Dasi Fruchter was new to New York City, having just moved from Silver Spring to begin college. One day, her arms full of groceries, she tripped and fell on a busy street. The groceries spilled out. No one came to her aid and one passerby even rolled his eyes.
“Nothing in the recent past felt more shameful,” said Fruchter, now maharat, or spiritual leader, of Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac. “I could not get up from the ground. My groceries were everywhere, and all that person could do was look at me as if I was a burden to society.”
Fruchter spoke about “The Pain of the Stranger” on Aug. 1 to mark the end of Tisha B’Av — which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The event was held at Beth Joshua Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Rockville, and hosted by the Beltway Vaad, the Washington area’s Open Orthodox rabbinical council.
Fruchter and other speakers urged 40 listeners to make helping a stranger in need an everyday activity.
“I think if all of us took a second, we could find our grocery bag moments,” Fruchter said. “Unless we connect to those moments, we can’t understand the urgency of finding geulah [redemption]. What do we mean by that? Finding redemption will not be urgent if the status quo feels just right.”
Rabbi Haim Ovadia said his moment of empathy came several weeks ago when a congregant at Magen David Sephardic Congregation in Rockville told him about a Shabbat event he had attended. The event had been arranged for 18 deaf-blind people and 90 hearing people. But none of the deaf-blind people were called up during services were called up to receive an aliyah, an honor.
Ovadia said there is increasing acceptance of deaf-blind Jews giving aliyot. Rabbis are realizing that Jewish law can sometimes lead to inflexibility in a way that excludes Jews with disabilities. Ultimately, he said, this leads to a lack of empathy.
Rabbi Adam Raskin of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac said he saw what comes from an absence of empathy during a visit to the Western Wall. As a group of liberal women tried to conduct a prayer service, Raskin said his “heart broke” when they were “shouted down by fellow Jews and [were] hurled the most vile epithets as well as chairs, refuse, garbage, papers, books.”
Raskin, a Conservative rabbi, was the only non-Orthodox clergy to speak at the event. With emotion, he said that rather than mourn on Tisha B’Av for the destruction of physical spaces — the two temples — he chooses to mourn the destruction of values in Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem has a lot of lovers,” he said. “I am one of them. But to love Jerusalem is becoming more and more difficult for too many Jews. That fact makes me weep.”