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Haiti and Israel
Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Haiti and Israel

Why Israel gives humanitarian aid whether or not it is appreciated or acknowledged.


It happened again in Haiti.

An earthquake struck leaving horrible devastation and death in its wake. Current estimates project more than 70,000 victims. In its aftermath, one result is an unfortunate possibility, the other a verifiable certainty.

The first is a wry observation by Amos Oz following the recent earthquake in Iran: “It is crystal clear to me,” he wrote, “that if Arabs put down a draft resolution blaming Israel for the recent earthquake in Iran it would probably have a majority, the U.S. would veto it and Britain and France would abstain.”

Having served as the scapegoats of history, Jews are no longer amazed when they are blamed for almost any misfortune, including even natural disasters. But what often escapes recognition is the other event that invariably follows a tragedy on the scale of a tsunami or an earthquake, be it anywhere on earth: the certainty that the state of Israel will reach out to give aid and assistance, to stretch out its hands in humanitarian spirit whether this help is appreciated or even acknowledged.

Sure enough the Israeli newspapers reported the story: “Israel sends aid as Haiti braces for massive death toll in quake. The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Wednesday prepared a rescue team for departure to the disaster-stricken country. The rescue team includes elite army corps engineers and medical corps ready to deploy field hospital, the Israeli consulate in New York reported.”

It is a response that deserves some explanation. To play devil's advocate for a moment, why wouldn't it be reasonable for Israel not to become involved with the justification that its own myriad problems deserve priority? Why must Israel take on the problems of others when there are so many needs at home that require attention and funds? What is the proper moral and ethical imperative for the Jewish people in terms of its relationships with “the others,” the very same nations who so often have turned their backs on Jews and their concerns throughout the centuries?

The answer for us must come from the Torah. And it is in the Torah, as our commentators point out, that God makes clear the standards by which He judges our attempts to seek spiritual perfection.

Three Degrees of Care

The man who achieved greatness more than any other was Moses. It was he who was given a call at the burning bush to lead the Jews out of Egypt and to bring them to Sinai to receive God's message to mankind. What was it that God saw in him to make him worthy of this mission? There are only three short stories recorded in the Bible about Moses before we learn of his selection. They all share one powerful theme. In each of them, Moses did not sit by passively in the presence of evil. He did not justify inaction with the claim that it was none of his business. He intervened and did whatever he could because he intuitively understood that all men are responsible one for another.

The three stories are well known. In the first, Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew to death and he killed him before the Egyptian could murder his innocent victim. In the second story, Moses saw two Hebrews fighting with each other and he broke up the quarrel. In the third story, after he had fled to Midian, he was upset to see shepherds taking advantage of some Midianite maidens who had sought water for their flock and he again intervened to save the young girls from these bullies.

The defining characteristic of greatness: the willingness to intercede when witness to the difficulties faced by others.

These are the only three things the Torah sees fit to record about the life of the man divinely chosen for greatness. In Jewish law a threefold repetition assures constancy of character. Three times Moses demonstrated the one trait more than any other that God used as the defining characteristic of greatness and leadership -- the willingness to intercede when witness to the difficulties faced by others.

So much for a simple understanding of the story. On a far deeper level however it did not escape the attention of the rabbis that these three stories represented a sequence with a powerful theological message. In an ascending order of difficulty, the stories conveyed three levels of our understanding of the principle that we are all responsible one for another.

The first story called for a response when Moses witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. The victim was a fellow brother; the assailant a self-proclaimed enemy. It is the easiest kind of incident to elicit an active response. In modern terms it would be the equivalent of a Jew witnessing an anti-Semite, a Nazi or a member of Hamas about to slaughter a fellow Jew. Intervention is almost assured. Who could sit by and watch an innocent murdered by an avowed enemy of one's own people?

In the second story, the identity of the combatants changed. It was now Jew versus Jew. Anti-Semitism no longer played a role. The test for Moses was to see whether he would be equally incensed and moved to action if there was no outsider involved. And Moses was up to the task. He passed this test as well.

The most difficult one yet awaited him. He was now in a foreign land. Neither the offending bullies nor the harassed maidens had any relationship to him. He knew not the victims or the assailants. Simply put, what was happening before him had no personal connection to his life -- other than the fact that fellow human beings were in danger and he was in a position to help. The third and final test was the one that we are faced with every time a situation arises when it is not our family, our people or our nation is threatened but only other human beings with whom we share but one thing -- our common creation in the image of God.

It was because Moses passed this final test of his character that he became our greatest hero. It is with this characteristic that he must also serve as our ultimate role model.

