I am sickened to hear the recent reports from Israel concerning eight-year-old Naama Margolese who is afraid to go to school because “orthodox” extremists spat on her and called her a whore for dressing “immodestly.” In addition to violating the biblical commandment of Ahavas Israel, and Maimonides warning against extremism, this fanatical behavior can have disastrous consequences.
Some 30 years ago I was asked to meet with an Israeli woman who was involved with the Church of Scientology. Here is her story.
When she was 12 years old her uncle took her by train from her home town of Haifa to Jerusalem. This first trip to the holy city would be her special Bat Mitzvah present. Upon arriving at the old Jerusalem train station she got separated from her uncle and turned to a religiously dressed man for help. She was wearing a sleeveless top because of the summer heat and the individual who could have helped her, decided it was more important to spit on her because he disapproved of her immodest dress.
She cried uncontrollably and eventually told her uncle that if this is the way religious Jews act she want nothing to do with them or their religion.
Years later during the six-day-war she was assigned to a unit in the Sinai and witness the depression war brought upon the soldiers. Out of nowhere she heard music and witnessed a bus load of Chabadniks arrive with a friendly smile and a few L‘Chaims. She thought to herself, “Maybe not all religious Jews are bad.”
After the war she married and settled down in Haifa. Her first daughter was born with a disability that prevented her from walking. Every hospital told her there was no hope. In desperation they traveled to visit medical experts in London and New York. The prognosis was awful. Nothing could be done.
Depressed and out of money she sat on a New York City park bench holding her daughter and crying. A taxi stopped and the driver asked if she needed a ride. Upon hearing her situation the Israeli driver said, “Let me take you somewhere you can get help.” He dropped her off outside the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s office in Brooklyn. The Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Binyomin Klein greeted her in Hebrew and invited them to stay with his family. He also arranged to have all the medical records presented to the Rebbe for his advice and blessing. Weeks passed and the Rebbe finally recommended she move to Los Angeles. With nothing to lose she accepted the Chassidim’s financial assistance and traveled to LA.
It was a USC Medical Center where is discovered a new treatment that helped her daughter. Then on Yom Kippur her daughter had a relapse and needed to go to the emergency room. She asked a neighbor for a ride and once again contrary to Jewish law a “religious” and dare I say ignorant Jew, refused to help her. Some secular Israelis came to the rescue and drove them to the hospital and though there friendship introduced her to Scientology.
I was able to help her see though the propaganda of Scientology and invited her to Shabbat dinner at the original Westwood Chabad House. I will never forget the moment she arrived with her husband and daughter who walked in unassisted. She sat with my wife singing Shabbat songs together. I started crying and thanked God for the opportunity to witness this miracle.
For the third time this woman, who could have been turned off to Judaism forever, saw that not all religious Jews are bad and this time she committed herself to staying actively involved in Jewish life.
As the Talmud teaches, we must ask ourselves if our actions save a Jewish life or destroy it. Do we draw a person close with kindness or push them away with anger.
I hope the extremists wake up and realize they are making a horrible mistake and I also hope Naama reads this story and it warms her heart and gives her hope.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is the founder and director of Jews for Judaism International. He is dedicated to keeping Jews Jewish and can be reached at la@JewsForJudaism.org