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An Invisible Need, An Absent Gemach

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Over the years, our community has become greatly enriched by the proliferation of a diversity of gemachs.

Yet there is one gemach that, to the best of my knowledge, is not found in any community but that now more than ever would benefit us the most.

Gemachs were among the first institutions established by Jewish immigrants to the United States from Eastern Europe. One reason for their prevalence was that banks were reluctant to give loans to low-income Jewish borrowers.

While gemachs are best known for loaning people money on a short-term or long-term basis, the gemach concept today has expanded to include tangible goods for almost every need in the life cycle, everything from cribs to car seats, wedding gowns to washing machines, Sifrei Torah to sefarim, walkers to wheelchairs.

Gemachs fulfill financial, physical and even spiritual needs with well-managed loans that provide relief and respite for those in extreme circumstances. Understanding the importance of these gemachs, individuals of greater means lend money to the gemachs or stock it with necessities. Countless people rely on the generosity of these donors and gemachs, and the cycle continues.

But even with all these well-functioning gemachs, there remains, as mentioned above, a dire need in our community for another gemach, one that will meet the community’s metaphysical needs and whose loan terms transcend time or place: The emotional gemach.

Tragically, a growing number of people – children and teens, men and women – feel marginalized by our community and are even viewed as outcasts. Yet they have done nothing wrong to deserve this and have worked hard to lead healthy and productive lives.

These individuals include survivors of sexual abuse, women abused by their husbands, the spouses and children of abusers, and family members of those convicted of egregious crimes.

These individuals committed no crime. Quite the contrary. But by disclosing and reporting the wrongful actions of others – often a person they knew and trusted – they have placed themselves in an unwanted and unfortunate position. They have become the topic of whisperers in the community – sophisticated whisperers at that.

A child or adult survivor of sexual abuse who overcomes his or her inner conflict and braves disclosure should be given the emotional support of the community. Such a person should not be branded as a moser and turned into an outcast. To the contrary, such an individual should be praised and supported as someone who has put the interest of protecting others above his or her own personal turmoil.

An unknowing wife whose husband is arrested and convicted of sexual abuse should receive the emotional support of her extended family, friends and the community. More often she is shunned, asked to leave her apartment, loses her job, and for good measure her children are expelled from school – all for a crime she neither committed nor had knowledge of.

The woman whose husband physically or verbally abuses her, mercilessly sapping her emotional and physical strength, requires emotional plasma rather than pity, stares or whispers.

The divorced and lonesome ex-husband without his kids and a divorced and drained ex-wife with her kids often feel alienated from the community from which they desperately seek communal and emotional support.

The woman whose husband embezzled millions of dollars from members of his own community – and feels so ashamed that she is compelled to relocate and uproot her children from school and friends – needs a lifeline.

The teenager going through adolescent turmoil who does not conform to the community’s mode of dress or behavior will feel even more isolated, vulnerable and consumed with self-doubt when rejected by a yeshiva for not fitting in. He requires emotional acceptance and compassionate understanding, not communal rejection.

Why is it that individuals such as these who require our emotional support not only fail to receive it but in fact are often ostracized?

We need an emotional gemach in every community – a gemach to which each of us who possesses a heart, patience and understanding can contribute our time to provide emotional support in moments of turmoil and self-doubt to those who can then draw from it and rebound.

Why not replace five minutes of gossip with an hour of support?

A monetary loan, furniture or other physical items may also be needed by these individuals, but each and every one requires an intangible good – an emotional lift.

In the Mi She’Berach l’Cholim, the prayer for the sick we recite every Shabbos morning, we beseech Hashem to first heal the soul and then the body. The soul, the emotional state, often requires greater solace than the body.

Many people at this time of year contribute to maos chittim, a fund to purchase food for the needy. Many others contribute to a gemach. We can name this new emotional gemach “Chizuk Neshamos,” the strengthening of souls.

Think about how you and your community can create the structure to fill this need. How can each of us help provide a gemach of emotional support?

Az Yashir Moshe is a song of praise to Hashem for the Jewish nation’s physical and spiritual journey from Egypt to Israel, from bondage to freedom. Countless people today require the equivalent of an emotional journey from isolation to acceptance, from inner turmoil to emotional freedom.

Let’s help them with our emotional support and provide them with Chizuk Neshamos.

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