By Leibel Baumgarten
There’s been talk lately about issues within our community, both Crown Heights and the frum community at large; about many of the problems that we face, and what is driving people away.
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share a partial list of my own experiences with “the community” in just the past couple of weeks.
As my wife’s grandfather lay sick in hospital, family and friends ensured someone was at his side almost 24/7. People with families of their own, full time jobs, and other responsibilities, stayed at the hospital through the night, walked for hours on Shabbos, and made numerous other sacrifices.
Since my wife gave birth to a son a few weeks ago, people have helped cared for our daughter; picking her up from school, feeding her, putting her to sleep. If we paid them market rates for the babysitting and housekeeping they’ve done for us, we’d be broke.
My mother in law went back and forth between hospitals, taking care of her parents and daughter simultaneously.
Satmar Bikur Cholim provided food in the hospital, and they also arranged a room filled with cots for families of patients to sleep over on Shabbos. Two of my wife’s sisters gave up enjoying a regular Shabbos with the entire family and “camped out” in the hospital for 28 hours just to be there for their sister.
As my grandfather lay ill, not communicating all that much, both he and his wife insisted the sholom zochor take place in their home. While my grandparents couldn’t even be there, their home played host to yet another simcha, as it had done for dozens of others previously. Many of those made by strangers — just people who needed a space.
When my wife came home from the hospital, the women of Shifrah and Puah began bringing her breakfast every morning. I’m talking 3 course gourmet breakfasts. People bring us delicious home cooked dinners — bringing it over smack bang in middle of the most hectic part of their day with their kids.
The night following our son’s bris, our grandfather sadly passed away. We again witnessed similar generosity, as trays of food were brought to the shiva house constantly and people helped out in any way they could.
A sister was ready to give up a full day’s work — and pay — to be with my wife and help her for the day of the levaya. That same sister cooked us an entire Shabbos. Oh, and she also hosted dozens of people for the kinus that Shabbos. The next week, she hosted more than 70 participants of the CTeen Shabbaton — her dining room fits about 20. (Shluchim, Anash and mekuravim will tell you she’s not alone — that Crown Heights is unparalleled in its hachnosas orchim.)
I could go on and on. This is but a glimpse into the past couple of weeks of our lives. The level thoughtfulness, generosity and kindness is mind blowing.
When I think about this overwhelming flood of compassion and giving, I can’t help but think we must be doing something right as a community.
You might say that I lucked into a large, caring family — and you would be right. But we’ve seen this kind of generosity offered to many others without that familial support. From the insane amount of hosting that Crown Heights does, to baking goodies for l’chaims and weddings of people never heard of, or making meals for new moms whose names aren’t known.
Yes, I know not everyone has it as good as me; that my experience is not representative of every Chabadnik, or even Crown Heightser. Not everyone is blessed with such an incredible support structure, and my good fortune does not mean our issues and challenges need not be discussed or addressed.
But when I see the sheer amount of people who so genuinely care about our well being, and lengths to which people have made personal sacrifices to help us out, I can’t help but be convinced, as cliche as it sounds, that this is the greatest community in the world.
This is a community where the failings of any one individual can be magnified and viewed as a blight on the entire “system.” How about giving it an opportunity — even if only for a brief moment — to pat itself on the back.
To all those who helped make up that list up there, and those who I neglected to mention — I can’t say it enough, but thank you, thank you, thank you.
At the same time, let’s try look out for those whose experiences don’t mirror mine; those who may have fallen through the cracks. If you see a “meal train” posted for a new mom, someone who perhaps doesn’t have a large family to back them up, put your name down. Even if your dinner isn’t as fancy as your neighbor’s, the thought and feeling of inclusivity will make a world of difference.