Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Humble Giants

What is it that makes our people great? It is the unsung heroes. The plain, good people who go about their daily lives doing what they are supposed to do without making waves or making a big deal about themselves. They are happy with themselves and their lot in life.

They are positive, non-judgmental people who accept everything that life deals them with equanimity. Infused with a deep belief in G-d, their emunah and bitachon are palpable and affect all they do.

Sometimes they are learned and sometimes they are not, but they have an unwavering belief in Hashem, an innate sense of right and wrong, and despite serious obstacles, they endeavor to live their lives in an upright way. Observing them and the way they conduct themselves is like seeing a mussar sefer come to life. They treat all with whom they come in contact with a quiet dignity and sincere humility, never recognizing the greatness which lies in their own hearts.

They enhance our world immeasurably and everyone who comes in contact with them feels blessed.

These people are so very special, yet often times we take them for granted and don’t pause to reflect on their inherent greatness until it is too late.

My father wrote a poem several years ago which sums up this thought:

People ask me, are there angels?
Is there a G-d?

I answer them,
Look at my Bubbeh.

She is an angel,
And in her heart, there is G-d.

I had the occasion last week to reflect about two such “unsung heroes.”

Shortly before Shabbos, we received the news that Marci Cohen, who had worked for the Yated until her devastating diagnosis four years ago, passed away. She didn’t have an easy life. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of four, she was given six months to live. She went on to live another 46 years. Life threw her many curveballs, but she used each opportunity to hit another homerun.

She was always happy. She always smiled and her smile was infectious. Despite what was going on in her personal life, she came to work every day with contagious joy that cheered up the entire office here. She never complained and to those who didn’t know, it was impossible to tell that there was anything disturbing going on. It wasn’t that she wasn’t in touch with reality; it was that she was a deeply believing woman who always chose to dwell on the positive. Though she was deathly ill, she would find time and strength to write e-mails to her friends, being mechazeik them when she felt they could use it.

She had a nice word for everyone and was able to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds. She cared for others and genuinely shared their happiness and woes. She lightened the atmosphere just by being her optimistic, good-natured, giving self—even when in pain or under duress.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, she took a long and circuitous route until she finally ended up in Monsey, where she fit right in. She reached out to people and made friends easily.

She left behind almost no worldly possessions, yet it is people like her who enrich our world with their goodness, faith and humility that leave behind a great void when they pass from this world.

It is the strength of character and purpose that characterized her that epitomizes the true beauty of bnos Yisroel and reveals the power implanted in a Jew to persevere in a harsh golus. It is the chochmas noshim she possessed which allows for the transmission of the mesorah of Torah and avodah to the future generations. It is the simple tzidkus of noshim tzidkanios that she embodied which will grant us the merits we need to herald the arrival of Moshiach.

Truly great people do what’s right because it’s right. Even when no one is looking, they consistently act with integrity and compassion, because it is the right thing to do. Serving G-d and following his commandments is what drives them. These are the people who, no matter the situation or circumstance, you can always count on to act honorably and properly. You can expect them to always be fair, generous and dignified. You can expect them to be happy with themselves and increase happiness and goodness in this world.

The second person who gave me reason to contemplate the greatness of unheralded heroes is someone who has faithfully served his community for many years, and continues to be a highly valued member of the community although he has had to curtail his professional involvement.

Doctors can be a strange bunch. While some are devoted to helping people, others are haughty and arrogant and treat their patients as nonentities—little more than data on a chart. Many of them act if they couldn’t care a whit about the welfare of their patients. They force you to wait hours in stuffy waiting rooms before they honor you with their condescending examination and prescription.

A case in point: A doctor who recently examined my son’s allergies charged $600 to tell him to return a month after he has stopped taking a certain anti-histamine prescribed by a different doctor. Thirty seconds and out. That’ll be $600.00.

Couldn’t he have asked beforehand which medications the boy is taking and saved us the trip and the fee?

You all have your favorite doctor horror stories and don’t need me to belabor the point.

But the fact that there are also many fine and caring people in the medical profession often gets overlooked. Dr. David Simons has been our faithful family doctor for twenty years. He has been unfailingly caring and generous. A scion of a respected Yekkishe family, he is the embodiment of Torah im derech eretz. He treated every patient with Torah values, much derech eretz and huge doses of mentchlichkeit.

Last week, Dr. Simons mailed a letter to his patients stating that he will no longer be able to practice medicine due to a hearing loss. We were shocked and dismayed. Yes, there are other doctors in town, and among them are those who are frum and competent, but will they become family members like Dr. Simons?

He spent so much time with each patient, putting them at ease and explaining the ailment and how he planned to treat it. He respected each patient beyond the call of duty. He was so humble and self-effacing as he discussed the prognosis as if you were partners in the decision, because he felt you should in fact be a partner.

You didn’t have to be embarrassed to discuss your symptoms with him and he would always reassure you in his nice, kind, thoughtful way that you will be better soon, that what ails you is not nearly as serious as you feared it might be.

He had so much patience when dealing with his patients; it only could have come from a Jewish heart feeling for its brethren. When you went to him, you weren’t going to a doctor who was looking at you as a dollar sign. You felt as if you were visiting a family member who happened to practice medicine - a twist on the title ‘family doctor’—which unfortunately, is not too commonplace.

Prior to moving to Monsey, we lived in Yerushalayim where our doctor was the famed tzaddik, Dr. Bloch, and we were sure we’d never find anyone who would approach his level of care, concern and competence. Thankfully we were wrong and for twenty years were blessed by being under the benevolent care of Dr. Simons.

Now, as that chapter is about to draw to a close, we, along with hundreds of other Monsey families, wonder how we can ever replace this exceptional physician.

His uncommon humility, breath of knowledge, coupled with his sincere frumkeit and ehrlichkeit, deep humanity and mentchlichkeit instilled by the Washington Heights community, won the love, admiration and trust of so many people who can say, “He was my doctor; he was my family. I will miss him. He proved it is possible to be engaged with people all day in the most pressured and trying situations and still lovingly care for them. He has earned the unwavering respect of our community.”

Hashem should continue to shine his blessings upon him, and though he will not be able to peer down our throats and listen to our heartbeats anymore, all who know him will be able to point to him and say, “There stands a giant with a big heart and an ear clearly tuned to the pain and greatness of Am Yisroel.”

Whatever we do with our lives, we can learn from people like Marci a”h and yblc”t Dr. Simons, to be as great as we can as we fulfill our shlichus in this world. We can be secure in our beliefs, gracious when dealing with others, honest, forthright, compassionate and happy.

We can also be among those who elevate others through simple acts of kindness and goodness, an inherent sense of righteousness, common sense and decency. We can also be respectful, courteous, patient and non-judgmental, maintaining a positive outlook on life and people.

Each and every one of us can bring about that “yisgadeil v’yiskadesih shmei rabbah” every day of our lives.


Post a Comment

<< Home