Some lessons last a lifetime
By Chandrea Serebro
School gives you so much to think about and too much to do, but Jewish learners still manage to dedicate themselves to chesed projects aimed at bettering the lives of others. Here are just a few innovative student projects that are proudly Jewish.
King David Victory Park
If you saw the King David Victory Park students after exiting their final exam with massive smiles on their faces, you would be forgiven for thinking that their pure and unadulterated joy was due to the fact that they had just finished school for the rest of their lives. Yes, this was a reason to celebrate. But, if you looked closely, you’d see that they were barefoot. And that part of the reason they were so happy was the feeling of being able to mark their joy and freedom at finishing matric by doing something much bigger than themselves at that very moment. “Being the kind-hearted learners these matric students are, always striving to do better for others especially while celebrating their own achievements, they left behind their school shoes to be donated to underprivileged learners. Some learners also brought in their school uniform to be donated,” says Nirvana Rogers, Campus Marketing and Admissions Manager of KDVP. This gives new meaning to the phrase “big shoes to fill”, setting a fine example for other students to mark their moments by thinking of others as well.
Every year on the 10th of May, Yuval Cohen gives herself the best birthday present. She gives herself the gift of giving, because every year hundreds of underprivileged children are surprised with a gift of warm clothing when Yuval and the Snuggle Buddies team arrive with bags to distribute to orphanages and underprivileged children and teenagers in and around Johannesburg. It’s a significant date, not only because its Yuval’s birthday, but also because it’s a birth date she shared with the late Jared Morris (who passed away at 24 in early 2016 after suffering from a long illness) with whom she also shares a mutual aunt, and a vision of a better world.
“Jared was especially known for his generosity, kindness, and always being there for anyone who needed help. He was known for always wearing slippers instead of shoes and often went out in what he called his “business slippers”. After his death, it was Jared and his “business slippers” that inspired his friends to come up with the idea of collecting slippers, gowns, pyjamas, and any warm clothing to distribute to those in need to honour Jared’s memory. As a student of Torah Academy, the importance of chesed and giving to others is not lost on Yuval, and getting involved in something “larger than yourself” is “important”, she says, “because we live in such a sheltered environment that we forget that there are so many people that go without even the basic necessities”. Yuval joined Snuggle Buddies to do good in Jared’s memory, and through this she feels she has a deep and lasting impact on others. “When one gives from his heart and his time, the reward that he gets back is indescribable. The children’s faces and appreciation are beyond words.” Collections for 2018 have already begun in Johannesburg and Cape Town. To donate please contact Pam at email@example.com or Yuval at firstname.lastname@example.org. Drop off points are at 3 Sunridge Road, Linksfield, at 8 Grove Street, Ferndale, Randburg, or 22 Pine Road, Orchards.
King David Linksfield
“In order to do chesed you don’t need to move mountains or have millions. You just need to open your eyes and heart to the world around you and realise that one small ponytail can shake and storm the world,” says Nurit Joselowsky, a Grade 11 Student Leader at King David High School Linksfield. And the ponytail in question is what Nurit and her friend Taryn Hoffman used to inspire others and raise funds towards the treatment of a fellow King Davidian, 10-year-old Hannah Katz who is battling stage 4 cancer. “We started a campaign where once we reached our goal of R18 000 we would cut our hair for cancer.” The girls took to social media, and within 24 hours had reached their goal and had doubled it 48 hours later – “which meant we were cutting our hair”. “People are willing to contribute in order to help others. Our hair will grow back, and by doing this our smiles will grow even bigger.” The girls started out to awaken their own and other people’s hearts to the true plight of someone in need. “It’s not just that we want to donate our hair to make wigs for children who have lost their crowns. It’s that we cannot fathom the pain of what it takes to fight this horrible disease. We also hope that we have inspired others to grow their hearts just a little bit more.”
In a grateful message to Taryn, Hannah said that one of the hardest things for her had been losing her hair, and Taryn and Nurit likewise both treasured their long pretty locks. But, with huge smiles on their faces, one snip is all it took to have made a “giant impact” and, once their hair was cut, there was no stopping them. “We kept increasing our goal, and in the merit of a speedy recovery for Jodi Brozin (Yehudit Chana bat Pessa), we achieved our further goal of R54 000, going on to raise R311 000 in two months.” “Chesed is a great opportunity to take small steps to make giant change. It’s an opportunity to think bigger than ‘me’ and ‘selfies’. You don’t need to have billions to do chesed – you just need a smile and a heart – with these two things you can change the world for the better,” says Nurit.
