“State of the Heart: Stories of a Humanitarian Israel” by David Kramer. Jerusalem: Urim Publishers, 2020. 183 pages. $27.95.
In 2016, fires raged across Israel, destroying 35,000 acres of land and 600 homes and leaving thousands of people without shelter. During that time, there was a long line in a grocery store waiting to get to the cashier, David Kramer writes. A man carrying tubes of toothpaste and toothbrushes asked if he could go to the front of the queue. The people standing in line denied his request.
Then, the man explained that he had to get back to work. He was buying those things for people in shelters who, in their hurry to escape the fires, hadn’t thought of bringing toothpaste or brushes.
Immediately, the other customers left the line and began buying other small items for the man to take with him for the homeless.
This is one of many stories in “State of the Heart,” some of them very moving, of Israelis doing good deeds.
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Israeli doctors have treated thousands of wounded Syrian civilians and rebels in a field hospital set up close to the border, Kramer says. More than 1,000 Syrian children have been treated and some dozen babies were born in Israel to Syrian mothers.
One of the injured children was cared for at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital in 2016. During the treatment, the doctors discovered that she had cancer and needed a bone marrow transplant. Somehow, in the midst of the fighting, Israeli security found a relative in Syria and brought him to Israel for the transplant.
The author himself was part of another act of kindness. On the last day of his basic training in 2002, he and his unit were on a 43-mile march in the Negev Desert, each man carrying 66 pounds of equipment.
Suddenly, an Arab driver turned on the engine of his Caterpillar digger, shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and headed toward the group, trying to kill as many soldiers as possible. The men, ordered not to fire their weapons, managed to evade the vehicle.
Finally, one of them threw a rock, knocking the driver off the Caterpillar and rendering him unconscious. Staff Sgt. Eyal Banin, the medic with the group, administered first aid, saving the terrorist’s life. (Banin was killed by Hezbollah terrorists in a cross-border ambush in 2014.)
The author also chronicles the humanitarian deeds of Israeli organizations. Among the many groups discussed are IsrAID (The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid), which was founded in 2001 and specializes in helping disaster victims. It has since delivered more than 1,000 tons of supplies to some 1.5 million people; Yemin Orde Youth Village, “home, school and safe haven” to more than 400 at-risk youth; and Simcha LaYeled (Joy to the Child), which helps Israeli kids get over illness, injury or disability with trips, sports and other activities.
One such nonprofit with which I am familiar is Save A Child’s Heart. Founded by Dr. Ami Cohen, a former member of Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim, my synagogue, SACH brings children from developing countries suffering from heart disease to Israel for surgery. The child is accompanied by one adult, and the operation, housing, food and other expenses are covered by the organization.
SACH has saved the lives of more than 4,000 children, Kramer writes.
“State of the Heart” would seem to be the book for our time, inspiration for people in quarantine, deprived of human contact and depressed as they try to dodge COVID-19.But there are problems.
The editing is not good. Did a cyclone hit Myanmar in 2007 or 2008, both dates given on different pages. (It was 2007.) Is the name of the Yazidi child who received treatment Wassam or Wisam? Both names appear. Is the device that gives paralyzed people the opportunity to walk called ReWalk or Re-Walk? To be sure, readers will have to use the internet. (It’s ReWalk.)
Sloppy editing, however, is not the real problem. Rather, it’s the book’s cloyingly sweet positivity. Many of the people and groups in the book are individually inspiring; in the aggregate, they tend to lose their authenticity.
I lived in Israel for some 16 years, and I would agree that Israelis tend to be good people. But they’re not saints — or, more fittingly, tzaddikim (holy people).
And although the author doesn’t say so, a reader may easily infer that the country is chock full of Jewish Mother Teresas.
It’s not only not true, but such an unrealistic portrait provides ammunition for those who would term the whole book “propaganda.”
It’s no accident that chefs put salt in desserts, sugar in meat dishes. They are seeking balance. “State of the Heart,” however, has no savory elements to counter its over-the-top positive portrayal of Israelis and the Jewish state.
Maybe a failure or two sprinkled in among all the success stories would have made it both more believable and readable.
Aaron Leibel is a former editor at The Jerusalem Post and Washington Jewish Week. His novel, “Generations: The Story of a Jewish Family,” which spans 1,500 years and three continents, is available at amazon.com and in Kindle format.