When people buttonhole me in the street, write me letters and e-mail asking me to “write something nice” about the ultra-Orthodox world, I usually tell them that I find it curious they aren’t instead banging down my door asking me how they can help alleviate the suffering I describe. Why is it that all they can think about is lobbying for “feel good” stories to assuage their consciences? Nevertheless, I see no reason why out of spite I shouldn’t write about some of the wonderful ultra-Orthodox Jews that have crossed my path.
Just remember, lobbyists. This column is definitely not for you.You don’t need me to pat you on the back. You do very well with that all by yourself.
There is a tradition among religious Jews which says that G-d keeps the world going for the sake of thirty-six hidden saints who make it all worthwhile.
I’d like to tell you about four of them.
The first two are Rabbi Kalman Samuels and his wife Malky. Twenty years ago, when the Samuels were ultra-Orthodox immigrants from the United States, they took their beautiful, healthy three month all baby, Yossi, to get a routine DPT shot at the local Well Baby Clinic. After he received the shot, his temperature shot up. Then he began having seizures. Yossi had received one of the deadly toxic DPT vaccines tragically imported into Israel in the 1970’s, causing a wave of infant deaths.
Yossi survived. But his tiny body was ravaged by it. He was left blind, deaf, and crippled. Being devout Jews, the Kalmans never cursed their fate or G-d. On the contrary. They drew from their faith the enormous spiritual strength they needed to care for Yossi, to whom their devotion was boundless. But having 5 other children, they came to the point of total exhaustion. Isn’t there a place, they wondered, which will take care of special needs children like Yossi a few hours a week, giving the parents some time off? They looked around. There wasn’t.
And so they started one in their own home, bringing in mentally and physically disabled children from around the city. They called their program Shalva, meaning respite. When the number of children grew, they asked the City of Jerusalem to give them a building. A clerk offered them a dark bomb shelter. “What does it matter?” he said cynically.“These children won’t know the difference.” Kalman and Malky disagreed. These children, they insisted, deserve the most beautiful facility in the world.
After ten years of superhuman efforts, Rabbi Kalman Samuels raised the funding necessary to build it. It is called “Beit Nachshon, ” after the Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman murdered by Hamas terrorists. Nachshon’s beloved little brother Rafael, who has Downe’s Syndrome, is a regular at Shalva.
Come to Har Nof to visit Shalva one day, if you can. You’ll see ninety physically and mentally challenged children resting in beautiful painted bedrooms, playing in a private Disneyland in a three story villa with magnificent views. And despite their terrible handicaps, you’ll hear the laughter of happy kids, cared for with endless love all because two deeply religious parents decided that to love G-d, was to love every soul he created, no matter the state of the body which housed it.
Every year, the Samuels struggle to pay their enormous ongoing expenses. They have to. These children have no place else to go.
Candidate number three is Rabbi Noah Corman, a haredi advocate in the Rabbinical Court. Representing an abused haredi woman, he was shocked to find his client had no place to live, and was bunking down in the lobby of the Central Hotel in Jerusalem. Unable to go home, she found that the usual women’s shelters had no facilities for her special religious needs. So, Rabbi Corman raised the funds to open just such a shelter. He called it: Bat Melech.
Although he can house very few women, and the demand is enormous, he has ushered a good number of haredi women and their small children past the dangers, providing lawyers, social workers, and job training to help them start new lives.
Finally, there is a haredi rabbi who doesn’t want his name mentioned, the founder of two homes for haredi teenagers fleeing abusive homes. My “little lost girl” found a haven under his benevolent, fatherly wing. Recently, the same rabbi helped convict an abusive father living near him in Geula, when all the other neighbors listened to the children’s screams and did nothing. Rabbi H. reported him to the police, testified in court, and found himself physically attacked by the man. Now the man is behind bars, his children safe. And Rabbi H., whose wounds are healing, is busy expanding his children’s shelters, continuing his saintly work.
As singer Tom Lehrer once said about the table of elements: “ And these are all of them of whom the news has come to Harvard. There may be many others, but they haven’t been discovered.” Whenever I come across the other thirty-two, I’ll be happy to let you know.
In response to numerous inquiries from Jerusalem Post readers wishing to contact or contribute to organizations described in this article, the following are their addresses and bank account numbers:
SHALVA, Beit Nachshon, POB 35199, Jerusalem 91351, Bank Mizrachi (20); Branch 458, Account Number: 193553
BAT MELECH (religious women’s shelter) POB 41247, Jerusalem 91412, Bank Mizrachi, Branch 403, Account Number: 403327
KEREN OHEL MEIR (children’s shelter) POB 16372, Jerusalem, Bank Leumi. Branch 766 Account Number: 10227/64.