Shabbos morning, Parshas Chayei Sara (November 2016), while my husband is at shul, I sit with my young children around the table, telling them about the thousands of people spending Shabbos in Chevron and praying at Maaras Hamachpela (The Cave of the Patriarchs).
“What did you learn about Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father), other than that he bought Maaras Hamachpela to bury Sara?” “He had lots of guests!” they shout. “That's right.” I continue, “And this Shabbos, all of the Jews living in Kiryat Arba and Chevron will be just like Avraham Avinu. They're having lots and lots of guests because so many people want to spend this Shabbos in Chevron.”
I have never spent Shabbos Chayei Sara in Chevron myself, but I have more adventurous friends who have told me about it: the floors of high school dormitories crammed with sleeping bags, people sleeping under the stars on park benches, and of course the local families feeding dozens of strangers, and letting some of them sleep on their guest beds, couches, and floors. “Really; people sleep outside?” They are probably picturing the camping trip they took with their father in the summer. “They are doing the mitzvah of hachnassas orchim (welcoming guests) for so many people who need someplace to stay for Shabbos! Isn't that amazing?” I am psyching myself up more than my children, who soon run off to play.
After Shabbos, I check the news to see how many people really spent Shabbos in Chevron (25,000 prayed at Maaras Hamachpela; 2,500 toured Chevron.) and, in light of the sensitive security situation in the area, to check that they made it through safe and sound. (Baruch Hashem, no violence in Kiryat Arba or Chevron.)
The top headline, however, jars me: The entire rural town of Neve Tsuf, 350 families, evacuated Friday night due to fire. Arsonists set fires at multiple locations, which, aided by strong winds, completely destroyed eighteen homes and severely damaged over thirty others. Wow. What will these people do?
Dozens of families, roused from their Shabbos sleep, suddenly homeless. No clothing, furniture, toys, household basics, and family heirlooms. At an emergency meeting, the government decides to gives each homeless arson victim 2500 shekels to help tide them over while they're waiting for insurance money. This will certainly help, but the families need more than that.
Sunday morning, I open a link in my email to a fundraising site for these families. Already by noon on the same day the fund is created, over a third of the 950 thousand shekel goal has been met! I am impressed by this fact, proud to be part of a nation of baalei tzedakah (masters of charity) who open their hearts and wallets to brothers in need.
What surprises me more, however, are the comments on the side of the page, each accompanied by a name and phone number:
“We'd be happy to donate dishes-plates, cutlery, cups, and napkins.”
“We'd be happy to host a family in Beit Shemesh.”
“Double bed and dresser to give away in Petach Tikvah. Who can we contact?”
“I have girls' clothing, sizes 9-10 and 4-5.”
“We'd be happy to donate furniture: bookshelves and a computer table.”
“I can give winter shirts and undershirts.”
“We'd be happy to host a family that has nowhere to be. We have a guest suite with its own bathroom that can accommodate a couple, and kids can sleep in our house in Yad Binyamin.”
“I have tons of winter clothes for boys ages 1-2.5”
“We have a guest apartment with two rooms, a kitchen, bathroom with a shower, and a porch good for 4 people, can hold 5-6 in an emergency! Pets welcome!”
“We'd be happy to give furniture.”
“We'd be happy host in our home. We have two rooms, and dogs can stay in our yard.”
“We'd be happy to host in our home in Kryat Netafim.”
“We'd be happy to host a family in Kfar Oranim.”
“We'd be happy to host a family in Tirat Yehudah.”
“We'd be happy to host in our home in Elkana, up to 6 people.”
“We'd be happy to host in our home in Chashmonaim.”
“We'd be happy to host a family in our home in Beit Choron.”
“We'd be happy to host a family or two in our home in Karnei Shomron.”
The list goes on, but my time to read it doesn't. Nor can I read clearly when my eyes are filled with tears over the amazing generosity of my fellow Jews. Bringing strangers into one's home is not always easy, especially when it may involve children giving up their beds or parents giving up a home office for it to become a guest room for an undefined amount of time. The guests are all going to be under stress over losing their homes. But the genuine offers keep coming.
Who is like Your nation, Israel? They are truly one of a kind.