Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guest Post: JobKatif in Baltimore

Yom revi'i, 26 Cheshvan 5772.

I come from a remarkable community in Baltimore.  No matter how long I live in Israel, this community "in the Old Country" will always have a special place in my heart.  In a letter from a dear friend, you can get a small glimpse into why the Baltimore Jewish community is a diamond in the crown of Ahavat Yisrael:

My Dear Ruth,

I would like to tell you about a very special event that occurred in Baltimore this past motzei Shabbat.

In a wonderful display of love for the people of Eretz Yisrael, the Baltimore Community came together to celebrate and support the accomplishments of JobKatif and to honor Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon at a benefit concert.  This evening was a labor of love for Mike Lowenstein, who chaired the event, and for Avraham Rosenblum who conceived of the idea and brought it to fruition.

Photo of Rav Rimon from the JobKatif website
Rav Rimon is a resident of Alon Shvut South, a faculty member of Yeshivat Har Etzion and Midreshet Migdal Oz, and the author of a book on halacha for soldiers.  He conceived of JobKatif, and he made it happen.  Rav Rimon and the miracle of JobKatif is not that they get jobs for people, but that they treat the entire person.  The expulsion produced people who were depressed, demoralized, unable to take on responsibility, who lost their homes, lost their businesses, lost their neighborhood, lost their social network, everything gone.  His chiddush was that the whole person needed to be treated; otherwise they wouldn’t be able to work.  He recognized that without all the help to the person’s mind and soul, they would not succeed in business.  And their success rate is astounding.  In the general population, about 50% of businesses fail after three years.  For JobKatif, it’s only 10%.  Pretty amazing!  And so the Baltimore Community honored Rav Rimon for his efforts and worked to raise funds that were matched 3 to 1 by the Israeli government.

The Beth Tfiloh Mintzes Theater was full and enthusiastic; the two-hour program just flew by as the audience was engaged at each segment.  There were musical sets by Baltimore bands Zemer Orchestra and Kol Chayim Orchestra, with a few other independent musicians, all organized and directed by Avraham Rosenblum of the Diaspora YeshivaBand (guitar and harmonica, sometimes at the same time) with Nossi Gross (sax, flute, and percussion) assisting.  The musical sets were interspersed with storytelling by four Baltimore rabbis – Rabbis Shmuel Silber, Binyamin Marwick, Menachem Goldberger, and Moshe Hauer.  The audience was enthralled by the storytelling, and energized by the music.

Each of the rabbis sat on a stool with a microphone to talk to the crowd and tell their story.  Each one started with words of chizuk that related to the mitzvah of giving to help this cause.  Then each one told a story.  Every story was very warm and special, and every rabbi had a tremendous rapport with the audience with their obvious love for Eretz Yisrael and their support for this fundraising effort.

Photo of Rav Goldberger taken by Frank Storch
Our Rav, Rabbi Menachem Goldberger, unique in this group with his long white beard, streimel, and black satin bekeshe with gold trefoils, put the audience in the palm of his hands with his first words, which were that he remembered when he was once the young rabbi in the group.  He gave a beautiful talk on giving, and then he told a very moving Chassidic story of how a secular Jew held onto the hand of the Bluzhever Rebbe as they were forced by the Nazis, yemach shemam, to jump over a pit to save their lives.  The Rebbe was in his 50s, and the pit was enormous, the task, impossible, but somehow, the two managed to make it over with the secular Jew stating he sailed over on the Rebbe’s coattails.  Rabbi Goldberger related this to how JobKatif pulls people to reach beyond their current state.

As Rabbi Goldberger talked about the expulsion from Gush Katif, there were tears in his eyes and a choke in his voice; this Chassidic Rabbi’s love of Eretz Yisrael and her people was palpable.  He cited a verse from L’Cha Dodi to connect to the work of JobKatif --

Shake yourself free, rise from the dust,
Hitna’ari me'afar qumi
התנערי מעפר קומי

Dress in your garments of splendor, my people
Livshi bigdei tifartekh ami
לבשי בגדי תפארתך עמי

That led to the band’s segue into the next musical set of the Rabbi Goldberger’s famous L’Cha Dodi niggun with the Rabbi singing and leading the tempo.  He soon pulled in Rav Rimon, Mike Lowenstein, and each of the Rabbis, forming a circle, with everyone dancing with fervor, some with closed eyes and faces gazing upward.  What an amazing sight to see a Chassidic rabbi, three Yeshivish rabbis, and two kippah seruga religious Zionists all up there dancing, all brought together by our Rabbi whose heart is in the East.  This picture will last in my memory.  The audience loved it, and so did the band.  It was an unforgettable evening that raised $40,000, which translated to $160,000 for JobKatif.

I just had to share with you this example of the wonder of Jewish people. 

Your friend from the Old Country,


For additional comments on this beautiful event, plus photographs and a short video synopsis, please take a look at the beautiful article in the Baltimore Jewish Life by Margie Pensak.  
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