April 21, 2024
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April 21, 2024
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Since Oct. 7, IDF soldiers have answered the call of duty to sacrifice their heart and souls for Am Yisrael. Outside the land of Israel, many Jews have pondered: What sacrifices can they make for Am Yisrael? Most diaspora Jews have no policy-making power. Most diaspora Jews have no combat training. Most diaspora Jews don’t have thousands of dollars to offer for Israel aid. At the Washington rally, this author discovered one sacrifice all diaspora Jews can make for Am Yisrael.

Two weeks ago, young and old people from across the United States traveled on buses and planes to the pro-Israel rally in Washington. The rally’s podium hosted a broad range of speakers including Sen. Chuck Schumer, Natan Sharansky, and Jewish college students from some of America’s most liberal universities. It also featured Israel’s top singers Omer Adam and Ishay Ribo. However, one unplanned encounter provided this author more inspiration than any speaker or singer.

Following a five and a half hour commute, Ilan Sasson, Rabbi Asher Shannonbrook and I arrived at the rally. Groups from various Jewish communities walked around the Capitol Hill plaza wearing distinct pro-Israel T-shirts. Vendors hopped from group to group selling Israeli flags and other merchandise. Jewish music played on and off during the entire day.

Several feet away from us stood a 70-year-old man. A baseball cap rested atop the man’s noggin. A satchel-like bag hung around his shoulder. Beige pants and a long-sleeve shirt covered his body. This man’s left arm held up a sign, which read, Cleveland Stands with Israel. His right arm used a cane for balance. Most notably, the man stood alone.

Within a few seconds, Asher, Ilan and I approached Mr. Cleveland. “Hi. What’s your name?” Suddenly, a Midwestern accent left the man’s yap. “Hello. My name’s Wheels.” Observing the Cleveland sign, Ilan asked, “How long was the ride up here?” A smile brighter than the moon sprouted from Wheels’ face. “We boarded the buses around 12:45 a.m. and I just got here.”

I jumped in and asked, “This your first time in DC?”

“I haven’t been here since 1968. I came then to protest about the war.”

After these initial questions, Wheels relayed the history of Cleveland and its Jewish community. Observing no other Cleveland members nearby, Asher inquired, “Is your group close to here?” Wheels looked around the flooded Jewish rally scene and replied, “I’m not sure where they went.”

“Do you wanna give them a call?” I suggested.” Wheels opened his satchel and pulled out a printed piece of paper. “I actually didn’t bring a cell phone.” Suddenly, Wheels handed me the piece of paper. “But maybe you can call one of these numbers. They are my bus captains.”

I picked up the phone and dialed each bus captain. First call, no answer. Second call, no answer. Following nearly 20 minutes of phone tag, one bus captain picked up. However, noise from the rally made it difficult to clearly understand them. For example, one bus captain said, “Meet us near the porta potties.” However, the rally covered miles of space and contained dozens of porta potty sites. It would have made sense for all three of us to split up and find the Cleveland group. But it would also be irresponsible to leave Wheels behind. Thus, Asher decided to visit each porta potty site on foot in search of any Cleveland groups. Meanwhile, Wheels stayed with Ilan and me. During this stretch, Ilan and I took turns making conversation with Wheels.

At one point, a 70-year-old woman saw Wheel’s Cleveland sign and said, “Hey. My daughter lives in Cleveland.” This comment springboarded a dialogue among the four of us. A discussion about Judaism’s values ensued. She revealed the pain of being a widow and offered powerful advice. “Instead of thinking about whether the glass of life is half full or half empty, focus on trying to fill up other people’s cups. Following this tikun olam message, a discussion about the conflict ensued. Wheels, Ilan and I relayed support for Israel and Netanyhau. Whereas she claimed to be pro-Israel, but not pro-Netanyahu.

Forty minutes later, the Cleveland bus captains found Asher and asked if we could stay with Wheels until 2:45 p.m. This request prompted a dilemma. On the one hand, Ilan, Asher and I wanted to explore the rally and all its sights. Maybe walk to the front and experience center stage action. On the other hand, Wheels did not have a cell phone and could easily get lost. Wheels walked with a cane and could fall. Thus, all three of us agreed to hang with Wheels until 2:45 p.m.

By 2 p.m., Wheels started to experience heel pain from prolonged standing. A feeling many elderly people at the rally faced. Upon noticing Wheels’ pain, Ilan and Asher approached an occupied bench and asked its current sitters, “Could our friend have a seat?” Without missing a beat, one man slowly emerged from the bench’s end seat and replied. “Anything for a brother. Am Yisrael Chai.” Interestingly, this man himself walked with a limp yet decided to offer Wheels his seat.

Around 2:50 p.m., Asher spotted a group wearing a Cleveland Jewish community T-shirt. Wheels joined their group, offered a quick farewell, and walked off into the distance.

Every day, Hashem grants people opportunities to help others in need. At work, some co-workers need a hand to complete projects. At school, some classmates need a hand studying for an exam. At shul, some congregants or couples may not receive many Shabbat meal invitations. It can be easy to notice each scenario, and think, “Let me focus on my own work; let me focus on my own grades. Let me worry about my Shabbat meal invitations. Doesn’t the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot state, ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?’”

However, rabbis around planet Earth have labeled this current time period an et-sara — emergency situation. During an et sara, the Rambam advises Jewish people to look inward and ask, “How can I improve myself? How can I change?” This experience with Wheels taught me that each of us can dig deep and find more ways to do a little bit more chesed. For example, give a 15-minute phone call to a friend down on their luck. Go up to an elderly member of your shul and ask about their grandchildren. Offer to tutor your neighbor in math or Gemara. If IDF soldiers can sacrifice their lives to protect Am Yisrael, we can dedicate more time and effort to improve Am Yisrael.

To quote Rabbi Aryeh Levine, “Sometimes, everyone can be a tzaddik.”

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