It’s been a great week here; we’ve gotten together with several friends who have made aliyah, we’ve visited Ramat Shilo/Ramat Beit Shemesh, Yad Binyamin (a wonderful Shabbos!), and Beer Sheva, and we’ve had a chance to breathe after the hectic year that just passed. Very, very good; a beautiful trip – and we still have two days left, thank Gd.
It has been hard to deal with one aspect of traveling around Israel, though: the constant call of people in economic need.
I knew they would be here; as a policy, I regularly purchase small items with large-shekel bills so that I’ll have the half-shekel and one-shekel coins to distribute to them. But this time it’s worse, at least in Yerushalayim. I don’t know that the general מצב (situation) is any worse, but it never hit me as hard before, probably because I wasn’t as exposed to the phenomenon.
The major sites for people sitting on the ground and calling for help, at least where we’ve been this trip, are the shuls and the תחנה מרכזית (central bus station). When I was here in yeshiva I rarely traveled. When I was here with Federation trips we rode charter buses rather than travel by city bus; we went to Yad Eliezer and youth villages, but that's not the same as the woman on the street with her hand out. I was here for work this past January, but that was a lightning trip – four days from beginning to end, including the flights. On this trip, though, we’ve spent a lot of time walking back and forth between Rechavyah and the תחנה, walking up and down King George/Strauss/Yechezkel, and walking from Rechavyah to the Old City. The result: Lots of exposure to people in need.
Many of them are the usual suspects – older men and women on the street, as well as chassidim of various varieties at the minyanim. But others, too. A young woman in a snood, looking very much like any number of women I saw in Yad Binyamin, at the תחנה last night. An apparently healthy young man in shul the other morning. And the woman who provided the title of this post, who has been stationed outside the תחנה (by the train-track construction, where you cross the street if you came in by intracity bus) every day for at least the past week, repeating in a monotone, “ילדה חולת סרטן, A little girl sick with cancer.”
I have a hard time with this. I am well aware that some of the collectors could go to work, and that many of the stories these people tell are false or colored. Still – how can you hear ילדה חולת סרטן and walk on? And yet, I did just a short while ago…
[This week's Haveil Havalim is here.]