Balloons for Rosh Hashanah, and many other ideas


This principle has proven to be the most common one in my entire list.(Simply add the word Duh! at the end of each example:)

  • Everyone should have food, clothing, and shelter.
  • Everyone should have access to affordable health care.
  • No one anywhere — neither child nor adult — should die of dehydration, dysentery, or any easily-preventable threat to life.
  • Adult emotions in hospitals can range from loneliness to fright and utter boredom. That’s why chaplains, clowns, and sports heroes come to visit. Recently, my friend, Gary Gondos, was in the hospital and among the visitors were members of the Washington Redskins team as well as the cheerleaders, the Redskinettes. According to Gary, the visit certainly hastened his recovery.
  • Children experience the same boredom, stress, and fear in hospitals — but to a much greater extent than adults. So Connie Netherton, first officer of a United Airlines A320 jet, founded Pilots for Kids. Particularly in December, pilots in the Chicago area make the rounds of children’s wards in local hospitals. Imagine: right by their bedside, the men and women who fly the big jets!…and all it took was this one person, Connie Netherton, to make it happen.
  • Duh! Wow! → Duh!

    When I describe grand Tikkun Olam to others, I often hear half-words and an assortment of exclamations: Wow! (the most common sound), Ah!, Oh!, Oh my!, Oy!, Ugh!, Feh! (a Yiddish word expressing extreme disgust), or sometimes a sigh or simple gasp. The Wow! → Duh! principle simply states: Through the power of Tikkun Olam, that which is astonishingly radical can become the common rule. In retrospect, all of it makes sense; this is the way things should be, most certainly can be.

    1. David Levitt’s Bar Mitzvah Project: urging public schools to donate leftover food from the cafeteria. First his own county’s school system agreed, and ultimately the entire state has joined the effort. Why not every state?
    1. John Beltzer and friends have written more than 1,300 individual personalized songs for children with life-threatening diseases. His program is called “Songs of Love”. Why doesn’t every child in such a catastrophic situation have his or her own song?
    1. An organization called Casting for Recovery organizes retreats where they teach women who have had breast cancer surgery how to fly fish. It is wonderful and appropriate exercise, and provides a means to get away and talk in a sheltered, comfortable environment.
    1. Naomi Berman-Potash’s Project Debby finds hotels that have unoccupied rooms which may be used to provide safe haven for victims of domestic violence.
    1. A most extraordinary project called “Dying with Dignity” illustrates the Wow! → Duh! principle exceptionally well. One aspect of the program is “Five Wishes”, an eight-page document that a person may fill out long before dying seems a possibility. Part of the third wish states:  I wish to have warm baths often…to be kept fresh and clean at all times….I wish to have personal care like shaving, nail clipping, hair brushing and teeth brushing, as long as they do not cause me pain or discomfort. 
    1. In Albemarle, NC, the residents of Stanly Manor Nursing Home regularly party with members of the local Harley-Davidson biker club. (Think of the postcards and e-mails to friends: “Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here!”)
    2. Synagogues distribute balloons to their deaf members on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, so they can grip the sides and feel the vibrations when the Shofar is sounded. Why not to all members, too?
    3. A photography teacher gets a request from blind people to teach them how to use a camera. At first glance, this doesn’t make any sense. Among the reasons for the request: People ask them out on dates — they want to know what they look like. Photography for blind students….Why not?
    4. Petting a cat or a dog can relieve stress. My student and teacher, Samantha Abeel, suggests that such common pets be made available to students at exam time (or any other time when they get stressed out). Why not?
    5. Joe Lejman of Gas City, IN, dressed in a tuxedo, borrowed fine china and crystal, and served as a butler for a day in a shelter for battered women. To quote Lejman, “The ladies have such low self-esteem. During the course of the day, I was serving one of the clients coffee, and then lighted her cigarette, and she started crying. She said, ‘This is the first time I could ever cry because someone’s been so nice to me.’”
    6. All those people who did a stint in the Peace Corps and VISTA back in the Sixties….They were wowed, for sure, about how much of a difference they could make in the lives of other people. When they came home, if you asked them, “Did you make a difference?” the response would have been clearly, “Duh!” (Now we should commission a study to see how much those experiences play a part in their lives today: how much are they presently involved in active Tikkun Olam work and in their commitment to protest against All Things Wrong in the World?)
    7. Once upon a time on Wall Street, a young clerk misplaced $900,000,000. He knew exactly where he had put it, but it was the wrong place. His immediate problem was how to correct the situation. The young man’s boss, known as “a screamer”, had ruled her division of the corporation by intimidation and fear. So, understandably afraid to admit the error, the clerk began to move the money over several days — $50,000,000 at a time — to the appropriate account. The problem was: the flow of money crossed into the next calendar month. Government regulators discovered the irregularity and reported it to my friend, Marc Sternfeld, the young man’s boss’s boss’s boss. Sternfeld fired the woman and kept the young clerk on the job. His reasoning, the clerk had made an honest (if rather enormous) mistake. His arrogant boss was the flaw in the system.
    8. A teenager arranges for leftovers from a bagel shop to be taken regularly to the waiting room outside the intensive care unit at the hospital…for all those people who need a pleasant diversion and bit of nourishment amid the horrible stress.
    9. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 (desegregating the public schools), The Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, (providing liability protection for donors of food to non-profit organizations feeding hungry people), laws eliminating sex discrimination, and various child-labor laws — all thought to be radical when introduced into law, but now the norm.
    10. At one point in his career, Abraham Maslow, k”z, the eminent psychologist, turned away from the study of pathological phenomena in the human personality and, instead, devoted years of research to investigating what makes people good human beings.

    Let us not dwell on the embarrassment or dismay that these breakthroughs were not made long, long ago. Instead, let us place our creative and emotional energy into making more Tikkun Olam a matter of routine sooner, before it is too late or much too late.

    Wow! Duh!

    About the Author
    Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 500 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values, besides reading from his own poetry. He is the author of 29 1/2 books on such topics as Mitzvah heroism practical and personalized Tzedakah, and Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well. Siegel has been referred to as "The World's Greatest Expert on Microphilanthropy", "The Pied Piper of Tzedakah", "A Pioneer Of Tzedakah", and "The Most Famous Unknown Jewish Poet in America."