Friday, July 17, 2009

Thursday Morning

Our first meeting on Thursday morning (Neal, Steve Kerbel and I) was with Karyn London of Atzum. Karyn is a social worker and the coordinator of the Survivors of Terror Project. This Project, which is one of three that Atzum gives its attention to, focuses on those individuals and families whose lives have been irreparably shattered by terrorist actions – especially when the individual is the main provider for the family.

Karyn spoke knowledgeably and compassionately about the difficulties facing many of these families. Physical injuries are only part of the damage done: PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) is often a by-product as well. What makes PTSD particularly difficult (for those who’ve never seen a loved one experience it) is that the flashbacks can be caused by any one of a number of triggers: sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes. Triggers are not only difficult to identify, but they may affect an individual at random and unexpected times. Just telling people “it’s done, put it behind you and move on with your life” doesn’t work (would that it could).

So Karyn and her team of people provide assistance to survivors of terrorism and their families through such supports as tuition assistance for retraining; taxi rides to and from schools for children who were injured in a bus bombing between their home and school; and orthopedic household equipment for those suffering from chronic pain as a result of their injuries. This support allows the survivors to regain the sense of dignity necessary to each individual and (in my opinion) changes people from "victims" to "survivors."

[Note: Atzum also works with the Righteous Among Nations and has a Task Force on Human Trafficking.]


Our second meeting of the morning was with the Rabbanit Bracha Kappach.

The Rabbanit has been doing tzedakah work for over 45 years. She got her start by helping a sick neighbor – cleaning for her, caring for her, and cooking for her. She hasn’t stopped caring for people since then! In 1964, she began distributing packages of food for Pesach/Passover. In the intervening years, she has distributed packages to over thousands and thousands of people.

During the hour and a half we were there, her phone never stopped ringing – people calling for help; people offering to help. We peeked into her “warehouse” area – a partially closed-in balcony where there were stacks of flour, sugar, oil, and other staples. It looked like a lot of food to me, but Steve whispered that her stores were more depleted than he’d seen before.

In addition to her annual Pesach food distribution, the Rabbanit also provides food for many people each week for Shabbat. Early on Friday morning, people who have no other resources show up at her door for staples, a chicken, some challah and perhaps some juice. She gets prepared foods from Moshe Kot of the Lev Ramot Organization. Lev Ramot picks up uneaten food from catered affairs and delivers it anonymously to people who are hungry. He calls the Rabbanit when he has food he knows she can use.

So often we think that there’s little that one individual can do to “make a difference.”

I once had the privilege of being in the first row when Margaret Mead was speaking at my college, a few short years before her death in 1978. I remember clearly her message to us that day: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

As I was with the Rabbanit yesterday, I kept remembering Margaret Mead, and realizing that I was in the presence of someone who has, indeed, changed the world.

[One of the things that brought joy to the Rabbanit’s face was when she told us that she and her husband, Rav Kappach, were the only husband and wife to have both won the Israel Prize: he for his scholarship work; and she for tzedakah work. Tzedakah, she told us, is not a choice; it’s an obligation/a mitvah/something we are commanded to do.]

A morning spent with people intent on repairing the world is a morning rich with experiences and memories.

These are two of the many tzedakah opportunities the Mitzvah Heroes Fund supports.

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