I take great pride in our people whenever we respond to the challenges of anti-Semitism around the globe. I think it is admirable as well when Jews with different religious, political and communal views learn to live together in harmony and do not ignore attacks on each others' rights and privileges. But what thrills me more than anything else is when I learn that inevitably one of the very first nations to respond to the human needs of a disaster, such as an earthquake in Haiti, is the State of Israel. That is what reassures me that we have never lost that trait which made Moses so beloved to God -- and which enables us to continue to fulfill our mission of tikkun olam, repairing the world.

Here is contact information for some of the better known organizations involved in the relief effort.

American Red Cross National Headquarters
2025 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006

88 Hamilton Ave.
Stamford, CT USA 06902

American Jewish World Service
45 West 36th Street, 11th floor
New York, NY 10018-7904

Orthodox Union - Haiti Earthquake Disaster Fund
11 Broadway, 14th Floor
New York, NY 10004

American Friends of Magen David Adom - MDA Emergency Disaster Fund
352 Seventh Avenue, Suite 400
New York, NY 10001

Click on the players below to watch Israeli efforts in Haiti:




January 14, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 58

(58) Daniel Augustave, March 4, 2011 9:28 PM

As you know, Haiti and Israel have a lot in common from historical and geographical view. I believe that Haiti could benefit from the advance in agricultural technology which Israel knows. I do believe that Haiti could be economically self sufficient if our people invest more in agriculture and farming. My country need more and more people trained in agriculture field. Unfortunately Haiti has no agricultural technique school, if it is possible I would like to make a request for a scholarship in agricultural technique because I want to help my country in that way.

(57) mandla, February 23, 2010 9:58 AM

Living in another man's land

There is no country on earth where there are no Jews. Jews are best qualified to speak about oppression because in almost all the couintries they live or have lived, they have been victims of oppression, victimiisation, persecution at one time or another because of their religion. And in no one did they achieve peace by outdoing the violence, hate and persecution of their oppressors. The greatest challenge for Jews: is how Jews treat the non-Jews in Israel. This is a profound question in which with introspection must be answered with absolute sincerity for each person for themselves. What Jews demand for themselves everywhere in the world (pursuit of happiness, religion, peace without hindrance) should be reciprocated in Israel if not exceeded because as custodians of G-d's very oracles they are obligated to do so not by choice but by religious law. In a world of scarce resouces, and increasing national appetites for well being, power, resources, and prestige it is very easy to oppress others, to overtake others because we are economically swifter and smarter, to insist on what we must have as a birthright before we can start doing good to others, and without knowing it create a much hateful, resentful, hopeless, destructive, grossly selfish world where victims only think of suicide and killing others. The side of reality in which we perceive Islamic hate and anti-semitism also reflects the other part we dare not lightened up with G-d's light. Much as anti-semitismi is perceived to be irrational, and utterly evil; that which we pursue without moral evaluation - that which is an end of itself without reflecting on the methods we use to attain it, also dulls our innate and intrinsic value as reflectors of G-d's image. Today we look up at the children of Israel and try to understand how they deal with intractable problems of extreme and lethal hate by Arabs. We often wonder can G-d really resort to violence in order to achieve His peace?

(56) Aryeh, February 3, 2010 5:49 AM

Precision Order

Think you Israel for your precise and explicit order with helping the people of Haiti. I truely know that God is with you.

(55) Lauren Stok, February 2, 2010 10:08 AM

Thank you to all who helped!

A beautiful thing happened to me yesterday, and I thought I would share it. Yesterday, after my last class of the day ended at NYU, I stood outside chatting with one of my classmates on a corner. Another nursing student, a woman I know by sight but not by name, walked over to me. "You... you're a Jew, right?" IShe asked me if I was from Israel, and I said no, though I had lived there for a short time. "I just wanted to say to someone from Israel... to any Jew really... *thank you*, because Israel, they're the only ones really helping my country." "Are you from Haiti?" I asked. "Yes, and the Israelis are the only ones who brought X-Rays!" She began to cry. "America that is so great and big and powerful - and only Israel brought X-Rays and are really helping." Every morning we ask G-d to "crown Israel with splendor." I guess this is what that means. No one has ever "thanked" me for being Jewish before! I was so proud of the Jewish people and our capacity for helping others.

(54) gedion ketente, January 25, 2010 9:21 AM

Israel good works of aid amaze the whole world.

am a kenyan and since the kenyan bomb blast of 8th August 1998, I have always recognised, marveled and appreciated on how Israel has saved thousands of lives all over the world. may The good Lord bless Israel.

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