Op-Ed: Grieving and grateful: Thoughts about Haiti, Israel and the USA


CHICAGO (JTA) — 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 again are 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 Web site to give.

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. Israel’s aid to Haiti thus far is more than double that of China, a nation with nearly 200 times Israel’s population.

As for oil-rich Saudi Arabia? It sent a letter of condolence.

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 again have stepped 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 again are demonstrating our unequaled generosity and commitment to do good throughout the world.

Grieving, grateful and proud — very proud.

(Steven B. Nasatir is president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Money raised through the federation’s Haitian Earthquake Relief Fund supports the relief work on the ground in Haiti of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, IsraAID, ZAKA and the American Jewish World Service.)

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