Hunger Games

A KOTZKER VIEW

On Friday, March 3, 1995 I was in LA for the 10th running of the Los Angeles Marathon.  I went to the Beverly- Grand Hotel to check in for Shabbos.  The Beverly-Grand was a Kosher hotel and planned to order eat at the hotel.   I asked for a single room and the front desk attendant told me it was $55 per day.  He looked for a room and only had rooms with two beds.  He told me the rate is $65.  I bristle at terrible business practices and asked for the location of the nearest motel.  He directed me to the Park Motor Inn on 3rd and Martel.  I checked in and got ready for Shabbos.  I remember walking to Synagogue Friday night feeling slightly discomforted.  I did not know anyone in LA and had no food for Shabbos.  Entering Sharei Tefillah on Beverly Boulevard for Friday night services and looking around I felt at home.  The Synagogue was Every Synagogue, USA.  No different than an Orthodox Shul in Chicago, Boro Park, Houston, or Williamsburg.   A doctor invited me over for the Shabbos night meal.  I had a delightful meal with his family and stayed for hours.  Although I considered myself at that time center – right and they were center –left on religious matters, there was no gap between us.  Their issues were the same as the issues my wife and I had. 

The main point of the above is that despite the fact that I had money and a family in Chicago, and my discomfort would only be for Friday night, I still felt a sense of loneliness, a sense of emptiness.   

This past Friday, March 23, 2012, I did not have my car so Mayer Chase picked me up from work.  I stopped by the cleaners on Devon and two gentlemen asked Mayer Chase for directions to the nearest Synagogue.  I came out and asked if they had a place to eat for Shabbos.  They did not and I invited them over.  That afternoon they arrived in Chicago, having driven for 15 hours straight, had  never been to Chicago, knew no one in Chicago, and had no place to eat.  They were down on their luck and came to Chicago to raise money.     Feel their sense of emotional distress, isolation and loneliness at being in a strange location in unfamiliar surroundings.  I had it in 1995 for only one Friday night, when I was on a high, in gorgeous LA to run the marathon.   They had a permanent heaviness as their problems would be there after Shabbos and will take huge effort with God’s help to solve.

My family had a delightful Friday night meal with the two guests.    They were great.   I received much more that I gave.   My kids stayed at the Shabbos table throughout extended meal and joined in on the conversation.   I felt privileged that I was able to relieve their pain for just a few hours.   I was also able to assist them throughout the week. 

This hunger is reality, it exists.   Things do not go right in life, there is unfairness, and evil prospers.  We try our best and it is not good enough.  The year is 1940 and you live in Warsaw.  You had a great life in Spain for years and it is July 1492.  Your job did not work out.    You went on your 20th job interview and did not find a job, while all of your friends found jobs. 

As a Jew, we have to feel this hunger – pain –anxiety that exists in others. not just understand it, but as the Kotzker Rebbe said, we have to feel it in our gut.    It has to be part of us.  We have to put the other person’s hunger – pain – anxiety on our shoulders and do what we can to help that person.  An Orthodox Jew can take a vacation cruise or  go to Florida for the winter,  however,  if he forgets about what is real, his mission, that people are suffering, that as Jews we have to feel the burden of others, then that person is “nisht a Yid”.   He is living for himself, and his Torah and prayers mean nothing.  Of course we cannot always be in this mode and opportunities as such do not come up often, but we have to be aware that at times we have to step forward.

In prewar Europe, travelers needing meals or a place to sleep went to Synagogue Friday night and everyone was taken care of by the community.  I first saw this in 1978 in Kesher Israel located in Georgetown, one of the great Synagogues in America.   After prayer services, an announcement was made that anyone who needs a place to eat, please see the Gabbai.   This is the ceremony of the Egulah Arufa.  The need to take care of people, that no person feels isolated and alone.

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