Professor David Baum, an Orthodox Jew and an ardent Zionist, was Great Britain’s leading Pediatrician, until his untimely death, at the age of 59. Professor Baum was dedicated to combatting child mortality in the world in general and in the developing world in particular. One of Dr. Baum’s chief and towering achievements was the building of a children’s hospital in the Gaza Strip for Palestinian children. It was very important for Dr. Baum, precisely as a religious Jew and an ardent Zionist, to build this hospital. He was proud of it, and saw it as one of his crowning achievements as a scientist, and as a person of faith. As a person of what Heschel called “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”
Abdallah Chatila is a Lebanese Arab. He comes from a country at war with Israel. This past week, Mr. Chatila spent over half a million dollars at an auction in Germany, buying dubious nazi memorabilia such as Hitler’s hat, and other such personal possessions of the most demonic despot humanity had known. After having purchased these items, Mr. Chatila immediately gave these items away as a gift to the Jewish community in Europe. He said that as a human being, he just couldn’t bear the thought of neo-Nazis getting their hands on these vile items, and cherishing them as prized and cherished historical items.
In a world in which all-too-many people exercise infantile and dichotomous worldviews in which “we” (whichever “we” one happens to belong to ethnically, politically and spiritually) are the children of light and benevolence, and “they” (whichever group your nemesis happens to belong to) are the children of satan and evil, it is refreshing and uplifting to salute individuals such as the late Dr. Baum and Mr. Chatila, may he live a long and healthy life.
Such towering individuals are attuned to what writer Susan Sontag called “the pain of others.” Like Pharaoh’s daughter who saved Moses, they are endowed with the most ennobling of psychological and moral traits – the gift of empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel the pain of others who are not you, and who are at times very different than you. In an epoch replete with political barbarism and moral illiteracy, with hate and demonization of the other, humanity thirsts and yearns for more David Baums and more Abdallah Chatilas.
May we walk in their light, and may we emulate their ways, thereby bringing more hope, and more sanity and light, to this tormented and sublime world of ours, Amen.