Why people who are blind should own cars, or: How to ‘think mitzvahs’ – Part II

V. Wheelchairs on the Beach
(This is the second article in a series about “Thinking Mitzvahs” – the first can be found here)

The problem:
Getting to the beach – all the way to the water’s edge – in a wheelchair.

The solution: Make a wheelchair with giant, balloon-size wheels that roll easily on sand. One could, perhaps, even design easy-to-change wheels for a regular wheelchair; and, perhaps, if the person in the wheelchair doesn’t want to be pushed by someone else, you could design a mechanism to allow the person to manage the wheels by himself or by herself.

Solved by:

Someone already. I have seen a picture of such a wheelchair, a sun-flooded picture from one of the beaches on the Maryland shore. Whoever did it simply got there before we did because –
Who in his or her wildest imagination would have thought of it?

Anyone of us.

VI. Leftover Food from School Lunches
The problem:
1. The kid comes to school with a sandwich, a bag of pretzels, baggies of carrots and celery and other healthy munchies, and a big orange.
2. The kid loves the sandwich and snarfs it down, goes for the carrots and celery and orange, but decides not to eat the pretzels.
3. The kid throws out the bag of pretzels.

The solution:
1. A collection box in the cafeteria or some other room in the school.
2. One person takes the leftovers at the end of the school day to a local shelter or soup kitchen.

The results:
1. Less food is wasted.
2. Many hungry people are less hungry.
3. Money used by shelters and soup kitchens for food can be saved for other things like job training, computer equipment for re-training, cars for transportation for people who need to get to their new jobs (whether or not they can see).

Solved by:
In a Jewish day school – four 5th graders at a Solomon Schechter Day School in Baltimore.
In the public schoolsDavid Levitt, a 6th grader from Pinellas County, FL, did it. It took less than six weeks from the time David wrote to the Superintendent of Schools until the time the decision was made to change the school policy.

Who in his or her right mind would have thought of it? They did.
But anyone of us could have.

Everyone is talking and writing about right brain/left brain performance. Perhaps it is time to talk about and write about The Right Mind and The Other Mind. The Other Mind is the one that deals with our everyday, familiar goings on. The Right Mind is the Mitzvah Mind.

Once you get started with leftovers, the possibilities are everywhere…. bakeries, grocery stores; the White House, Congress, and Supreme Court, the State Department, Treasury Department, and Pentagon dining facilities; the governor’s office, the mayor’s office, the city council dining room; stadiums and arenas; pizza parlors, greasy spoons and burger joints; university cafeterias and university Kosher eating clubs; hotels, motels, and resorts (we still have to do at least one Mitzvah while we are on vacation); catering halls; airlines, AMTRAK, and charter boat companies; art museum cafeterias, symphony hall cafeterias; corporate headquarters cafeterias; overnight camps, day camps, retreat and conference centers, and anywhere else there might be food and a likelihood of leftovers.

VII. Interlude: Some Historical Perspective

1. Someone had to be the first person to “invent” fire for heating and cooking. Now all of us take fire for granted.

2. Someone had to be the first person to invent a wheel. We take wheels for granted. Wheels – how could we live without wheels?
3. Along the way, Louis Braille (1809 -1852) took a previously known system of raised dots, adapted it, and developed a method for blind people to read. Braille – we take it for granted….That’s just the way many blind people read. And nobody flinches when he or she sees hearing-impaired people using sign language to carry on a simple or complex conversation. Someone had to invent it. Nowadays, it’s just one of those “regular things” in life, just one of the ways things are.

4. Somewhere along the way someone figured that dogs could be trained to lead blind people. No one stares or flinches when a seeing-eye dog walks by with its owner.

5. Microchips. It’s the same thing as fire, the wheel, Braille, and the seeing-eye dog. By using brain power, insight, imagination, people keep coming up with these astonishing breakthroughs.

6. Take, for instance, the story of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865). In the late 1840’s, childbed fever was killing mothers at a frightening rate in the hospital where he worked in Vienna. Indeed, it was happening everywhere. The joy of giving birth was being destroyed by the tragedy of the mother’s death, again and again and yet again. Semmelweis urged the doctors to wash their hands. The number of deaths from childbed fever went down dramatically. Some members of the hospital staff listened to him, and some didn’t. Semmelweis spent years fighting to prove his theory. He eventually died in a mental institution, driven mad by the resistance to this incredibly simple idea. To wash their hands! What doctor in his or her right mind nowadays, what doctor who wants to keep his or her license would ever begin any medical procedure or examination without washing his or her hands? Such a simple thing.

VIII. The Little Shampoos

The problem:
1. In any given town of 50,000 people or more, there are lying around the house at least 47,983 little shampoo bottles, hair conditioner bottles, soaps, sewing kits, shoeshine rags, shower caps, hand lotion bottles, and other tiny useful items people pick up at hotels.
2. They are just sitting there in the closet or medicine chest or in a cute little display on the sink in the bathroom.

The solution:
1. Gather all these items.
2. Distribute them to individuals on limited income through battered women’s shelters, food banks, and soup kitchens.
3. Save thousands of dollars, which can be used for all kinds of things. (See VI: The results, 3 above)

Solved by: Elana Erdstein, Detroit, MI, age 12, (Now Rabbi Erdstein of Temple Sinai, Atlanta) but –

Who would have thought of it?

Anyone of us.

IX. The Chilean Children
The Problem:

In Chile in the 1950’s, for every 1,000 live births, more than 130 infants died before their first birthday. In Chile in the 1950’s, more than two-thirds of Chile’s children age six and under were undernourished and, as a result, suffered some mental damage.

The solution:
Set up nutrition centers and intensive children’s treatment programs throughout the country to solve this one very specific problem.

The results:
By 1992, the infant mortality rate had fallen to less than 16 deaths per 1,000 live births. By 1992, less than 8% of Chile’s children were undernourished, and those Chileans growing up are virtually free of mental disabilities due caused by hunger and undernourishment.
Since the 1960’s, the average height of Chilean children is six inches greater than the children of the previous generation.

Solved by:
Dr. Fernando Monckeberg and the thousands who joined him in his work. (The title of the article about Dr. Monckeberg runs, “One man widely credited with saving Chile’s children”.) Without even asking the question, “Who would have….”
we know that

anyone of us

could have thought of the solution. And – once we thought of the solution – we could have solved the problem ourselves, if we had the time, the energy, the guts, and the persistence to make it happen.

X. Mitzvah Clowning

The problem:
Unhappy kids, sad kids, kids whose hair has fallen out because of chemotherapy, unhappy adults, sad adults, adults whose hair has fallen out because of chemotherapy, all kinds of other sad and unhappy people in hospitals and institutions.

The solution:
Learn clowning, dress up as a clown, and go into the hospitals and institutions and make people happy.

Solved By:
Many, many clowns.

Solution #2:
Teach clowning in the religious school. Have the graduates go into hospitals and institutions to make people happy.

Solved by:
Sweet Pea and Buttercup (Mike and Sue Turk) of Short Hills, NJ

1. Make a study of accelerated recovery rates.
2. Calculate the millions of dollars saved by earlier release from the hospital, savings in cost of medications no longer needed, reduction of hospital staff, and all other related costs.
3. Get reduced insurance rates for people, hospitals, and institutions who have clowns on staff.
4. From there, it is one easy step to solving all the medical problems in the world. Dig in: pick another area of health care and solve it, then another, then another, until health care is solved and you can move on to some other piece of Tikkun Olam.

I will share more ideas, problems, and solutions about Thinking Mitzvahs next week as well.

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."
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