Approximately 50 students from Richmond Jewish Day School and Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy distributed 1,000 brown bag lunches to the homeless and needy. (photo from Richmond Jewish Day School)
They huddled together to warm up on a frosty November morning, but the 50 Grade 6 and 7 students from Richmond Jewish Day School and Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy didn’t let the cold dampen their spirits. Their goal was to hand out warm clothing, blankets and 1,000 brown bag lunches to the homeless and destitute in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. With a long line of eager recipients, their effort was completed in less than an hour.
The food, sponsored by Save-On Foods Ironwood location in Richmond, included sandwiches made a day earlier by volunteers, juice boxes and yogurt. Store manager George Clarke said he was glad to supply the $4,000 worth of food. “This started last year when the schools approached us and wanted to bring random acts of kindness to the Downtown Eastside,” he said. “We’re happy to participate and I’m really pleased to see the project continue this year.”
“I learned there are a number of homeless people here,” said Askari Mehdi, a Grade 7 student at Az-Zahraa. “We’re just a small band of kids, but it’s nice to know we can make a difference.”
With the principals of both schools and members of the RCMP closely watching the interactions, the students actively interacted and distributed the food and clothing. “If our students were nervous, it melted away with the first kind word,” said Abba Brodt, principal at RJDS. “They were so excited to do a mitzvah…. We’re excited that they had the opportunity to work with their friends at Az-Zahraa again and bring more warmth and kindness into the world. You can’t teach this type of educational experience. You have to live it.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net. This article was originally published by the Richmond Review.
The key to understanding the confusing global landscape of the 21st century is to recognize that there is nothing normal or logical about it. If you’re confused by current events and concerned with the recent surge of antisemitism and the war with terrorists in Gaza, you may think that you have lost touch with reality – or maybe it’s the rest of the world that’s gone mad. Scanning the news, it sometimes seems as if the world now supports the bad guys over the good. However, if you look closely, you can see the Divine hand at work, the work of Divine providence and intervention. Why would G-d intervene in this way? Would G-d ever cause there to be irrational support for evil in the world?
The answer to this critical question is that the Almighty seeks to maintain a balance of power in the world at all times. It is often difficult to appreciate the significance of events as they unfold. When we look at a majestic tapestry, we can admire the work of the weaver, but we cannot see the back of the tapestry, with all its loose threads and knots, nor can we see the hard work that the weaver put into it or the amount of time it took them to weave such a masterpiece. In this way, the hand of G-d majestically weaves a wondrous and deliberate pattern on the tapestry of Jewish history. In order for humanity to have free choice, however, there must be a balance of good and evil in the world. In fact, in the most mindboggling illogical world events lies the deepest Divine providence and order; the chaos provides the perfect backdrop and balance for free choice and its maximum impact.
G-d’s plan is nothing short of incredible. In recent history, He has returned millions of Jews to their homeland, even though we are surrounded by tens of millions of hostile neighbors. Just this summer, terrorists in Gaza fired about 4,000 missiles at Israel. There were just a few fatalities.
My parents (may they live to 120) who live in Netanya heard a few rockets over the summer, and were so grateful when they found out that those missiles drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in the middle of the night. My sister who lives in Kfar Chabad, 10 kilometres from Ben-Gurion Airport, told me that she woke up one day to find a commercial Swiss Air jet and a huge Air Canada plane rerouted to a field just two kilometres away from her home. The airport had been closed to international flights. Watching with her grandchildren, she described how the aircraft were taking off and landing half a block from her house. My nephew was a tank commander in Gaza and, thank G-d, he came home safely.
Given everything, it was miraculous that there were few Israeli fatalities. Nonetheless, most of us here in Canada felt helpless. However, Israel saw supporters gather in cities around the world. Here in Vancouver we had two rallies in just one day in late July to show our love for Israel and our gratitude to the soldiers of the IDF. In fact, the afternoon rally at Vancouver Art Gallery felt like a miracle in itself. Seeing my own sons with the Israeli flags draped round them and seeing them singing, dancing and being with community members from the Lower Mainland filled my and my husband’s heart with nachat. Holding up our posters and flags to cars driving by on Georgia, our hearts swelled with joy and pride. The sign I made and carried, the straw hat I wore with an Israeli flag through it, gathering with Jews and non-Jews in support of our homeland, I felt a true sense of unity.
What is our role in G-d’s plan for the world? How can we believe in G-d when there are so many things going on that we abhor? What can we do about it all?
Our role in this world is actually a mission that G-d gave all Jewish people. It is to join together in unity to create a peaceful and harmonious world. Some call this tikkun olam. If we’re worried about what’s happening in Israel, we can review some of the many thousands of miracles that G-d has made for us. In fact, we don’t need to worry, because G-d is in control, as we have seen so many times over these recent months. G-d has given each of us what we need to be able to fulfil our jobs in this world. We are called, “a light among the nations.” This means that we need to try to model ourselves as bright lights. How do we do that?
One way to do this is to teach by example. By making ourselves the best we can be and by helping our friends and families, as well. True, we can only have influence over those close to us, but we can engage them in doing mitzvot, for example, praying to G-d and saying psalms every day, including chapters 20, 130, 142, which are particularly relevant for our soldiers in Israel. Any mitzvah that we can do, big or small, can turn over any difficult times we may have. Doing mitzvot is the way we teach those around us to not feel helpless. On the contrary, we do mitzvot to feel special and important in G-d’s eyes.
Whether it be visiting someone who isn’t well, putting some coins in a tzedakah box, calling someone who may live alone and would appreciate a call, shopping with people who may be new to town and aren’t familiar with our city yet, the list is endless. That way, we are doing something instead of feeling helpless to change the situation.
Whether it be visiting someone who isn’t well, putting some coins in a tzedakah box, calling someone who may live alone and would appreciate a call, shopping with people who may be new to town and aren’t familiar with our city yet, the list is endless. That way, we are doing something instead of feeling helpless to change the situation. That is how we find our belief in G-d increasing and we can sleep at night knowing that G-d is the one watching over us and His whole universe that He created. Doing mitzvot also guarantees that we will retain our own goodness and not, G-d forbid, fall into wanting to take revenge on Israel’s enemies.
When we celebrate Rosh Hashanah this year, we can also ask G-d to give us the faith that we may feel we have misplaced. It is a wonderful time of year as we go to synagogue to pray to G-d for ourselves, family, community, and to feel connected to G-d who loves us so much, as a parent loves an only child. When we wish each other “Shana tova u’metukah,” we are offering everyone we speak to a wonderful, sweet New Year with all their wishes coming true for them. Our blessings to each other are precious and we get many mitzvot for offering them. Then our faith will shine through us as we make the world a better place. Our hearts will be filled with joy when we hear the 100 blasts of the shofar each day of Rosh Hashanah, as we know we are asking G-d to grant us a year filled with health, happiness and only good for us and all our sisters and brothers around the world. What a wonderful feeling that is.
Shana tova u’metuka, have a wonderful, sweet year beginning with an apple dipped in honey, and then enjoy everything sweet in your life this special year of 5775. Celebrate in your special way with family and friends. May G-d give you the strength you may need this year to accept your gifts from G-d in an open way.
Esther Taubyis a local educator, counselor and writer.