January 19, 2011
Christian charity in Haiti is the Jewish thing to do
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It struck me, sitting on the plane next to this stranger: The world is full of goodness, people sacrificing and offering expertise to those who are bereft.
Saving Haiti is a stunningly daunting task. The nation was broken before the earthquake, and now it sometimes appears to be nothing but wreckage and ruin. But the glimmers amaze and hearten. Sitting with the kids, I suddenly heard one call out to the other, “Hey, Lewinsky!”
I couldn’t imagine many Haitian boys were named Lewinsky. When this handsome and charismatic young man was a boy, he was saved by a doctor named Lownsky (pronounced “Lewinsky”). The doctor, in obscure circumstances, was killed by rebel troops. The boy’s mother, who has since died, named her child Lownsky so that the man’s name would be remembered.
For Lewinsky Leflour and other children, the mission is their chance to build a life.
Writing about the experience on Facebook while I was in Port-au-Prince, I quoted Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, who said that religious people too often worry about their own bodies and other people’s souls, but we should really worry about our own souls and other people’s bodies. Here, step by step, it was happening. The on-site director, Herbert Studstill, told me he spends donations as soon as he gets them on improvements. “I learned in Haiti that only running water is clean. Rivers are clean. Keeping water in one place, it gains impurities. We aren’t about a pool of money, but a river of improvements.”
Six months ago, the “kitchen” was a single, old pot. Rice and beans were mixed in there every single night. Now they have a real kitchen: a new floor, a counter, a stove and utensils. Lorraine had been cooking for the children for 20 years. She wept when she saw her new kitchen.
It is hard not to weep when you see the video of the children seeing a shower for the first time, running in with their clothes on and spontaneously breaking into song. It is hard to contain yourself when you hear the kids singing at night, praising God, promising to make something of their lives. I felt my eyes well when I watched my old school friend — whose life at home is so celebrated and successful, who has taken six trips to Haiti since the earthquake — talk to the children who consider “Mr. Mitch” like a father and a savior. To realize what he has done and what he still hopes to do.
Really, the lesson is what the Mishnah teaches us: One who saves a life is thought of as if he saved an entire world. Down at Have Faith Haiti, worlds are being saved. How Jewish to contribute to this Christian mission. For Dona, for Lewinsky, for Julia; for all the parentless children who are still scared of the roof falling on their heads but with full bellies are getting into new beds on which to dream.
To learn how you can help, visit sinait Temple Haiti Fund or HaveFaithHaiti.org.
Rabbi David Wolpe is rabbi of Sinai Temple. You can follow his teachings on facebook.com/RabbiWolpe. Contribute through Sinai Temple Haiti Fund or at HaveFaithHaiti.org.