Among this year’s National Caring Award honorees were General Colin Powell and Rabbi Yitzhak Dovid Grossman. I had not met either man (hadn’t even heard about the Rabbi until quite recently), but the General and I share a common history. We were both raised in NYC by working-class immigrant parents: I, in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan surrounded by German Jews, and Colin, in the South Bronx surrounded by Yiddish speaking Jews. This is where he learned to speak the language. We both graduated from the City College of New York within two years of each other.
Colin Powell, who wrote of himself, “mine is the story of a black kid of no early promise,” managed to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US Secretary of State. After his public service, he founded America’s Promise, a campaign to provide disenfranchised youth with mentors and safe places to gather. “We have an obligation,” Powell says, “to provide for the next generation, places where children can grow up in healthy communities.”
Also at the awards ceremonies was a Rabbi from Israel, Yitzhak Dovid Grossman, this year’s International Caring Award recipient. In 1969, as a 22 year-old Rabbi, he arrived in Ha’Emek, a northern Israeli town that had high unemployment, drug abuse, and crime rates. He left Jerusalem because he wanted to stop a new generation of kids from winding up in jail.
Reb Yitzhak walked the streets of Ha’ Emek looking for children wherever the abandoned gather— in parks, prisons, discos — and invited them home for Sabbath meals. From that beginning handful, Rabbi Grossman founded a shelter giving love and care to 7000 at-risk youth at Migdal Ohr in Ha’Emek. On its sprawling campus are hundreds of teachers and counselors, a day care center, elementary school, library, computer center, and dormitories.
I overheard Gen. Powell and Reb Yitzhak speaking Yiddish in an animated conversation during the opening reception. The Rabbi said to the General, “Why don’t you come to speak to my children the next time you’re in the neighborhood?” The General responded that he would, “Alivay” (God willing). When they said goodbye, they wished each other “gey gezunterheyt” (go in good health), the Yiddish equivalent of the Navajo farewell “may you walk in beauty,” or the Lakota “may our eyes behold each other again.”
Two old men speaking Yiddish . . . reminding us what this season of peace on earth and goodwill toward man is all about. Take care of the children, from generation to generation, provide for them a safe, loving community, and we will build a world where human beings still take care of one another.
Happy Holidays . . . peace on earth, goodwill toward man . . . gey gezunterheyt.