Thanks to an amazing job, I have the frequent opportunity to travel from Israel to the United States. Since September, I have made 7 trips back and forth, so in many ways, the travel has become routine. Often, I fly out, go through my meetings, and come home, with really nothing special to report. On my most recent trip however, I had two experiences that made me remember that we can all make a true difference in the world.
During my second week in the US, I decided to do something that I had not done in a very long time. I took a 2 day “vacation.” It had been almost 2 years since my last true day off, so I decided with July 4th weekend right around the corner, this would be a good time to clear my head and to get some much needed rest. After looking at some possible destination options, I decided to spend these 2 days in Manhattan. I have been to New York many times over the years for meetings and for family obligations, but it had been more than a decade since I actually visited the city as a tourist.
On my first day, I set out to explore the city and ended up walking a good 5-6 miles, through Central Park and towards the upper part of Manhattan. While enjoying my walk, I passed a family that was clearly speaking Hebrew. Naturally, I stopped for a second and I could tell that they were having a difficult time. From what I could gather in just a few seconds, the family was trying to reach Times Square and they were turned around. So, I stopped, and in Hebrew asked them if I could help them.
Without a pause, the father gave me a huge hug and thanked me for stopping to help. He explained (in Hebrew) that they had been wandering around trying to find kosher food and that no one had offered to help. So of course, I opened my app and found them a great place for lunch. We started talking a bit and I learned that the family lived in Pardes Chana. The parents were of Russian descent and while their Hebrew was fluent, their English skills were not as developed. They were visiting New York, as their son was getting ready to go into the Israeli army. They were so touched that another Jew/Israeli had stopped to help that they even offered to have me join them for lunch. While I politely declined, as I was heading in the opposite direction, I was very happy to be able to help this family to enjoy their vacation. Not only did it only take me a few minutes, but it seemed to have made a huge difference in their day and overall impression of New York.
The next night, I had the opportunity to see an amazing Broadway musical called “Come from Away.” The musical tells the story of a small Canadian town that became a major hub for planes from all over the world on September 11th. The residents of the this province dropped everything to help the stranded passengers feel at home. They collected food, clothing, and other supplies to make the best of an extremely challenging situation. The musical even featured the story of a Rabbi who was among the stranded passengers. The character, based on an actual passenger set up a kosher kitchen and made sure that the kosher passengers had food and other Jewish related services. While the show was amazing in terms of music, acting, and choreography, the main lasting impression was the selflessness that these people showed to help their fellow human beings. As I was watching the show, I thought about how many communities in the world would do the same thing for total strangers. I would like to think that anyone would, but sadly, I am not so sure.
So what do these two stories have in common? Well, we can see the difference we can make in a person’s life with some simple help and good intentions. Sometimes it is the small act of kindness that can make the true difference, and other times greater efforts are required. It all starts though with that willingness and the desire to make a difference.
This summer, many of our children are home on vacation or are engaged in fun/recreational activities. Our kids deserve the time off from academics, and some pure old fashioned fun is important for their development. This is also a great time however to remind our children and ourselves about the importance of helping others and of doing those small acts of kindness. There are many organizations both in Israel and in the US that welcome volunteers and other types of help. It is important that we show our kids that just by being nice to someone, we can make a day better. Our kids should know that as part of the future generation, they should be ready to help those in need, even if they do not have a personal relationship. The idea of “Tikun Olam/Fixing the World” is an important concept in Judaism. During the school year, our kids get wrapped up in homework, activities, sports, etc. During these few weeks of summer vacation, let’s see what we can do to encourage our kids to lend a helping hand, and to try to do their parts to be there for those who need that extra help.