One of my earliest childhood memories is watching my mother clean lice out of Shari‘s hair. Shari was a family friend whose parents were away for a few days and her shiny long black (infested) hair became quite a night’s activity. I’m sure my mother rid my hair from lice more than once in my life so I find it fascinating that I remember what she was doing for others more than I remember what she did for me — it highlights the power of selflessness and generosity. And I imagine Shari has minimal recollection of the day, which is a fascinating part about giving in general — it generally has an equal or stronger effect on the donor than the recipient. The “feel good” power that comes with giving dominates. And these are themes that I try to consider often in my parenting — what messages are my kids digesting, what memories are we making, and are we prioritizing giving?
Other childhood memories of mine are replete with vacations, days out of the house, and of course, events with associated pictures. The day-to-day of childhood— not so much. So as we in Israel approach practically a month of vacation, how can we elevate our long days with messages and memories that we are proud of? What pictures do we want to be making ? Where are we spending our “days out”? What small changes can we make to our ways of being so we can be the parents and people we admire?
Some ideas I have collected — a work in progress, (as is all parenting!):
- Fun, out of the home opportunities (that are usually free) include “chessed outings.”
- Customized chessed opportunities can be found on this website.
- Consider children whose parents are working or unavailable to provide them with vacation/Chol Hamoed fun. Offer to take some extra kids with you. Sponsor a day at kaytana for a child. Buy some extra tickets to the zoo or amusement park and share them with a needy family. The school yoetzet or a local Rav may be able to distribute them appropriately if you prepare early enough!
- Hospitals and nursing homes are open every day, practically all day. So even when its Erev Chag or Chol Hamoed and the popular volunteer opportunities aren’t available, there are always people that would love a visit. And if you don’t want to chat, small gifts like decks of cards, crayons and coloring books are always a great way to connect to people and kids in emergency rooms or hospital wards. It’s always fun to use your hobbies of music and card tricks to entertain patients and their caretakers. It’s rare that you will leave these visits feeling unfulfilled.
- Take to the beaches and parks— with rubber gloves and garbage bags. As you end your day out, have your group spend ten minutes cleaning up other people’s mess. ( Some can even make a contest out of this if you are those kind of parents!) It will set a great example to strangers watching you and you can be assured that your group will never litter again!
- Follow the leader — find that person, or people in your community that seem to always be doing things in alignment with your values and ask them to inform or involve you in their good work.
- Involve your kids in your donations — if you are in clean out mode and donating clothes or food or toys — have them be the ones to deliver the items to the dropbox. Discuss to whom ( which population of “needy”) they want to donate special clothing as they move into the next size.
- Find a partner family. Kids will be often be more enthusiastic if they are going with a friend. And if you become “chessed buddy families” it’s a beautiful basis for a long-term friendship. A buddy also alleviates the burden of planning — you can rotate or share the responsibility while having someone to whom you are accountable.
- On Rosh Chodesh Nissan have a family meeting about Maot Chitim and Afikomen presents. Allocate some money for kids to give to tzedaka and help them research and decide to whom to give. A very practical kid friendly site is Ten Gav.
- Who are we inviting for YomTov meals? Are there families who would be want to be invited to your house— either because of a financial or social need? It’s not just at the seder that we should be opening our homes to the disadvantaged.
- There are elderly living in your neighborhood who are lonely. Some are English speakers that would love the chance to talk about the good old days. Some just want a card or backgammon partner. Reach out to your local organizations and ask for a few names to visit. (Be clear at the start of your visit how long you can stay.)
- Your shul or school could always use some extra hands– Tape up ripped bindings on books. Sort through the coat racks and lost and found. Post pictures of the items on social media to help people identify their belongings. Even kids can help beautify the space and return lost items!
Surprisingly– or maybe not when you consider the ‘getting’ element of giving, ‘simcha’ on the holiday is described in the Torah as: וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְהַלֵּוִי וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ.
Simcha is achieved through connecting with, and taking care of others, especially those who are ‘alone’. It is not just about celebrating with your family and friends, but it is the deep joy of sharing God’s blessings with others– especially for those to whom those blessings are not coming easily.
Chag Sameach and please add to this list in the comments below!