Nu, Airbnb – Kol Nidre 5780

October 10, 2019

The moment I learned we were changing locations this year, I started looking for options where to stay with my family for Yom Kippur.

As you may imagine my first instinct was to look in Airbnb, but as you may have heard there was some controversy with Airbnb and Israel.

It looks like at some point Airbnb had made some statements against Israel but the latest statement is the following.

“Airbnb has always opposed the BDS movement. Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform.

“We have always sought to bring people together and will continue to work with our community to achieve this goal.”

So I continued my research and learned about a very interesting story that I wanted to share with you today.

This is the story of a writer in Argentina. His name is Hernan Casciari.

When he was 45 years old, Casciari had a heart attack in December 2015. He was renting a guest house in Montevideo Uruguay via AIRBNB and had a heart attack while he was in that house. The owners, without knowing him, saved his life.  The day before the heart attack, the owners gave him the keys and explained some details about the house. The next day they called an ambulance, stopped a police car in the street, took him to the hospital, took care of him, donated blood and saved his life.

One year later after that episode, (on December 6th 2016) Hernan and his girlfriend decided to go back and visit the owners again. They also went to share with Javier and Alejandra, the owners of the house, something that nobody else knew. Not even their own family. Hernan and his girlfriend were expecting a baby and they wanted the people who saved Hernan’s life to be the first ones to know.

Hernan and Julieta, his girlfriend, arrived at the house in Montevideo. They were shocked. He could have died there exactly one year before that. The house is huge. In fact it is a mansion in a very wealthy neighborhood and Hernan was renting the guest house of the mansion.

This is the introduction to the story. Now I am going to share with you Hernan’s testimony.

Our hosts, received us greatly. We hugged each other and immediately we shared the news with them. Javier and Alejandra were really moved and happy for us. They hugged us again touched Julieta’s belly and we continued the conversation. It was a really sweet moment. Suddenly I realized, said Hernan, we were not friends with them. Not the night of the heart attack and not now. It was the second time we ever met. They knew a lot about us but we knew very little about them, that they saved my life, drove us to the hospital, took care of us but not much more. So Javier started telling us about them.  When Javier started to speak we knew they were very special people.

We learned that Alejandra worked for the Uruguayan government and Javier had a great position in big company. One day another big company contacted Javier and tempted him to move with them.  The offer was very difficult to decline. It took Javier 4 days to decide. Finally he woke up went to do blood test required for the new company, and went to his office to sign his resignation. Everyone in the office tried to convince him, they told him he was crazy, but Javier was ready for the change.

He signed the paperwork and went back home. This was on Friday. The next Monday in the afternoon, he was scheduled to sign the contract with the new company. Monday morning his phone rang. It was the doctor hired by the new company with bad news. Javier had a severe kidney malfunction.

Javier told us that that night his life changed forever. No more trips. From that moment on and forever Javier would have to filter his blood three times a week. Dialysis.

On Monday he did not sign the new contract, the new company didn’t need him anymore, and also he didn’t have health insurance anymore because he had resigned from his previous job.

From that day on the future they have dreamed of, was gone. The friends disappeared, they started using their savings to pay medical bills, and the huge mansion became also a huge expense.

Javier lacked the energy because of the dialysis, he was used to a hectic day with meetings, travels, hotels and now he didn’t know what to do. In his spare time he designed an app for the phone that connected the dialysis centers with their patients to see if that way he could travel again, but nobody invested in his project.

A realtor suggested to them to sell the mansion and rent something smaller but they didn’t want to give up.

So one afternoon, they decided to publicize (pablisais) their guest home on AIRBNB, they posted pictures of the house, established a price in Euros and waited.

1st came a Brazilian guy for a week. On the second day he clogged the restroom and made a huge  mess in the bathroom.

2nd came a couple from Canada with a little boy who destroyed a very old expensive table.

3rd came some English people who left a bad review because of the noise of the dogs.

4th they rented to a group of hippies from the Netherlands who stole from them some valuable items.

5th was an Argentinean writer who showed up with his girlfriend and on the second day had a heart attack in their living room. The 5th guest was me, said Hernan.

Our story was interesting, but when we met them, their story was much more interesting than ours, said Hernan. When we met Javier and Alejandra, they had been in totally free fall for two years. No job, bad health, no savings, hosting strangers at their home and me having a heart attack there. A total nose-dive in their lives.

They were telling us the story, laughing like crazy and we felt so bad for them.  We could not laugh with them as we were learning all the unlucky and unfortunate events in their lives. So we interrupted them and we offered them help. We felt ashamed that we didn’t offer help earlier. But Javier told us: You already helped me.

“How?” I asked.

Javier told me: “do you remember Hernan, that the next day after the heart attack you got an email from AIRBNB?”

Of course I remembered it. I had all the cables and IV’s on my body and an automated email came into my inbox asking me my opinion and review about my AIRBNB hosts.

