Grief and gratitude are two sentiments I feel as I consider Haiti's nightmare.
Grief for the unspeakable loss of life, the unmitigated suffering, and the heart-wrenching pain of the Haitian people. But gratitude for being part of a community that has poured out its heart, doing everything it can to respond.
As an American I am grateful to live in a democracy that believes in massively aiding people in dire need. As I write, Americans are once again leading the world, donating hundreds of millions of dollars while our government deploys thousands of personnel and material assistance of every kind.
As a Jew I am grateful to be part of a people, a civilization, and a religious tradition that heeds God's call to tikkun olam, to repair the world. It’s a call Jewish Chicagoans answer time and again for people in need, regardless of their religion.
I am grateful as a philanthropic executive to manage an organization that raised over $500,000 from more than 3,000 donors within 10 days of beginning to collect, most of them using our website to give. (Note: as of February 23 the Federation's Haitian Earthquake Relief Fund had raised $707,080 from 3,615 donations.)
Right behind America in responding to Haiti has been tiny Israel, which opened the very first, state-of-the-art field hospital in Port-au-Prince following the earthquake, and whose mobile search, rescue, and medical teams have become world-famous for their speed and life-saving results.
The sight of hundreds of Israelis treating thousands of Haitians makes us American Jews doubly proud. A nation of only 7.5 million, Israel has earned a reputation as the world’s best first responder. So far Israel’s aid to Haiti is more than double that of China, a nation with nearly 200 times Israel’s population.
As I grieve and pray for Haiti I am keenly aware of our blessings here in America, and mindful that they carry sacred obligations: to care for the sick, to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry. From Tsunami to Katrina, from earthquakes to floods, from victims of terror to refugees, Americans and Israelis are the first to help.
At a time when despotic regimes and others attempt to portray Israel as a pariah state, the government and people of Israel once again step up to help others and demonstrate their humanity.
At a time when America is seen by some as the great Satan and terrorists try to blow up our airplanes and threaten our homeland, our government and the American people once again demonstrate our unequaled generosity and commitment to do good throughout the world.
Grieving, grateful, and proud, very proud.
This article appeared in the Jan. 30, 2010 issue of the Chicago Sun-Times.