ENGLAND’S OTHER FIRE

With so much news coverage  focusing on the tragic fire of epic proportion at Grenfell Tower in London last Wednesday, which by latest count claimed 79 lives, it’s more than understandable that a fire hours later at Kay’s Kosher Deli in nearby Golder’s Green did not attract any attention. It should have. Although no one was hurt, much less killed by the Deli fire, Sil and Riv, both in their 20’s, were left homeless. Left with nothing, they took to “sleeping on the streets,” with one sleeping on a bench and the other sleeping beneath the bench.

It didn’t take long for Larry Berkowitz to learn about their plight. Mr. Berkowitz is owner of Bluebird Care, a company that provides home care throughout the borough.
“Luckily, we had a flat vacant, so we’ve given that to them (Sil and Riv) for a month or two, rent-free until they find their feet (sic).” Had the rent-free flat been the sum total of Mr. Berkowitz’s kindness and generosity, it would have been most appropriate for all who learned about it to extend a Yasher Koach to Mr. Berkowitz  and  to express a heartfelt “dayyeinu”!

But Mr. Berkowitz did not stop there. He gave Sil and Riv jobs, in that they were looking for employment when the fire broke out. “We understand that they weren’t insured, so they lost everything,” said Mr. Berkowitz. “There’s a local fund-raising effort underway to help them replace lost furniture and goods. Hopefully, the jobs should help them too. We’ll start their training next week.”

As a rabbi, as one who believes in individual as well as communal responsibility to help one another, as well as the stranger in need, I shepped a great deal of naches reading about how Mr. Berkowitz immediately stepped in to help. Rather than ask the vacuous “Isn’t somebody going to do anything?” Mr. Berkowitz “out-Mosesed” Moses. Whereas our biblical role model first looked “hither and thither” before taking matters into his own hands, Larry Berkowitz did not take the time to look. He immediately took matters into his own hands and arranged for living quarters.

As a result of this most moving human interest story, I have three wishes:
Not only do I wish Sil and Riv every bit of success as they begin to rebuild their lives, but I hope that Sil and Riv (I could be wrong, but from the photo, I imagine them to be African immigrants) always remember the kindness extended to them by Larry Berkowitz. If Sil and Riv choose to tell others in their community about their misfortune, I would hope that they tell others in their community about their good fortune as well.

I hope that Larry Berkowitz serves as a source of inspiration to others. I hope that others are inspired by what Mr. Berkowitz did and that others adopt the attitude of: “If Larry Berkowitz can do it, I can do it.” If Larry Berkowitz’s act of chessed (kindness) ends up spawning other acts of chessed, then society will continue to improve and become immeasurably better.

I hope that Larry is rewarded for his generosity and selflessness. In addition to letters of gratitude and seeing that his efforts bear fruit more luscious than he himself ever anticipated, I hope that Larry is rewarded by HaShem with good health and long life, as well as the very best life has to offer. He surely deserves it.

THROUGH FIRE AND WATER

Over this past week, I’ve received over a dozen emails from various Jewish websites reporting on the fires in Israel. Without fail, each of these websites was sure to include a donate button to be activated by the reader. Even though I have no idea how successful these organizations will be in raising money, I do know of other donations that have been forthcoming.

I know that countries such as Cypress, Greece, Croatia, Italy and Turkey have sent firefighting planes as well as firefighting teams to Israel. Even Russia and the United States, the two world superpowers, have stepped up with the latter dispatching a 747 supertanker to help douse the flames. Why, even the Palestinian Authority has dispatched some of its firetrucks to assist Israel!

I know that this is one instance where the pagan prophet Balaam, hired by King Balak to curse Israel was dead wrong. Balaam’s prophesy “…it is a people that dwells alone, not reckoned among the nations” simply does not hold water when it pertains to the out of control conflagration threatening Israel.

Could Israel have handled the situation single-handedly? Undoubtedly, yes! But it would have taken much more time, at a much higher cost to the nation, with many more innocent lives being jeopardized. Could one have envisioned such a scenario with all these countries arriving in Israel to be of assistance during the first few decades of Israel’s existence? Highly unlikely! Perhaps then, a shehechiyanu is order – the short five word version beginning with the word shehechiyanu itself.

I know that there is a sermon in here somewhere. Despite horrific instances spanning two millennia, where our people have met their death through fire courtesy of the enemy, we are a people whose existence is defined by fire. Every Friday just prior to sunset, fire fills our homes to announce the arrival of Shabbat.  Just as each Saturday night, fire fills our homes to announce the beginning of a new work week. In a little over three weeks’ time, Jewish homes throughout the world will light up for eight consecutive nights. While I in no way wish to diminish the latest dangerous threat to confront Israel, fire is seen much more often by Jews as a blessing rather than a curse.  And seeing foreign firefighting aircraft over Haifa as well as other parts of the country responding to Israeli command is a blessing!

I know that there is a silver lining to the acrid clouds of smoke descending upon Israel. Believe it or not the Biblical quote: “Cast your bread upon the waters” is one of ours. It is taken from Sefer Kohelet or the Book of Ecclesiastes. For the longest time Israeli rescue teams have been among the first to arrive and lend a hand in other countries when disaster strikes.  This might very well be the first time where the “debt” is being repaid, with other countries lending a helping hand to Israel. It’s nice to see a positive spin on the aphorism “what goes around comes around”.

May Israel never find itself in such a position again.