Friday, November 16, 2018 / 8 Kislev 5779
Summary: Oasis Songs will be on a one-week hiatus over this coming week. Let me wish you all a gratitude-filled Thanksgiving. In honor of our national holiday, it seemed appropriate to think about kindness. Surely, one of the well-springs from which kindness gushes is our awareness that we have been given many blessings. Out of all we have received, a reciprocal desire to pay it forward is created.
Some Reflections on Kindness
On Wednesday, I attended an early morning meeting with representatives of the Tigard Tualatin School District and area faith leaders. The gathering was convened by our own congregant, Karen Twain, who serves as the district’s assistant superintendent. We learned how truancy rates are much higher among some of minority populations, and how the high school came up with non-punitive ways to address this problem.
Among the presenters were two students who until recently had struggled with truancy, self-harm, drug use and other issues. Yet through two of these non-punitive programs, LIFTT (Leader, Integrity For Today & Tomorrow) and SRT (Social Responsibility Training), these teens had changed their lives and were feeling optimistic about their future. For the first time, they had a positive view of themselves as well. Their stories were emotional and compelling.
Yesterday, we laid Stephanie Shternberg to rest. She was only twenty five. The death of someone so young is clearly tragic, and her family is understandably bereft. While the loss for the family is immediate and heavy, just as real for them is the legacy of their daughter’s path through the world. Stephanie, you see, packed her days with more life than many people manage over long decades. Apart from the travels and adventures she had and the ongoing impact that her medical research on protein-based cures for cancer will offer, what stood out about Stephanie was how dedicated she was to the well-being of others. She was one of these characters who lit up a room and who was suffused with kindness. Her large heart imprinted itself on hundreds and hundreds of people—both children and adults—and her memory will clearly be an enduring blessing for many.
One of the sacred gifts that rabbinic work offers to those who practice it is the opportunity to encounter these powerful and inspiring stories. What ties these diverse narratives together is the transformative power of kindness. Chesed, our Hebrew word for kindness, comes in innumerable forms. The obvious dimension is how chesed touches the recipient. Equally true is the manner in which chesed transforms the practitioner of kindness. The great Yiddish writer, S. Y. Abramovitsh, created word paintings of Jewish beggars. In these stories, he readily portrayed how chesed flowed equally from the beggar to the donor as from the donor to the beggar.
Within our kehilla, our holy community, so many congregants practice the art of kindness. One group worthy of note in this regard is our Hesed Committee, who volunteer in many unseen ways.
For example, recently a hospitalized woman and her husband were provided kosher chicken, challah and grape juice, enabling them to have a Shabbat meal in her hospital room. They were so grateful for the support of the congregation during a stressful medical situation.
Another person even was willing to share her story publicly. Michelle Iimori-Goldenberg wrote: “On behalf of Randy and myself I would like to express my gratitude to the Hesed Committee for all of your help after my husband’s surgery. It meant so much to me as the primary care-giver who works full time to have the delicious meals brought to our home. This was such a blessing that it is difficult to put into words. Instead of racing home after a full day at work, to cook and clean and care for my husband, I could focus on my husband and some of the household chores that needed tending. You made a huge difference!”
In another case, following an accident, a mother was appreciative for the meals and friendly visits she received during her immobilization. Indicative of the bi-directionality of kindness, this woman expressed her personal plan to volunteer for the Hesed Committee after her own recovery.
There’s a startling line in the Torah that reminds us there will always be poor people. The deep truth is that it is beyond our capacity to eliminate human suffering. Indeed, it seems an intrinsic part of the human experience. We live with the humility that each of us can only address some part of another’s needs. Occasionally, we fail one another when we are unable to provide all that they might desire. Simultaneously, it is through chesed that we are called to respond to suffering, and transform the grief and loneliness that often accompany it. There is something heroic in how our kehila engages in this never-ending yet holy work.
Please know that Sheri Cordova (email@example.com) and Barb Schwartz (firstname.lastname@example.org), who co-chair our Chesed Committee are available and eager to serve. If you know someone who could use a visit, a meal, or even a phone call, reach out to them. After all, as S. Y. Abramovitsh taught us in his tales of Jewish beggars, you’ll do a favor to the committee by allowing them the privilege of serving. But they can’t do that if they don’t hear from you.
SHABBAT TABLE TALK
- Recall an incident over the past week or two in which you were the recipient of some unexpected act of kindness. It can be as small as when a driver lets you into heavy traffic.
- Sometimes we don’t pay attention to the kindness we provide others. Think about some recent moments when you have extended yourself to others.
- There’s a phrase in both Hebrew and English that no good deed goes unpunished. When did someone misinterpret your actions? Did that impact your desire to be kind?
If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.