It’s “sit back and smile” week on the JVO blog! Every so often, it’s helpful to look at some of the good things going on in our world. It’s been a serious couple of weeks, both in America and in Israel, and I don’t know about you, but I could use a smiley blog. So grab a cup of coffee and let’s dive in!
A Wheelchair for the Price of a Venti Coffee
An Israeli entrepreneur and an Israeli automation expert, having manufactured the first cardboard bicycles, are well on their way to rolling out the very first cardboard wheelchairs. The materials? Recycled cardboard, plastic bottles and recycled tires. Nimrod Elmish, the entrepreneur, has a simple motto: “Anything that you make out of wood, plastic or metal can be made of our materials.” He describes his new invention to Israel21c, an online news magazine known for showcasing Israeli innovation. The wheelchairs cost almost nothing to produce (the materials are under $10 per chair), especially when factoring in the rebates for using green materials. The low cost could literally change the lives of people living with disabilities. One nonprofit company has already expressed significant interest in buying wheelchairs to give away to disabled people in developing countries.
A Toy Story
Yonasan Schwartz, a Jewish toy store owner in Brooklyn has given away more than $10,000 worth of toys to children and families affected by Hurricane Sandy. He says, modestly, that he simply decided “to do a little sharing.” Anyone who walked into his store and said their home was affected by Sandy received a gift bag with $150 worth of toys. Schwartz understands about the attachment children feel to their toys, and how devastating it can be for them when the toys are gone. Schwartz hopes that the children will be able to love these new toys just as much.
We All Need Somebody to Lean On
Within moments of the military launching of Operation Pillar of Defense in Israel, the rest of the country launched its own operation to offer assistance of all kinds, both to residents of the south and to soldiers who were called up. Through Facebook, synagogues and city websites, central and northern Israelis gave what they could—food, lodging, respite, even entertainment. In my own neighborhood, cars and vans went down to the south, delivering food and goods to soldiers on base and toys to kids who were spending an inordinate amount of time in their safe rooms. Our city hall offered a day of free entertainment throughout the city—free entrance to parks, plays at the cultural center—to anyone from the south. And that was just in one city! Similar efforts occurred throughout the country, along with help from national organizations like Lev Darom. Read more about countrywide efforts to help the south.
A Belated Bar Mitzvah
And in happy-news-that-also-makes-you-cry, Ynet reports on a recent bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. But these were not squeaky-voiced 13-year olds. Rather, the 10 bar mitzvah boys were well into their 70s and 80s, survivors of the Shoah. The 10 survivors were called up to the Torah and said the blessings, surrounded by children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. None of these men had been able to celebrate properly when they were 13 because of the Nazi occupation of their hometowns. One survivor recalls that his parents tried to mark the day, despite the hardship and depravation. “There were no rabbis, because the Nazis had already killed everyone. There was no synagogue, either, because the Nazis had destroyed it.” And yet, here they stood, 70 years later, at Judaism’s holiest site, to finally, properly, tearfully, celebrate the occasion.
A Unique Holiday
Ethiopian Jews recently celebrated the holiday of Sigd. It is celebrated annually 50 days after Yom Kippur, on the 29th of Heshvan (this year, it was November 14). On this day, Ethiopian Jews engage in prayer and self-reflection, similar to that on Yom Kippur. The holiday used to be celebrated in Ethiopia; now that most Ethiopian Jews have made aliyah, it is celebrated in their new homeland. Ethiopian Jews congregate at the Kotel to read sections of the Torah and pray.
So? Feeling better? Interestingly, some of the “happy” moments are borne of tragedy. But I think that is what makes us unique, not just as Jews but as humans. The ability to take tragedy and suffering and from it, build something beautiful—that is definitely worth a smile.