Tikkun Olam: Also for the Orthodox

By: Dalya Hirt  |  October 19, 2017

In his speech to the United Nations in September–just prior to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year–Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reflected on the contributions Israel has made to the world over the past year and guaranteed that Israel will continue to contribute to all nations of the world in this coming year. He then listed a few of the amazing ways Israel was able to help various nations over the past year.

One of the things he mentioned was the work of Save a Child’s Heart. He referred to the impact made by the Israeli non-profit organization when he said, “you see it in the eyes of an Arab child, who was flown to Israel to undergo a life-saving heart operation.” Throughout his speech, Bibi put a lot of emphasis on how proud Israel is to be able to provide help to others. If he had made this speech just a few months ago, I would have thought it was an important message for the rest of the world but after my experience this past summer, I realize it’s an important message for the Jewish community as well.

This past summer, I had the good fortune to witness the amazing work done by Save a Child’s Heart firsthand. I spent my summer vacation as a volunteer helping care for the SACH children in Holon, Israel. These children have congenital heart defects and are brought to Israel from developing countries to receive lifesaving heart surgery. I was proud to be working for an organization that does such amazing work, but I was taken aback when members of the Orthodox community did not approve of my choice of chessed. One woman bluntly told me she did not think it was appropriate for me to be helping non-Jews when there are so many non-profit organizations that specifically help Jews.

In my defense, I found myself quoting passages from the book of Isaiah. Similar to Bibi in his speech to the UN, I explained that God made Israel a light unto the nations to bring salvation to the ends of the earth and that SACH is the one organization that I know of that truly epitomizes this description. I expounded that I too want to help Israel be a light unto other nations which is why I chose to volunteer for them.

Moreover, the Rambam’s Mishna Torah lists the levels of giving charity from the least to most honorable ways. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others. Once again, when it comes to an ideal embodiment of this, SACH is the first organization to come to my mind. The reason for this is that  not only do they fly children in desperate need of heart surgery to Israel to receive lifesaving treatment, but SACH also trains doctors and nurses from these developing countries so that their countries can become self-reliant. Once there are enough trained pediatric heart surgeons, children won’t need to be flown to Israel to receive treatment; they’ll be able to get the proper treatment in their home countries.

Our community is rightfully concerned that the goal of the BDS movement is to delegitimize the state of Israel. Both in Europe and on college campuses across America, Israel is viewed as a pariah state and, consequently, anti-semitism is on the rise. Israel’s humanitarian missions play an important role toward its acceptance into the community of nations. We cannot underestimate the value of the goodwill that is created by an organization like Save a Child’s Heart.

I wasn’t able to change this woman’s mind, and what she said and the reality of the selfishness that sometimes exists in our community continues to trouble me. At the end of the day, providing help to anyone, regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality, is an incredible act of kindness. I hope that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s message from his pre-Rosh Hashanah speech to the UN will inspire others to believe that and to extend that same compassion.