Op-Ed: Life Beyond Politics
The coming winter is going to be a hot one. The smell of it is already wafting through the national-religious community, which for some time now has been in the middle of an unprecedentedly egotistical primaries campaign.
For those who have had enough of advertisements saying how great one candidate is and how problematic another, here is a story about two national-religious pioneers in Judea and Samaria, one a fighter in the army and the other a fighter in the public sphere. Just a reminder that there is life beyond egocentric political campaigns.
The day before this past Yom Kippur, I was waiting for a hitchhike to a mikveh (ritual pool) in Gush Etzion. Yehuda Mali, an educator from the City of David in Jerusalem, stopped and gave me a ride. He also was on the way to a mikveh, he said: he was going to visit Menashe Mizrachi. Menashe is a purifying human mikveh whom it is quite fitting to visit prior to Yom Kippur, explained Yehuda.
I went with him.
For the past forty years, ever since the Yom Kippur War, Menashe has been paralyzed and confined to his home. He was a Shaked commando in the IDF back then, and took two bullets to his neck during the battles over the Suez Canal.
Seeing him and talking with him as another Yom Kippur approached nearly forty years later was indeed a purifying experience.
Our personal ambitions and achievements suddenly are much less impressive in light of one man’s struggle against the difficulties and complications of being paralyzed for decades.
But he didn’t say that. I’m the only one complaining here.
Menashe, the popular young man from the Bnei Akiva trips to the Judean foothills, who had the strength to carry the jerricans for his friends in arms and the endearing laugh to capture everyone’s heart, continues to laugh to this day in his bed. On this occasion he was having an especially happy time, since he had just returned from a long stay in the hospital.
He wasted no time reading the somber expression that came over my face when I entered.
“Smile!” he ordered. “Laugh! Give twenty percent! Be happy!”
“Twenty percent of his capacity to function and breathe,” explained his friend Yehuda.
Penina, Menashe’s wife, told me that she learns something new about faith from him every morning. When she asks Menashe how he’s doing, he answers, “Thank God! We’ve gotten up! We’re awake!”
For Menashe, every day he wakes up is a holiday. The prayer thanking Him “Who returns souls to deceased bodies” (“hamachazir neshamot lifgarim meitim”), which we say while still sleepy and bleary-eyed, is the song of his life. He was, after all, brought back from the dead, after being discarded among the ranks of bodies in the sand by the canal. His paramedic friend Avner saw signs of life and resuscitated him.
The struggle was not yet over. In the hospital, when the doctors had finished performing surgery, they called in Menashe’s relatives to say their farewells.
But the parting ceremony was cancelled due to Menashe’s immense love of life.
Today Menashe is a “settler” in Bat Ayin. His message: be happy with what you have, even if it is only twenty percent.
We went on to visit Rabbi Moshe Levinger.
Rabbi Moshe Levinger, the great leader of Jewish pioneers in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”), is now partially paralyzed as a result of a stroke. He is better known than Menashe, but only among those old enough to remember.
For our youth, it goes without saying that Jews live in Judea and Samaria. They have no memories of the mass movement of people to a new site to put facts on the ground, no memories of the legendary “Reb Moishe” pushing through the return of Jews to Hevron—and from there to the rest of Judea and Samaria.
Rabbi Levinger deserves the Israel Prize for all of his achievements.
On the other hand, then the Israel Prize would no longer be the Israel Prize and Reb Moishe would no longer be Reb Moishe …
The days when Reb Moishe would run tirelessly from place to place to recruit activists for the great revolution are long gone. Like Menashe, he was in mortal danger until he was successfully rehabilitated, and the complications are not all over.
My wife, who works as a nurse, tells me that a person’s greatness is on display when he is ill. Rabbi Levinger is no exception. His greatness is especially on display every Friday.
For years before he became ill, Rabbi Levinger would visit an old age home in Jerusalem every week to sing Shabbat songs (even some children’s songs!) and share words of Torah in advance of Shabbat.
This musical career of his began when he was sent there to perform community service in lieu of imprisonment for one of the illegal demonstrations that the “settler rabbi” organized. After Rabbi Levinger had finished serving his time, the doctor at the home contacted him and asked him to keep coming, and Rabbi Levinger agreed.
Hardcore activists of Gush Emunim wondered, how many leaders does our nation have who are so important, yet go to volunteer at an old age home? They took to accompanying him sometimes to participate, volunteer, and sing.
Recently, after Rabbi Levinger emerged from the hospital and from critical condition and recovered partially from his stroke, he asked to come back to the old age home.
Since then, every Friday, Rabbi Levinger leaves his home in Hevron and piles himself into a neighbor’s car with his wheelchair and attendant, and the laden vehicle makes its way to the old age home in Jerusalem.
The old-timers who knew him in better days ask how he is. He beams. “Everything is fine.” Despite the stroke, he still remembers all their names.
An old, blind pianist plays the songs. The other old-timers and the rabbi sing. They light candles in honor of Shabbat, say a blessing and smell besamim (spices). And finally the rabbi limps purposefully from one old-timer to another, wishing each one “Shabbat shalom.”
Shabbat shalom, everyone. There are good people in our country, and they are happy with what they have—even Menashe Mizrachi’s twenty-percent breathing and Rabbi Levinger’s twenty-percent walking.