In the Sukkot issue of Chicago Jewish Home, I wrote about Forrest Mckinnie. Forrest works in the kosher fish department at Jewel, and his story was unexpected and inspiring. This week, I decided to interview a Jewish person in our community. Everyone has a story, and we all deal with life’s struggles in our own way. Even if we are in the same situation as another person, we will never have the exact same experiences. Each of us has been given his own personality, coping strategies, perceptions and tools to work with. Yet, judging others comes so easily to us. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; we were created this way. We believe that others should live their lives by our standards. It’s hard to admit, but I do this all of the time. However, there is a part of me that knows it isn’t right. It’s the part of me that doesn’t want to be this way, the part that remains untouched and knows its true purpose. Hashem made each of us in the way he saw fit, and I don’t remember him asking me for my opinion. He only asks that we love others as we love ourselves. I recognize that this is one of those “easier said than done” situations, but hopefully, over time this seemingly out of reach concept will become my reality.
Meet Moshe Lichter:
Many of us have seen Moshe around town. Whether sitting at the Jewel cafe, in various shuls around the community or have interacted with him personally. I wasn’t sure what to expect during this interview, but I did learn that what you see is not always what you get. Getting to know Moshe was a truly humbling experience and he was definitely worth getting to know.
Moshe, now 62-years-old, was born in Chicago at Edgewater Hospital. He grew up in a loving family near Spaulding Avenue who eventually moved to West Rogers Park. Moshe described himself as a quiet and shy child who frequently played with kids from around his neighborhood. He is the youngest of two sisters and a brother. Today, Moshe’s siblings live in various states around the country. His mother is currently living in Florida and is 95 years old. Moshe loved both of his parents, but he was very close with his father, who passed away at age 55.
Moshe graduated from Maine North High School. He worked various jobs in the restaurant business. As time went on, Moshe got a job in production at the Coca-Cola company. Things were looking promising. Moshe was dating a girl, who he would eventually become engaged to and was progressing in his career. Unfortunately, when he turned 21, his father died of a heart attack, and it was a huge emotional blow for Moshe. Three years later, Moshe was involved in a life-altering accident.
One evening, after working overtime, a co-worker dropped Moshe off down the street from his home due to all of the construction on the roads. There was no room to walk on the sidewalks, so Moshe had to walk on the outskirts of the barricades. At 24-years old, three years after his father passed away, Moshe was the victim of a hit and run. The car hit him while speeding past the road construction, leaving him there with a fractured femur, his head cut open and bleeding on the side of the road. This was the beginning of a new life for Moshe. It was a life that would take years to heal physically, but a relentless emotional trauma that still affects him to this day. Between the death of his father and the accident, Moshe was never the same.
“It was a lot of trauma. It was very horrific. Traumatizing. That’s what caused my disability…both physical and emotional. It takes a long time to overcome and heal.”
Moshe was in the hospital for a couple of months. Working was not an option at this point, and the relationship suffered. He lost touch with the girl he wanted to marry.
“My personality wasn’t the same. This is what my coworkers were telling me. It was hard to cope with work and cope with every day. I was so preoccupied with my accident and injuries. I was a young guy. I couldn’t work at Coca-Cola any more.”
“If you could go back and start a new chapter…if the accident didn’t happen, what would be something you would have liked to see happen in your life?” Moshe responded, “I would have liked to be married and have a family. Kids and a wife.”
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is very difficult to treat and many times the person never truly recovers. Although Moshe’s physical injuries from the accident healed over much time, the emotional problems were much harder to deal with.
Moshe lived with his mom until he was in his early 30s. He ventured out on his own, but nothing came easily after the accident. With the help of a very special lady, Eva Gertzfeld, Moshe was able to find jobs and places to live. He has known Eva for over 30 years. She became his advocate and helped Moshe with an open heart. I spoke to Eva and she had this to say,
“Moshe is an honest man. We have to respect him for the needs that he has. He is very trustworthy. He can make phone calls, check mail, run errands (he has a car), and drive to doctor’s appointments. He is very good with elderly people and makes a great medical advocate for someone needing more support”.
It became apparent after my conversation with Eva, that Moshe is qualified to help someone with these needs in exchange for a basement room to live in and a minimal salary.
During my time getting to know Moshe, I phoned some of the people in our community who have stood by Moshe throughout the years. One such person has known Moshe for over 35 years. They met at the Evanston Chabad when Moshe had decided to begin learning about his Jewish heritage and hopefully meet new people. This respected and well-known member of our community had this to say,
“ Moshe is a kind-hearted man, and he is proud to be a Jew. He loves his Jewish brothers. When Moshe calls for a place to stay, I always let him in. He just wants the community to accept him. We don’t understand the comforts and blessings we have, and we don’t have to worry where our pillow will be. We can deal with our normal challenges because something like that is not our worry. He joins us consistently for Shabbos meals, and he is always respectful. He adds so much to our Shabbos table and has such a good soul.”
