(I received the following article [from which I’ve excerpted what follows] from Chani Getter, who was the author of an earlier post on “community”: https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/7-12-11-community-vs-individuality/)
The Art of Making the Impossible Possible
by Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum
A LESSON LEARNED
I am not a Satmar chossid by any means. I am far from it. Being stranded with some 80 Jews, among them several Satmar chassidim, atop Killington Mountain in Vermont [during and after Hurricane Irene], however, gave me reason to become a chossid of at least one aspect of their worldview, an aspect that I would like to share…Not just as a token of hakoras hatov [gratitude] to them for all that they did for my family and the 18 other stranded families, but rather because I think that there is much that we, as a community, can learn from them.
KOL HASHEM SHOVER ARAZIM!
Boruch Hashem, our rendezvous with Hurricane Irene ended with our arrival home early last Wednesday morning, absolutely exhausted, but exulting in Hashem’s kindness after witnessing the absolute devastation and destruction wrought on the state of Vermont.
It is impossible to describe what we saw as we left central Vermont, other than that it looked like a war zone. Roads were literally “bombed” out, with massive chasms along both sides of every road, and ripped-up, twisted pavement and metal guardrails spilling into raging rivers. We drove in the middle of those roads on what had once been the two yellow lines, terrified that one wrong move, one turn of the wheel or shifting of the already puckered pavement, would bring us in direct contact with those raging rapids.
We saw houses and cars floating downstream. It was heartbreaking to see local residents sitting outside what had once been their houses or farms, shell-shocked as they watched their possessions, their life’s work, literally swallowed up before their eyes. They were helpless. Nothing they could have done would have prevented that.
Kol Hashem shover arazim!
ACTION, NOT HAND-WRINGING
Let us, however, return to our Satmar friends. They were by no means the majority in our group. They were just a few families. But as soon as it became clear that the situation was dire and that it was conceivable that we would not be leaving for a few days, they sprang into action.
While the rest of us were engaging in hand-wringing and speculation as to what our plight would be and when the authorities would get us out, they were working the phones.
“Look, we don’t have enough food,” one of them told me. “We have to figure out a way to get food flown in. We can’t very well let families, especially families with small children, have little or nothing to eat.”
About two hours later, while I was contemplating how to stretch some oatmeal and peanut butter to last a few days, they told me with a sense of pride that “by tonight, a helicopter would bring us ‘kol tuv’ [all good things].”
That is exactly what happened.
CHANGING THE FOCUS FROM “IF” TO “HOW”
How did they do it?
It was a combination of factors. Perhaps the first crucial factor was a deeply ingrained devotion to chessed…
The second factor is a different approach to life and serving the public than that which we are accustomed to. The basic working premise that my newfound Satmar friends displayed as soon as the problem crystallized was, “There’s a solution to the problem.” End of sentence.
“We’ll solve the problem with Hashem’s help. The question is only how: how much money [do we need to help], and [how much] work it’ll involve.” [note: these are meant as “strategic” questions, not resistant ones]
Their phone calls led them to the Chesed Shel Emes organization, which has connections to the Coast Guard and FEMA. They worked government channels and got permission to fly to Vermont and land a helicopter on Killington Mountain. When it became clear that they couldn’t get a government helicopter, they simply paid for a private one.
How did they accumulate enormous amounts of food in a matter of hours? Simple. Chaverim of Kiryas Yoel and others circulated among numerous businesses in Kiryas Yoel, Monsey and Brooklyn, seeking donations. The special Yidden, the proprietors, gave “b’yad rechavah” with a generous hand.
“People are stuck? Of course we’ll help them!”
… The entire effort, from beginning to end, was donated. Chessed Shel Emes, Reb Isaac Lieder and Chaverim didn’t ask for a penny. They didn’t want anything in return. They just saw a need and filled it.
They transformed what we saw as “impossible” to “possible.” Why? Because for them it was never impossible. The question wasn’t, “Can [or: should]we do it?” but rather, “How can we do it?”…
THE QUESTION: “WHY?”
…Why, when you are a recipient of their chessed, do they give you the feeling that they are happier to be performing the chessed than you are to receive it?
Perhaps the answer lies with the great gaon and tzaddik, the Satmar Rov, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l. One of the foundations that he literally hammered into the mindset of his chassidim is that chessed must be done, no questions asked.
It doesn’t matter who the recipient is or if his ideology is different or even opposed to yours. If he is a fellow Yid, you must drop everything to help him. The Rebbe insisted that young children and bochurim go around collecting funds for tzedakah so that they will understand how it feels to collect and they will be imbued with a culture of giving. There is still no Bikur Cholim organization that can compete with the size and scope of the Satmar Bikur Cholim. That deeply ingrained feeling of responsibility for Jews, especially Jews in difficult situations, is where so much of their creative energy is channeled…
Perhaps it’s time to emulate this Satmar approach to public service and chessed. Perhaps it’s is time to train our youth – and adults – to give unconditionally, to love to give, to desire to give, to take pride in giving.
You don’t have to be a Satmar chossid to be a chossid of Satmar chessed. Let’s try it!