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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Vying for hearts in the North

To paraphrase an old rabbinic adage, competition among do-gooders makes for a better world. That is exactly what is happening right now in the North.

The various streams of Judaism, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, are contending to see who can chalk up more good deeds. Breslav Hassids equipped with boom boxes dance with Artillery Corps soldiers while Conservative rabbis visit bomb shelters bearing toys and candy. Chabadniks bring food and clothing to the needy and invite men to put on tefillin while Reform rabbis provide spiritual comfort via a special hotline.

People from diverse backgrounds have converged on the North to perform mitzvot. Like businessman Arkadi Gaydamak, who has established tent camps outside range of the rockets, or the managers of Tadiran, who have decided to invest in a summer camp, they sense the opportunity presented by the present crisis.

Both spiritual leaders and businessmen know that this is the time to show the Israeli public who cares. No matter how eloquent, a commercial or a sermon cannot compete with a simple act of kindness in the face of danger. A unique opportunity has been created in the North. The best time to win the hearts and souls of our fellow Jews is when the missiles start falling.

But unlike businessmen, who can offer material assistance, rabbis have something else to offer - spirituality, and, perhaps, salvation. At times when our mortality is unmistakable, many turn to rabbis, those mediators between God and man.

If you believe there is a God, or you are placed in a life threatening situation and decide not to take your chances with atheism, it can be perfectly rational for you to engage with one of the streams of Judaism. Rabbis understand this intuitively. They know they have a product to offer.

The crisis in the North has created a sort of religious free market in which the various streams are competing for souls. None of these spiritual leaders know whether the good deeds they are performing will pay off later. Will the Reform and Conservative movements expand their ranks with grateful residents of the North? Will Chabad and Breslav gain supporters? It is too early to tell. Still, no one can take away the light they are bringing to Israelis living under the threat of Hizbullah.

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