I have two startling and opposite pieces of news to report. I heard them almost simultaneously. The first one is that Gittle Ferrera who some of you may recall passed away. She was in Neve 1983-84. She was one of the handful of over thirties who came to Israel to try to move forward in Yiddishkeit without letting any of the usual obstacles get in the way. She lived in Bayit Vegan, and fit very well into the civilized atmosphere of that community.
Almost immediately after hearing about this sad news, I received a call from Raphaella Carnevalle of South America telling me about her engagement. She was here this past year and just recently enrolled in a Spanish-speaking program. If you don't recall her name, but were here last year, just think in terms of Latin joi de vire and energy.
Life is so multi-colored! It isn't only life that is so variegated, its' the people who course through your time here that can open your heart to seeing how amazingly unique each one is.
People are remarkably varied. Not only are each of us completely different than anyone else, even within your own personality there are so many different "people", each one presenting reality through its own perspective. It's sometimes hard to figure out which of the competing "selves" who occupy your body at any given time is the real you. It requires a certain amount of skill (and experience helps) to decide which part of you, you want to prevail.
A few days before Tisha B'Av the annual evening for Shmirat haLashon (promoting positive speech or more literally guarding against negative speech) was held in Binyanei HaUmah, Yerushalaim's largest convention center. Three thousand women were there. Each of them wanted to learn how to communicate in a way that leaves a positive imprint. No one has to teach you how to communicate negatively. Lashon hara (speaking in a negative or harmful way with no redeeming purpose) is an easy way to feel superior, and, at the very least it gets you an audience!. There were several world-class speakers, each of whom approached communication from a different angle. The moderator told us that Rabbi Gavriel Sassoon had asked to be able to address the gathering for ten minutes. Some of you may remember him as the father and husband of the family of seven children that was killed by a fire in Flatbush. Only one daughter and his wife survived (Tziporah bat Francis and Gila bat Tziporah). As I listened to the speaker before him talk about positive communication within the family, I watched Rabbi Sassoon's face. I can't imagine what armor he had to put on to prevent himself from letting the word "family" take him to a place of embittered anguish. His face was grave, attentive, and his expression told me that he was there and not escaping from what was said. I silently wanted the Rabbi who was speaking to change the subject, to move on. The audience was listening with rapt attention. His words were relevant, engaging, and could potentially change their lives. The subject needed to be addressed; this is what three thousand women needed to hear. When it was Rabbi Sassoon's time to speak, his tone was gentle, and his words were unforgettable. He told us about his daughter.
When she was thirteen and finished eighth grade she was immediately accepted into the high school of her choice. She had everything going for her; good middos (character traits), good grades, good family. One of her best friends didn't. I don't know whether the issue was her grades, or something more personal, but the bottom line is that she was thirteen and the school year began without her. Rabbi Sassoon's daughter pleaded with him to intervene by speaking to the principle. Although he didn't say so, as a parent I can imagine how awkward it would be to call up concerning a girl who he probably hardly knew. He called anyway, but not surprisingly, the call did not change anything. The girl herself made an appointment to speak to the principle which in and of itself is remarkably courageous for a girl who was just accepted to a school which clearly is not in need of accepting every student. The principal did not change her position. On the way out of the office, she notice a large plaque on the wall. The manes of the serious donors were engraved on its pseudo-gold background. She took out her notebook and wrote down each name. When she arrived home, she had a mission. She was going to find out the phone numbers as many donors as she can, and call them cold. She made call after call, introducing herself and telling the donor about her friend who just wants to go to school. She accomplished her goal. Her friend was accepted. Her father did not have much more to say, and not much more needed to be said. His story was one in which the decision to be kind and compassionate makes speaking lashon hara virtually impossible.
All of us are different, but we can choose to be kind no matter how different someone is from what you would like them to be. Those who aren't bright, or with it, or connected, are as unique and precious as those who are. One of the reasons that I wanted to tell you this story, is that you are not always as kind and compassionate to yourselves as you can be. You do not always make the calls to the rabbis and mentors who can nurture you spiritually. You would probably do it for someone else. It's important for you to see your own uniqueness and to believe in your purpose in being here. Don't put yourself down! The same way Gittle and Raphaella were different in almost every way, but each of them is perfect in a way that is specific and real, so are you. The same way finding a school for an anonymous thirteen year old (by the way, her mother told Rabbi Sassoon the story. His daughter didn't tell him about what she did) touches your heart, finding a mentor for yourself is equally important.
It's bein hazmanim now (literally between terms,) so I probably will be heading north to Tzfat and Meiron. If you want to send me names to pray for please let me know ASAP.