This is what I wrote: “Excellent house for sedentary travelers prone to myocardial infarctions. The area is beautiful and has direct access to the best hospitals. Javier and Alejandra instantly became guardian angels who will save your life without even knowing you. They will rush you to the hospital in their own car while you’re dying and stay in the waiting room while doctors give you a bypass. They don’t want you to feel lonely, they bring you books to read and they let you stay in their house extra nights without charging you. Highly recommend.”

That recommendation became viral on the web.

So Javier told me: “That opinion you wrote, was read by the owner of AIRBNB, Joe Gebbia. Joe Gebbia is one of the richest millennials in the world.”

I asked Javier: “are you serious? Is this real?”

So they took out a tablet and showed me Joe Gebbia speaking at a Ted Talk in Vancouver. That Ted Talk happened two months after my heart attack. It was attended by people like Al Gore who were laughing like crazy when they heard my review.

I watched the Ted Talk on the tablet and I asked Javier, “how did Joe Gebbia have the picture of both of us? How was Gebbia able to include a picture of us in the Ted Talk?”

Javier told me: “Hernan, Joe Gebbia was here in my house.”

So they explained to us that Joe Gebbia, the millionaire founder of AIRBNB landed in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, (on December 31st 2015), 25 days after my heart attack and stayed in the guest house for a week. He asked them if the story that they had saved me, was true?

Joe Gebbia made his breakfast at the mansion, watched TV, played with the dogs, became friendly with Javier and had conversations with him in the afternoons.

One night after dinner, Joe Gebbia asked Javier if he liked traveling. Haha, precisely to Javier.

So Javier told him about his kidney problem and the app that he had created to connect dialysis patients around the world.

Gebbia asked him if he ever had any success with the enterprise and Javier told him the truth, nobody wanted to finance it.

That night of January of 2016, Joe Gebbia thought that the idea that Javier had, was extraordinary and offered him to become partners.

If a host of AIRBNB has certain type of illness, a guest with the same illness could stay in that house that is already prepared to welcome that guest.

Gebbia sent a wathsapp message to his partners and in 10 minutes, Javier had in his email a contract from San Francisco and in less than two weeks, Connectus medical, the platform Javier had created received funding for more than 3 million dollars.

Javier and Alejandras’s lives changed again. They were able to travel again, Javier was able to have dialysis in different places around the world. After one of these trips Javier’s phone rang. There was a compatible donor and at the beginning of 2018 he had his new kidney.

This is a true story that ended up very nicely.

But could have not ended up like that.

That day when Javier and Alejandra saved Hernan’s life, they were ready to give up. Why should they have cared for someone else’s problems if their problems were huge too?

It is very easy to save others when you already are safe. But Javier and Alejandra showed up with generosity in the worst time of their lives.

It is easy to help others when you are ok, what is difficult is to help others when you are nose-diving, in your own life.

It is easy to look down when you are plummeting but it is not easy to look to the sides.

The instinct is to keep looking down, some have the ability to look up and maybe pray, the real challenge, when you are nose-diving, is being able to look to the sides and help others.

The new year started ten days ago.

As we, in this location, rent a room temporarily, our souls rent our bodies for some time.

What are we bringing to the room?

What are the belongings we put in our luggage for this trip?

You know, I devote some time to prepare sermons. I have a strong passion for sermons and I want them to be creative, inspiring, a real teaching moment.

This year while I sat down to write this sermon, I opened the machzor randomly and there it was one of the most precious prayers we have in the High Holidays. The vidui. The confesion. Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu.

I learned many years ago, back in my days of rabbinical school, two explanations about this prayer and why it is said in plural.

The first explanation is that we say it in plural is because we do not want to be embarrassed. If I said out loud I sinned, I cheated, my kids sitting next to me will react. The oldest ones will say: you cheated? Seriously?

My younger children will say cheater cheater pumpkin eater. And I am fasting…

That is the first explanation. The second one is kol Israel arevim ze la ze. Each of us is responsible for our fellow Jews. So we say it in plural, because I may have not stolen anything nor I gave fool advice, but I can think of many Jews who have done that last year and I am responsible for them too.

These are the explanations I knew.

So I was in my office with the open machzor and I started to sing: Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazalnu.

And the sound of the plural in Hebrew resonated very loudly.

Nu? Nu?

What have you done with all that?

This is a moral statement, the most clear proof that we are falling in a nose-dive.

This is a declaration. We have sinned, we have gossiped, we have lied, we have been disrespectful.  We did all this and nu?

What is different from last year, when we met the same date, the 10th of Tishrei? Nu?

I ask myself the same question and I am not sure I can find many differences from last year.

So, Nu?

We have renewed our airbnb for one more year with the main owner. We can stay in Gods property.


What am I going to do with the year that was given to me?

I have a suggestion.

Look to the sides. Look at the people who are next to you, even if you are falling or failing you are still feeling.

Look at your sides. Be a helper. Stretch your hand to someone.

Assist someone who needs you.

Help those who are next to you even if you are nose-diving, so next year when God willing we will gather together…

When you hear the nu?, you’ll look at your sides and you will feel you are not alone.