(October 24, 2018 / JNS)
I lost my brother, Gabriel, five years ago to an accidental overdose.
At his funeral, I told a story about his extraordinary generosity. Gabe was coming home from a night out with friends on the Upper West Side when a homeless man approached him and asked for money. Gabe didn’t hesitate. He put his arm around this man, ushered him in to a nearby restaurant and paid for his meal—with a smile on his face at 2:30 in the morning.
Losing a beautiful soul like Gabe was more devastating than anything I could have imagined. Yet the power of his example continues to inspire the way I live.
Two years ago, on his birthday, I bought four pizzas and gave them to four random homeless people.
Last year, I raised more than $1,000 for a soup kitchen in Israel.
And this year, I’m aiming to raise as much money as I can for a family whose home in Beersheva was just hit by a rocket—a family I know and love through teaching their children as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow (MITF).
My experience in Israel on MITF was a turning point in my life. I almost never made it there.
Gabe and I were supposed to travel to Israel the year he passed away, and after he died, I couldn’t bring myself to go alone.
A year later, I found the strength to go and traveled to Israel for my first time. I met people from Masa and decided MITF was for me. It’s the best decision I ever made.
I had a clean slate, a fresh start, people who didn’t know me as “the guy whose brother died.” And when I did tell the story, Israelis got it; they were open, warm and sympathetic, without becoming awkward or too careful around me.
And I was giving back, teaching Israeli kids English, which made me feel so connected to Gabe.
I taught in an all-boys religious school in Beersheva, an experience as far removed from my comfort zone as possible! But the people on my Masa program were there for me. The community and the school where I taught accepted me as one of their own. I became close with one family in particular who would have me over for Shabbat, and we still communicate regularly via WhatsApp.
That family is the one whose house the rocket hit.
I knew I had to do something special—for them, and for Gabe.
I am “my brother’s giver.” I don’t mind being tied to his memory forever; in fact, it’s an honor. His death was a tragic ending. But it can also be a beginning, if I make it so.
That beginning is about more than raising money in his honor and giving back. It’s a new life for me; after MITF, I made aliyah and started my own business.
I wouldn’t have been able to do that without Masa, which showed me that I am still strong.
I wouldn’t have been able to do that without Israel, which showed me that I still have hope.
And I wouldn’t have been able to do that without Gabe, who showed me that I still have purpose.
I, too, now live in Beersheva—and around 3:40 a.m. on Oct. 17, I heard the blaring, Red Alert sirens. I ran to my shelter under my staircase and waited for the rocket barrage from Gaza to stop. When it did, I went outside and assessed the damage to my neighborhood. I found out about “my family.”
Thank God that they were in their safe room when the rocket struck their house, and are all fine. But an entire story of their house is destroyed.
So now is time to rebuild, like I rebuilt my life, by turning an ending into a beginning.
Garrett Davis lives in Beersheva where he owns a dog care business. To contribute to his fundraiser for the Tala family, click here.