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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Mitzvah Angels


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Every bar mitzvah is special, but some are more special than others.

Thirteen years ago, our son was born with a rare and life-threatening condition. The first few years were touch and go. Each milestone in his life carried extra significance.

There is so much we take for granted when a healthy baby is born. He can breathe, suckle, and move. But when a child is born sick, we are given a special pair of glasses that open our eyes to the miracles in the seemingly mundane life events.

Our son’s bar mitzvah preparations were especially emotional. We had merited seeing our very sick baby blossom into a sweet young man with many friends and a good heart. He still had some challenges, but he was – by the grace of Hashem – doing beautifully.

We live in Eretz Yisrael and have little family here. Most of our family could not make it to the celebration. But we could not image the bar mitzvah without Grandpa.

Grandpa comes to visit often, and always stays with us for weeks at a time. He is so much a part of the texture of our lives that even when he’s not here, we tell each other Grandpa jokes and refer to “Grandpa’s seat” and “Grandpa’s room.”

The only problem was that Grandpa had gotten too old to travel by himself. Generally, Grandpa travels with family. But since nobody was coming from the U.S. in time for the bar mitzvah, how were we to get Grandpa to Israel?

We live in Beit Shemesh, a city with many wonderful people. We sent a message to the local e-mail list, and found an amazing lady who stepped forward and volunteered to escort Grandpa from New York to Israel. She was going to be in the U.S. for a simcha, and was delighted to help out. We were able to book Grandpa’s ticket on her flight.

This woman was like a dream come true. She had experience working with the elderly and was willing to help Grandpa check in his luggage, get the airport wheelchair, keep an eye out for him on the plane, push his wheelchair when they had to change planes, and see him through customs at Ben Gurion Airport. She understood how uncomfortable it was for him to accept that he could not be as independent as before. So she was planning to tell him that he was helping her. How wonderfully everything was working out.

Four days before Grandpa’s flight, our plans hit a snag. Forty minutes before Shabbat, someone called to let us know that Grandpa had no way of getting to the airport. How in the world were we, in Israel, supposed to figure out how to get Grandpa from Brooklyn to JFK?

Out of desperation, I called someone in Brooklyn to ask if she could drive Grandpa, but she wasn’t able to help. Then she said something that sounded as if it came right out of a comic strip:

“Wait! Why don’t you call the Mitzvah Man?”

“Mitzvah Man? You must be joking!”

I was waiting for her to say, “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane .” I truly hoped that Hashem would show me the way out of this very stressful dilemma, but I didn’t count on Him to have such a great sense of humor about it.

But she meant it. She even gave me Mitzvah Man’s phone number and website address. Yes, Mitzvah Man has a website!

With the clock ticking toward Shabbat, I had no time to lose. I called Mitzvah Man. Much to my delight, Mitzvah Man answered the phone.

It was clear from the background noise that Mitzvah Man was a busy workingman. Within the first 30 seconds of the conversation, I knew that I had found the person who could help me. While he listened to my story, he kept his business running, listened to workers and gave instructions – all the while working out a way to solve my problem. Talk about multi-tasking! They say that if you want something done, ask a busy person.

Mitzvah Man came up with a two-pronged solution: try finding a volunteer, but as a backup, line up a responsible cab driver. Grandpa didn’t just need someone to pick him up and drop him off; he needed someone who would help him carry his luggage from the apartment door to the car, and to stay with him at the airport until he met his plane escort. I could almost see Mitzvah Man’s gears turning. Before we were off the phone, he already had the cab driver lined up as a backup, but he was still trying to find a volunteer. He took my contact information and said that he would work on it.

Imagine my surprise when I found an e-mail from Mitzvah Man waiting for me after Shabbat. Not only had he found a volunteer to get Grandpa to the airport, but the volunteer had already been in touch with the plane escort and they had already worked out where to meet. The weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.

“Who is like Your people Israel?”

The volunteer turned out to be a lovely young bride. When I spoke with her, she made me feel as if I was doing her a favor by giving her the opportunity to do this mitzvah.

Where do such people come from?

First, Mitzvah Man, a very busy workingman, found a way to fit chesed into his schedule. Then, a young bride took the time to drive an elderly man to the airport. Finally, a sweet woman volunteered to escort a total stranger on the plane trip from New York to Israel.

Where do people like this come from? I’ve been thinking about that a lot.

I thank all these amazing Mitzvah Men and Women from the bottom of my heart.

Every bar mitzvah is special.

But my son’s bar mitzvah was especially special. He had his Grandpa with him.

Thank you.

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The highway was packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, and there I sat with hands gripped tightly on the steering wheel, begging the cars to move. My heart swelled at the thought of seeing my son, who was just coming back from his year of learning in Eretz Yisrael. How I had missed him! Though I was used to him being away (if you can ever really get used to a child being away), a special space in my heart was empty – as I waited for him.

We live in a world that is often too cruel and unkind. Living in Israel for the last 30 years, I have attended too many funerals for those whose lives were taken through incomprehensible acts of terror. During the years of the second intifada there were many days that I found it impossible to continue teaching, as a student would burst into my classroom and announce that there had been another terrorist attack. How could I just go on with a regular lesson when lives were lost?

Once a week or so some of my friends and I get together for activities and a little socializing. Over time I have gone through some personal changes and growth, and I sometimes feel out of place with these girls, some of whom I have known for years. I experienced a real struggle during a recent get-together that will surely have a long-lasting impact on me.

The Schwartzes had three vehicles but only two drivers. At any given time the third vehicle, the 2005 red Ford van, could be seen on different driveways throughout the neighborhood – and sometimes even in Miami Beach and Hollywood, Florida. The Schwartzes kept a third vehicle, knowing that not everyone had a car.

In 2001, the year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, my husband and I were both in mourning for close relatives. As a woman, I did not have the responsibility of attending a minyan to recite Kaddish. So I never realized how complicated it could get.

Note to readers: When I heard the words, “You give us seven minutes and we’ll give you the world” on the radio at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, July 13, I never thought that what I was about to hear would shake me to the core and change my world forever. I could not come to myself – and I’m sure most of klal Yisraelcouldn’t either. So I sat down and the following poem spilled forth. Because it is written in a simple style, simple enough for any child to understand, I hope it does not seem to trivialize what happened; it is just my humble reaction to an earth-shattering event.

My husband of 40 years is always ready to help people. He is also very kind to his family and is always eager to embark on a family outing. However, he has one stipulation. He would rather not drive long distances at night, as he has had challenging experiences driving in the dark in fog, rain and other inclement weather.

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