. And with Hashem’s help, our hard work at one of our most valuable jobs will pay lucrative dividends to those we seek to help.


Simon Italiaander (Rabbi I) is a current graduate student at YU’s Azrieli School for Jewish Education and currently teaching at Moriah Middle School in Englewood. He is also pursuing semicha through YU’s RIETS. He has spent time in institutions throughout the US and Israel such as Bar-Ilan University, Yeshivat Lev HaTorah, Gruss Kollel, West Coast NCSY, Yeshiva University, and Camp Lavi.

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