In an unexpected turn of events, my life has become consumed with helping broken people heal, since the launching of Makom a few years ago. My original passion of making Jewish observance accessible and meaningful to non-Orthodox Jews expanded to a new area when I discovered a population that had been hurt by a skewed version of the laws, customs, and teachings that had been enhancing my life for decades. How could I improve the public perception of Orthodox Jews and Judaism, when right under my nose, people were being abused by them? With no formal marketing or advertising, we have had nearly 250 sign ups in our first 2 1/2 years of serious programming.
As I sit here, during the 9 days – the time period leading up the destructions of the Beis Hamikdash – I am thinking a lot about brokenness and how to become whole again. We, as a nation, are suffering from a destruction so powerful that more than 2000 years later we still remain in exile, self-reflecting, mourning, trying to figure out how to rebuild. While healing is not a quick process, we have already seen many hopeful stories from our members, which made me wonder if the rebuilding that they’re experiencing might offer us some insight into rebuilding our fractured nation. It is not just a physical entity that we mourn the loss of on Tisha B’Av. The churban splintered and scattered our people around the world. We are factious and divided. We live in a world of suffering. Yet we dream of a day when there will be unity and peace and our people will gather together as one.
Recently, several members of Makom have taught me an unexpected lesson that we can apply to our own dreams of national rebuilding. Healing is not a linear process, but rather a holistic one. Which means that although the task feels daunting, just the very act of beginning the process can bring positive change in ways we never imagined, at a rate we didn’t think possible. We must begin right away with whatever resources we have. That’s how Makom got its start! Our members are healing in some of the most unexpected ways from our events, classes, follow up, Shabbos placements and Shabbatons. The stories they shared with us are nothing we expected to be able to do, but here they are:
“Makom helped me get a better job.” One member recently told me that because of Makom, he now has a better job with better pay. This surprised me, because although we dream of setting up a robust program in the future where members will be able to improve their secular education, we are not there yet. So how did it happen? At Makom, this individual met other members, staff, and Shabbos host families, who for the first time in his life showed him that he was worth something. By being in an environment where people valued him, he was able to see his true value more accurately than he ever had before, which caused him to find a better job that treated him better and paid him what he deserved.
“Makom helped me with my eating disorder.” Makom is not a mental health provider. So I was not expecting to hear this from a member. But this individual told me that she told her nutritionist “goodbye” after spending over 2 years in our organization. The nutritionist asked what this person will do now when she feels overwhelmed with life, and the member explained that between the Makom staff, hosts, and members, she now has a family to turn to, a supportive network to call her own. This member confided to me that she has said “goodbye” to her nutritionist at other points in her life, “But this time it just felt different.”
“Makom helped me feel more calm than I can ever remember.” I got a voice note after we hosted an event helping our members feel more comfortable with dogs. The people who came to the event were terrified of dogs at the beginning of the evening and were literally holding one by the end! The voice note explained that this member felt a calm come over him as he left the event and he realized that he had been driving with aggression and angst for as long as he drove, but once he got comfortable around a dog, he felt a weight lift off of him that he had never experienced before.
While I believe that we have only scraped the surface in terms of the breadth and depth of this problem, we are already seeing heartwarming results because we jumped right in, undaunted by the audaciousness of the task and let Hashem take care of the rest. There is much more healing for us to do for this community as well as our nation, and we are asking you today to be part of it, as the amount of pain that our organization is holding is overwhelming and new sign ups come in every few days.
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It is not your duty to complete the work. But neither are you free to desist from it. (Ethics of the Fathers)