My final phone call was to one of our communities well known and respected Rabbis. He has also known Moshe for many years, and had this to say,
“There is something endearing about Moshe. One of his most endearing qualities is his genuine concern for others. It impresses me that someone that has so many challenges in life still has the time and energy to be concerned with others. There were many times that because of him, we were able to complete a minyan. We would ask for him to be the 10th man, and he always said ‘Of course!’.” It was because of him that we were able to say Kaddish for those in aveilus.”
The Rabbi continued,
“We need to be gracious towards Moshe. He is ours. Let’s not forget that we are responsible for one another. There was a time when he would help clean the shul after a simcha or put books away. Now he is so consumed with finding a home, that he can’t help as much. We need to make him feel like he is a part of this community because he is. It doesn’t hurt you to be kind and respectful.”
I was beginning to understand more and more about the person Moshe is. Like I said before, who am I to judge. The more I hear, the more it becomes abundantly clear that this is a very special person who is deeply loved by Hashem. It is our duty to take care of him. I’m not talking about supporting him financially or having him move in. I’m speaking to everyone. A smile and a hello. How are you? This goes a long way for most people…especially someone who has no real support and is just looking to feel loved and appreciated like the rest of us.
Moshe continued to answer some of my questions.
“I don’t like arguments. I’m a positive person. I don’t understand why some people are like that. There are a lot more good people than bullies. I call them bullies. Why do they behave and act towards people like that? It’s a shame. If it’s a personality thing or if you don’t get along, just don’t say anything. That’s how I am. I don’t say anything, but people are bullies to me, and I don’t like when people are derogatory towards me. It’s hard for me to deal with that. People say things like ‘Oh! Are you here for another meal? Just leave already’. Why would they make me feel worse? Why be abusive to me? Just don’t say anything. I like social people. I just want the community to accept me.”
In 2012, Moshe suffered from another accident, this time requiring numerous surgeries and rehabilitation. It was months of physical therapy and recuperation. The past few years have been extremely difficult for him.
I asked Moshe if there is something he’s accomplished that he’s proud of.
“Well, after my accident in 2012, I began to eat healthier and take better care of myself. I lost almost 150 pounds! I’m not happy with myself for gaining it back. I don’t want to weigh this.”
Moshe told me about his interests and a great Black Hawks story. He loves to socialize with people. He loves music, especially classic rock and surprisingly the group One Direction. He loves outdoor street festivals and sporting events.
“I’m a BlackHawks fan. Someone from the community gave me tickets to a championship game, and they won. A little while later, I saw Rocky Wirtz him coming out of the building I was going into. I recognized from all the newspapers I read, and I congratulated him on winning. He thanked me. I asked if there was a way I could earn a sweatshirt signed by a player. So, he asked who my favorite player was, and I said, Jonathan Toews. So he said, ‘ Let me see what I can do.’ He gave me his card, and I called him a few days later. He called me back and said he had my jersey, signed and all. I was at a physical therapy appointment, and it was so far away. He said either get it now or he could mail it. I went right away.”
Unfortunately, Moshe currently has no place to live. He has one Baal Chesed who consistently, if possible, allows him to stay in his home. On the nights it’s not an option, Moshe drives an hour to a homeless shelter in DuPage. His description of the conditions was heartbreaking. He sleeps on mats on the floor, and is scared being there. The people around him are on drugs or have serious mental issues. He said he takes his mat and sleeps in the corner. Then there are other times when he just sleeps in his car.
I asked Moshe what his advice to the world would be:
“Just be more sensitive to people’s feelings, more caring towards people. Get along with people, because you will have a longer stress-free life.”
I learned a lot from this interview. It is very easy to judge others, but so much more rewarding not too. No one is expecting everyone to start inviting people to live with them or give out money constantly (unless that is something you can do). A smile and a friendly hello can go such a long way. We all want to be accepted and acknowledged. The world is a lonely place even for those who have support, shelter, and health. Can you imagine how much lonelier it is without that?
Eva Gertzfeld, who works as a case manager at the Ark, continues to stay in touch with Moshe and helps him when opportunities arise. Eva commented,
“Many buildings are converting to condos and with the remaining apartments high rent costs, many people like Moshe in our community are left seeking affordable housing. All of Hashem’s children are made in his image, and are deserving of compassion no matter what our individual circumstances may be.”
Today, Moshe is back to finding the help he needs on his own. If you know of anyone that would like to rent their basement or an elderly person that could use help with errands, grocery shopping, doctors appointments or just companionship, Moshe has a car and would love to be given a home and a chance to prove himself.
For references or general information, I can be emailed at [email protected]. If you would like to reach Moshe directly, his number is 872.222.3711