By Larry Gordon

A unique event took place as the sun began to set over Jerusalem at the end of a blistering-hot June day.

Eli Beer, the founder of United Hatzalah of Israel, was milling around the gathering of dignitaries as they arrived for this special event. The celebration was about the donation of 150 new ambucycles that are the signature of Hatzalah and over the last decade have redefined what emergency medical care looks like in Israel today.

The donor of the new vehicles was American philanthropist Miriam Adelson. She and her late husband, Sheldon, have been two of the greatest and most significant donors to Jewish charities around the world.

The scene at the Jerusalem City Hall was impressive. There were a number of speakers, a children’s choir, and a video presentation on the history of Hatzalah. All this led up to the introduction of Mrs. Adelson and then the mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Leon. The master of ceremonies introduced Mr. Leon as our host here in Jerusalem.

When Mayor Leon approached the podium, the first thing he did was correct the MC. He said that here in Jerusalem, the true host of such events is Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the Holy One Blessed Be He.

It was a beautiful dedication concluding with a parade of the 150 ambucycles being driven out of City Hall Plaza and onto the streets of Jerusalem, where they were immediately pressed into service responding to emergency medical calls across the length and breadth of the city as well as around the rest of the country.

A day later I met with Rav Yisroel Weiss, the Spinka Rebbe from Bnei Brak who was visiting Jerusalem. We met late in the evening in our hotel lobby. I was telling him about how Mayor Leon began his remarks at the Hatzalah event, which reminded him of a similar occasion that had taken place about a year ago.

The Rebbe said he was in Ben Gurion Airport waiting to board a flight to New York where he raises money for his kollel and mikveh and other services provided to his community in Bnei Brak. In the distance, he saw not-yet Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. About 15 minutes before boarding, he approached Mr. Bennett to ask if he could have a word with him.

Bennett agreed and then listened to Rabbi Weiss say that he has heard his speeches both in and out of the Knesset. Gently, the Rabbi Weiss explained that he was wondering why Mr. Bennett does not mention or make reference to G-d in any of his speeches. Rav Weiss went on to suggest that it might be appropriate at certain points in his speeches to say things like “Baruch Hashem,” “Thank G-d,” “G-d willing,” and so on.

Bennett listened to what Rav Weiss had to say and then they both returned to where they had been sitting prior to their conversation. About five minutes later Rav Weiss sees Mr. Bennett trying to attract the Rav’s attention and then asks him to come back.

At that point Bennett said to the Rav that he had needed a few minutes to think about whether the Rebbe was just criticizing or patronizing him or meant what he said in an honest and serious way. The future prime minister of Israel then said to Rav Weiss that he sees that he was sincere in his critique and so he would take it under advisement.

The Spinka Rebbe said that after that encounter, just about every speech he heard Naftali Bennett deliver was peppered with references to Hashem, thanking G-d, and praising Him as well.

In the 72 years of the Jewish State’s existence, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is the first head of the state to wear a yarmulke on his head full-time. The chareidi parties in the Knesset now serving in the opposition have been specifically critical of Bennett, and in an uncalled-for and even nasty fashion one of those MKs called for the new prime minister not to wear a yarmulke because he does not subscribe to all of the same beliefs as they do.

In the past, the prime minister has had to pop a yarmulke on his head if he was attending a religious event or a function at an Israeli cemetery. It is difficult to assess where Bennett stands when it comes to his level of observance. The fact is that we should not indulge in such judgement; we never judged prime ministers before even though we knew they were not observant in their personal life. Things have changed dramatically in Israel these last few weeks. There’s a new prime minister who wears a yarmulke and puts on tefillin every day, but that won’t stop anyone from complaining or being critical.

The day of the event at City Hall in Jerusalem we had breakfast with Deputy Mayor and City Councilmember of Jerusalem Arieh King. The councilmember is a longtime friend and the man quietly leading the way on protecting the integrity of a Jewish Jerusalem. He lives in a part of the Old City that is referred to as Maale Zeitim, as it is on the threshold of Har HaZeitim.

The signs in Jerusalem still refer to this neighborhood of the city by its Arabic name—Ras Al Amud. Wikipedia says that there are 12,000 Palestinians living in the community and about 90 Jewish families numbering approximately 500 people. Arieh King is leading the struggle to regain homes in areas like Shimon HaTzadik where Arab families are squatters in Jewish-owned buildings dating back 100 years or more.

The night before we met, I received a call from a friend in New York who said that his teenage child was enrolled in a camp in Israel but that the night before the flight, about 50 of the 300 children scheduled to leave the next day had not received their entry permits to the country. The decision was made to allow the kids on the ten-hour flight with the anticipation that while the flight was in the air the issue would be addressed in Israel.

I mentioned the situation to Arieh and he took out his phone to call a relative of his who works on these precise cases at the Israeli Interior Ministry. After asking about the camp situation, he turned to us to say two things. One was that all the kids had received entry permission, and, second, that the flight had just landed and the campers were currently going through passport control at the airport.

This is just one of the beautiful things about Israel. So many things that are usually subject to the arduous bureaucratic decision-making process can also be decided in a personal way. I know we feel that this is Israel and we are all in this together, in one way or another. But it does not always work that way, especially now, in the age of corona.

To that end, when we were in Israel, I also heard from a friend who had landed in Tel Aviv from New York but did not have all his paperwork in order. It was a Sunday evening in Israel and he explained to the authorities at the airport that he had left one important document on his desk. He said that if they waited a few hours someone would go to his office, retrieve the document, and send it so that he could enter. The people in charge adamantly refused and put him on the next flight back to New York at his own expense. So, you see, it can work both ways.

After all, who is like this people, Israel?

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