Thursday, November 24, 2016

An Early Thanksgiving

One of the great rules in life is that EVERYBODY has not only two but MULTIPLE aspects to their personalities. We ALL have our darker sides and we ALL have positive facets. This applies to Goyim and Jews alike. Here is a story related by Rabbi Hershy Ten, the President of the Bikkur Cholim organization in L.A.:

My history with Donald Trump began in July 1988. At that time, my wife and I had been living in Los Angeles for 5 years after moving here from New York. Our beautiful 3 year-old son Avraham Moshe was suffering from a severe lung condition.

When Avraham Moshe’s doctors found themselves at a loss to remedy his pain and suffering, I looked to my former home of New York with the hope that a set of fresh eyes could offer a chance at recovery. However, in order to pursue this we needed to fly my son across the country, but no private or commercial airline would do so due to potential liabilities, and our health insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. So there we were, with seemingly nowhere else to turn; but the thought of doing nothing was not an option. In the 1980s, Donald Trump’s fame was well-known to me, and well-known to most of the world. So when I once again awoke early one morning to the familiar sight of my son struggling to breathe, I decided to take a bold step – I picked up the phone and called Donald Trump’s office, spoke with him, and bluntly asked him to lend us his private plane for this mission of mercy. Without knowing me and without hesitation, he said yes.

A week later, Donald Trump’s 727 landed in Los Angeles and flew me, my wife, and my son along with 3 ICU nurses to LaGuardia Airport. We landed at sunrise and were greeted by our family-members on the tarmac, as well as an army of reporters. You must bear in mind that at this time there was no social media or internet; nevertheless the news was out and the NY press was abuzz with the story of the famous entrepreneur’s generosity with dozens of headlines such as, “Trump to the rescue of tyke” and “On two wings and a prayer”. Sadly, there was no new hope that could be provided to our son, and weeks later we returned home on the same plane. Though Avraham Moshe bravely battled for his life for years to come, he passed away just months shy of his bar mitzvah – yehi zichro baruch.

While my son’s z”l outcome was devastating, Mr. Trump’s enormous act of chesed rendered me forever grateful and gave me a unique insight of his character. Since that first contact, we were indelibly connected and remain so to this day. For almost 3 decades I’ve dropped by his office to say “hello” and not a year has passed without he and I exchanging wishes of a L’shana Tova and a Gut Yor. Those who know me both personally and in my role as president of Bikur Cholim (Los Angeles) know that I’ve carried the impact of his kindness with me every day. However, for many years I had often wondered as to what personal impact this may have had on him.

In September of 2008 our country was in a financial crisis, with major Wall Street firms failing, individuals and families losing their savings, their homes, and their future. That year, the upcoming Rosh Hashanah was approached by many with particular trepidation and uncertainty. Following tradition, I made my annual call to Mr. Trump to wish him and his family all the blessings that we hope and pray for on the Jewish New Year.

Sometime thereafter, I received a package from the Trump Organization in which there was a book titled Think Like a Champion, authored by Donald Trump and accompanied by a handwritten note. Within the book was a chapter titled “An Early Thanksgiving,” where Mr. Trump recalled the moment our paths crossed and the lasting impression it had on him. He prefaced this with a poignant quote from Albert Schweitzer: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

In this passage, Mr. Trump wrote, “On the day before the Rosh Hashanah holiday each year for the past eighteen years, I receive a message from a Rabbi in Los Angeles. I am not Jewish, but have many observant Jews who work for me, so I am well aware of the holiday schedule and that Rosh Hashanah is their New Year, a time for celebration. I find his message of thanks to be especially resonant because he and his wife lost their son years ago, yet they call to remind themselves (and me) of the many blessings they’ve had in life. The reason the Rabbi calls me every year is a wonderful example of the spirit of Thanksgiving.”

The chapter went on to describe in detail my call for help and his response, going on to share, “I had small children at the time and I immediately said yes to his request. How could I say no? I sent my jet out and brought the little boy and his parents to New York with the hope that doctors here might find a cure for the severe breathing illness from which he was suffering. His cure was not to be, but his parents have remained grateful to this day. I am always touched that they remember me. In these recent days of upheaval in our country, I found the Rabbi’s yearly message to be an insight into a good way to handle difficult and even tragic times — to find a blessing in the midst of adversity. This family and their faith is a wonderful example for all of us, and I would like to thank them for their yearly reminder. We should realize that we all have a lot to be thankful for, whether it’s New Year’s, Thanksgiving, or just another Wednesday in our lives.”

As I read his words, written with such clarity of the events, what struck me most deeply was how moved he was by the gratitude of another.

Gratitude has no expiration date; hakaras hatov is a fundamental Jewish principle and should never be abandoned for one’s personal agenda. Today Donald Trump is our president-elect. What I know for a fact about this man is that he has consistently shown heartfelt gratitude for the blessings in his life, whether it be for his family or his accomplishments. This awareness is a much-needed quality in the leader of the free world, as it reflects a central understanding that life is precious, and we must remain grateful and empathetic to the struggles of others.

Great leadership must include in its foundation a depth of kindness and charity. Regardless of one’s political leanings, it is my hope and prayer for our new president to lead us well, and that we as Americans can rise above the distractions that impede unity and find the best in ourselves and others to accomplish great things for all mankind.