Start a blog

Blogs Zion's Corner

What Made Izzy Tick?

By Tzvi Fishman
3/21/2010, 12:00 AM

When Rabbi Leon spoke tonight at the Kotel, I kept thinking about Izzy Kaplan, who was laid to rest last week in the Land that he so dearly loved.


At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, the word ‘Vayikra” is written with a tiny letter alef. This is a sign of Moshe’s great humility, Rabbi Leon said. Moshe didn’t think of himself – his only concern was the welfare of the Jewish People, as the Torah tells us, “Moshe ‘gadal’ and went out to see the plight of his brothers.”  The word “gadal” means to grow up. But it also means greatness. The greatness of Moshe can be seen in his great compassion and concern for his suffering brethren. Though he had all the world’s comforts in the palace of the Pharoah, he gave it all up to share the plight of his brethren and to help them however he could.


I don’t mean to make a saint out of Izzy, but he too had the greatness that comes from devoting one’s energies, resources and talents toward the welfare of the Jewish People. Izzy gave away so much of his money to causes in Israel, his family had to take away his power of signing checks. When he could no longer give his own money, he paved the synagogues, streets, and office buildings of Toronto, persuading others to donate in order to help the people of Gush Katif and Sederot, and many other worthwhile causes.


Rabbi Leon spoke vehemently about the plight of poor people in Israel who didn’t have the money to cover Passover expenses this year, demanding that the government awaken from its apathy and open warehouses of food for the needy. Boxes of matzah that cost ten shekels to produce are being sold for up to eighty shekels! If Izzy could hear this, I thought, he would immediately begin a campaign to supply matzah free to the poor people of Israel, even if it meant waking up every rich Jew in Toronto from bed.


Visiting the Kaplan family as they sat shiva, I asked Izzy’s son what made Izzy tick? What was the “Rosebud” behind his great passion for Israel? He told me two things. First, Izzy’s mother had been a victim of pogroms in Russia. Finding refuge in Toronto, when the time of the year came for the Jewish National Fund drive, she would stand on a street corner and literally grab passersby by the collar, exhorting them to contribute to the cause. Apparently, this made a deep impression on young Izzy.  


Another $100 could have saved another child.


Nevertheless, his intense sense of mission and activism on behalf of the Jewish People in Israel only awakened during the Oslo Agreement and the years leading to the explusion from Gush Katif. What ignited the flame? His son answered that his father spoke of the final scene in the film “Schindler’s List,” when Schindler is confronted with the ghostly sight of the survivors of the death camps. Mumbling, he realizes that if he had sold his watch, he could have saved another five Jews, and if he had sold his gold ring, he could have bought freedom for another ten, and if he had sold his expensive car, he could have saved another fifty.


That scene had a profound effect on Izzy. What was he doing, he asked himself, to help the Jewish People? How could he continue to think only about himself and his family when so many Jews were faced with pressing hardships? How could he continue to enjoy the good life in the isolated fairytale bubble of Toronto when the Jews in Israel were putting their lives on the line for the future of the Jewish People?


Certainly, not everyone can be a Moshe Rabanu, or even an Izzy Kaplan. Not everyone is gifted with an oversized soul that encompasses a burning love for all the Jewish People. But we can all work to stretch our little ordinary souls just a little bit more, in order to reach out to our brothers on the front lines in Israel.


Like the Four Sons of the Passover Hagadah, there are people who don’t really care about Israel at all. And there are those unfortunate souls who are so estranged from Judaism that they don’t even know they are supposed to care in the first place. And there are others who care and write critical talkbacks without doing a darn thing to help. And there are people like Izzy who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and actually join in the great struggle and Divine enterprise of rebuilding the Jewish Nation in Israel, in order to actualize the opening words of the Passover Seder, “This year we are slaves in exile, next year may we be free men in the Land of Israel.”