King David students all had the chance to get behind the cause on Cancer Awareness day, when over 50 boys shaved their heads and 19 girls chopped their hair to donate 25cm of it for wigs for Cancer patients, raising over R5000 in honour of Hannah Katz. Awareness about Cancer is an important component of showing support for those fighting cancer. Shaving one’s hair in solidarity is a visible show of support, and the overwhelming response at the hair shaving stations was a proud moment for all. “By cutting our hair we convey to the world that our unity, our love, and our support take precedence over our appearance, our reputation, and our ratings. Only by giving to others are we able to receive even more in life, and this is the optimum example of a true mitzvah.”
Yeshiva College Girls High School
There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved, goes the oft-quoted saying of George Sand. And it was in this vain that the Yeshiva College Girls High School chose to share the love by showing the people who have loved the most in one lifetime just how special they are. “It was a privilege to get the opportunity to spread love, joy, and happiness around on Valentine’s Day,” says Ami Lee Selikson, a Matric student of Yeshiva College. “We decorated the old-aged home with heart chocolates, posters, and streamers, uplifting the residents and getting them into the spirit of love.”
And a group of Yeshiva College grade seven girls were also spreading the love with acts of chesed. Not with hearts and chocolates this time, but rather through sticky slime, which proved to be such a huge hit it goes to show that love and kindness do indeed come in all forms. Leora Froom, Shiri Kaplan, and Dalya Uria had a busy Chol Hamoed Sukkos spending their free time making slime and selling it to their family and friends. “When we learned of Hannah Katz’ illness and the costs of her treatment overseas, we were very upset. But her positivity and the optimism of her family inspired us, making us want to do something to help in some small way,” say the entrepreneurial students. They perfected the art of making the slimiest, stickiest slime in all colours, and they donated every cent of their profit to Hannah Katz.
“We learned a lot that holiday. About running a business, keeping track of costs and expenses, sticking to a budget, and working out how to make a profit. We spent hours perfecting our slime recipe and mostly we had lots of fun too.” The girls took the impetus to do something good for others and made it into a successful business at the same time, but they never lost sight of why they were doing it and that it was for the betterment of themselves and others. “It was a great distraction for us over the holiday and we got together at every free opportunity, having hours of fun, giggles, and laughter. Although we are teens, we still enjoy having fun and making slime. And because we felt that we were helping Hannah in some small way, it made it worth all the hard work and the sticky hands.”
Hirsch Lyons Girls High School
“We have been privileged to attend a school where chesed is a top priority,” say students of the Hirsch Lyons Girls High School. So much of a priority, in fact, that in the younger grades, a set timeslot is allocated purely to doing chesed – such as helping a family or visiting an old-age home. And the virtue of doing acts of kindness to enrich the lives of others and better the world is so entrenched in the students’ lives that by the time they get into the higher grades, no set time is needed, but the kindness carries on. “Hirsch Lyons High Schools have recently started a project L’ilui nishmas Ze’ev Ben Dov, z”l, where pupils are able to contribute their small change every Friday, that then goes towards Yad Aharon’s soup kitchen.” This ‘chump change’ has a surprising impact – and so far ten pots of soup have been donated.
Over the year, the Matrics at Herzlia High School have participated in many Outreach events. Some events were once-off, such as volunteering at TEARS for Mandela Day and various drives and initiatives. But, as matric student Kaelly Berkowitz explains, one of the on-going activities was visiting the residents at Highlands House; a project which proved to fill the lives of those giving and those receiving with joy and friendship. The project is called SJC, which stands for Students for Jewish Care, and care epitomises what went into it from the start. “Each week a group of inspired learners rushed down to Highlands House from the school. We divided up into smaller groups and interacted with the residents. The residents were drawn to our groups and we left feeling that we had made a difference as both the residents and the students had a great time. On the Chagim, we created handmade packets filled with goodies, love, and a card, and handed them to the residents. The visits were very meaningful as we all bonded and looked forward to the next one.” The Herzlia students showed that caring and compassion truly can cross generations.