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Judaism: When It Becomes too Much...

A young girl from Australia, deals in a poignant way, with Jewish loss and tragedy. And a memorial for a wonderful teacher that turns into a message for all of us.
Published: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 6:00 AM


The past few weeks for the Jewish world globally have been indescribably devastating. 

A short while before the Seder, a wonderful father and officer was shot dead by terrorists as he drove to Kiryat Arba with his wife and children.

Three Jews were murdered by an anti-Semitic KKK member in Kansas.

And in the Chabad community of which I am a member:

We stood, helpless to the sudden loss of Rashi Minkowitz, a young mother of 8, who suddenly died unexpectedly in her sleep at the age of 37.

Yossi Fail, a 16-year-old Chabad bochur from Buenos Aires, passed away from a brain tumour found only on Purim. The brain tumour quickly spread over his body, and he shockingly passed away, 2 days later.

Peritz Sontag, a businessman who was missing since the Friday before Purim, was found in his car after having passed away.  

Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, Head Shliach of Illinois, passed away unexpectedly after going through a minor surgery, he was only 59.

Rabbi Yisroel Baruch Butman, Shliach to Naharia, Israel, fell into a coma during the past week, and passed away at the age of 55, leaving his young children without a father.

Devorah Leah Grumach, a daughter of a Lubavitch couple who are shluchum in India was diagnosed with a fungal infection and passed away, at only 10 months. 

And a heartbreaking personal tragedy for me, and the Australian Jewish community, the passing of our beloved, friend and teacher Mrs Rivky Barber.

Mrs Barber was my teacher in year 4, and I will never forget that year. I remember on the first day of school in year 4 when I found out that Mrs Barber would be my teacher, I was overjoyed.  My initial seat was in the back of the classroom, and I was disappointed, because I wanted to sit in the front of classroom, so I could concentrate better and learn.

I remember Mrs Barber looked at me with one of her indescribable faces that made you just want to laugh, and said quizzically, “Why would you want move to the front?” To which I replied, “Because I want to have a good view”.  “A good view of what,” she said, “Me!?”

Every time a student walked into her classroom, there was not a dull face in the class. She could brighten up anything, and I mean that. She would teach us with so much love, care, enthusiasm and devotion. She connected to us, in a way no other teacher could. I always remember laughing in her classes- she was so funny and outgoing!

She taught me some very valuable lessons in my life, which I will take with me forever. She always used to say in her New York accent, “You should have, you could have, you would have, but you didn’t.”

She knew how to deal with our rowdy selves, and was very musical. I remember her playing the piano at our school assembly when we were singing, ‘Padah V’shalom.’ (A Psalm, Perek Tehillim.) She also taught me Birchas Yaakov, Jacob's blessings to his sons, and to this day, I still know it all by heart.

When we found out around 6 months ago that Mrs Barber had cancer, we were all shocked. Straight away prayer campaigns were set up in her honour to have a Refuah Sheleima, complete recovery.

It still hasn't hit me that Mrs Barber is no longer here physically with us. I cannot comprehend what has happened, nor do I understand why. However I do know that Mrs Barber wouldn't want us to be sad. Rather, the exact opposite. She would want us to improve and strive to be better human beings, she would want us to be even happier, and add more light to this very dark world.  

We must change our tears into action. Hopefully this will comfort us all, knowing that our actions are making a difference in this world, and ultimately bringing the Redemption, and Moshiach.

Just thinking about all these calamities and tragedies makes me absolutely sick to the stomach. Unfortunately all of these misfortunes have something in common – they were all unexpected. No one was expecting any of these things to happen, but G-d's decisons we can never truly understand.

The anticipated response to these calamities would be to cry and give up. No, we must not! We are the Jewish people, we are fighters, and we are believers! We must act, not in the expectant way, but rather do more good, and bring more kindness into this world. We must shock the heavens, and the world, showing that nothing and no one will stop us.

Another tragedy is what has befallen our country - Israel. Not only the physical tragedies, with incessant bombing parts of Israel, but also the tragedy within our own people. There has been a terrible discord and division within the Jewish world as a whole. With the hareidim now being told they will have criminal charges if they avoid conscription into the Israeli Defence Forces, this has caused a major uproar. I could start going on and on about how the hareidim feel about this, and why they don't agree with this regulation and same with the secular, the chilonim, how they feel that the situation is unjust and not fair…

But all of us – secular and orthodox, hareidi and hassidic, are missing the point.

Does it really matter who’s right and who’s wrong? At this stage in the game, we Jews and our land, Israel, are in a weak and delicate position. And what are we doing? We are fighting against ourselves, against our own brothers! 

We keep forgetting that we are, ‘“K’ish Echad, B’laiv Echad,” “Like one man with one heart.”

I ask all Jews: Do we not have enough hardships already, that we need to bring more on ourselves?

This is a time where we must act! We must stop thinking about ourselves and our personal opinions, and start doing what's best for Israel, and all Jews everywhere.

We must unite! Achdut, unity, is the only way we can win, for if we do not have unity, we are doomed. We are known as a ‘stiff-necked nation’, with uncommon stubbornness.  We must channel this stubbornness and hostility, not towards each other, but rather to our enemies,
 (physical and spiritual ones), those whom we are trying to defeat.

We need to embody “Chazak V’Ematz”, “be strong and courageous.” We need to be one.

Then and only then will our salvation come, and we will be set free from this suffering and affliction, forever.