Doing what has to be done

Doing what has to be done

As we’ve noted so many times, stories in this paper often tend to be linked thematically. It’s almost always coincidental, and it can be striking.

This week’s paper is almost our momento mori issue. Remember that you will die!

It’s not very cheery, which might be appropriate for the week leading into Tisha B’Av, with its message not as much of unavoidable death but of the senseless hatred that might get us there.

This week’s cover story about Ukraine certainly is a story about sinat chinam — the senseless hatred of groups that are nearly indistinguishable from each other but wish each other dead.

Certainly there are some very real differences.

First, the hatred isn’t between Jews, but Slavs — the Russians and the Ukrainians. And it’s not about acts of provocation, even if at times accidental, from both sides; the war in Ukraine is unprovoked, except in Vladimir Putin’s foul brain; it’s the invasion of one country by another, Russian war crimes, destruction aimed at civilians whose crime was to be born Ukrainian.

Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, whom we write about in the cover story, is in this country to raise money to help support the civilians and soldiers who are at risk in this war; we hope our readers choose to support his organization, Mitzvah for Ukraine, as well as other organizations that are working to help Ukrainians, both as they stay in the country and as they flee it.

The other story is about Jewish communities that have died natural deaths, as changing demographics, economics, and assumptions have taken people other places, far from home.

We are struck by what Dr. Alanna Cooper — the scholar who was in the field researching the Bukharan Jewish community just as the Soviet Union fell and its members were free to reestablish themselves in Israel, and who more recently has studied the vanishing communities across this country — told us.

Communities have natural lifespans, just as people do, she said. They generally live for much longer — they span many generations — but eventually they die, and new ones, with different configurations and cultures, are born.

The people who stay and take care of what’s left behind — of the objects, the material things, and also of the memories and the legacy — take on unglamorous, hard jobs; often they just fall into them, by virtue of being among the last people left. But they stay and they do them.

There are no thanks, no gala dinners, no pictures in community weekly newspapers. No plaques. It’s just the sweeping up afterward, wrapping things up and putting them away. Being dutiful, and doing it out of stubborn love.

It’s chesed shel emet; the act of lovingkindness — of honest decency — that you do when you have no chance of being repaid for it. You do it because it has to be done.

That’s what the heroes of all this week’s stories are doing.

As we approach Tisha B’Av this year, and as we think about the deep rifts and dark chasms that mar our world, and about the monsters that lurk inside them; as we think about the sinat chinam that cause those rifts and chasms to widen, and seduce some of us to think with glee about pitching our enemies into them, it would be so much better if instead we could concentrate on the heroes.

If at least occasionally we could honor the quiet givers, the unsung doers, the people who undertake a task because someone has to do it.

Then we’d have a better world.

We wish our readers an easy and meaningful fast.


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