I work at the Religious School at my synagogue, Temple Beth Sholom, in Cherry Hill, NJ, twice a week. This past Sunday, I was with a class as they learned about gemilut hasadim, or acts of loving-kindness, something they described as a matter of “Jewish love.”
While listening to the students discuss what they believed gemilut hasadim to mean, I was able to reflect on a time when I had experienced an act of loving-kindness.
It happened while I was in Israel. A friend and I were traveling from Jerusalem on a Friday to spend the weekend with my cousins who live on Moshav Sde Nitzan, in Israel’s desert region. It was a four hour drive from Jerusalem. My friend and I were packed onto a bus with a few Orthodox families, and their dozens of children. We were to get off the bus at a station in Ofakim, a town not so far away from the moshav.
I slept most of the bus ride with my backpack on my lap. I had my suitcase underneath the bus, and my friend just had a small carry-on that she held with her. When we got off at the stop, I phoned my cousins to let them know that I had arrived. I was only at the bus stop for a matter of seconds when I realized that I had forgotten something — my suitcase.
My mom works at the Preschool at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, NJ. In her class, they had been learning about Israel all week. She had promised her class that I would sing a Hebrew song during circle time that day through FaceTime. So, while I was at the bus stop freaking out, she and her class were waiting for me to call.
The first time that I called my mom that Friday, it was not to sing to her class. I was crying. I could barely speak. My glasses, my spare contacts, and my clothing were all in that suitcase. I couldn’t understand how I could have been so stupid. My mom suggested that I find the bus driver, so I got off of the phone. I also texted my cousin, who wasn’t so stressed about it. She said we’d find it.
That wasn’t good enough of an answer for me. I saw the bus turn back around to return to Jerusalem, so I ran and waved the driver down, and he parked the bus next to me. He wasn’t a good English speaker, but he understood enough to let me look in the luggage compartment underneath the bus. It was empty. Then, he said, “go over there” and pointed in a very nondescript direction.
I asked him to clarify a few times because it was clear that we didn’t understand each other. I went back to the bus stop sadly and he drove away.
But then he came back. He parked next to the bus stop where I, a crying fifteen year old, and my friend sat.
He then told me and my friend to get back on his bus, and he drove us to the edge of Ofakim, where we saw all of the Orthodox people who were on the bus with us. At that point, he stopped and opened the doors and we got off.
Now I was frustrated. I didn’t have my bag. There was a language barrier issue. I was crying. I looked around. Off to the side, surrounded by a young woman and her children, stood an ultra-Orthodox man, with my bag. I cleared my throat before I went over to him. “I think that’s my bag,” I said slowly.
He looked up at me. “Are you Shari Boiskin?” He asked, holding up the luggage tag. He spoke English very well. “I pulled this off of the bus because I thought it was mine, but when I saw that it wasn’t, I called the number on here and left a message. Then I thought to wait here in case the owner of the bag would show up.”
“Yes, I’m Shari Boiskin,” I exclaimed, now crying because I was so happy. “Thank you so much!”
“It was no problem,” he said, smiling, “Shabbat Shalom.”
I wished him a Shabbat Shalom in return. I felt so relieved. I then called my mom for the second time. I sang “Im Tirtzu” to her class. I was now able to show her class Israel, especially after I had seen some of the best of it. And when my mom got home from work, there was a message about my missing luggage on the answering machine.
Gemilut hasadim is a kind of “Jewish love” that we do for the sake of doing. It represents an act of kindness that one person does for another. On that day, I experienced kindness from an ultra-Orthodox man on the edge of Ofakim. To the kids in that Religious School class, gemilut hasadim was abstract. To me, that day, it was real. Being in Israel made it even more so.