The Shia Ismaili community, St. Augustine’s Catholic School and Vancouver Talmud Torah students assembled gifts of hope and compassion, and distributed them – along with 2,000 servings of food items courtesy of Tim Horton’s – to residents on the Downtown Eastside. (photo from Vancouver Talmud Torah)
Random Acts’ Class Act is an annual award program for schools worldwide, intended to inspire acts of kindness around the world. The winner is the group that is the most creative and inventive in performing an act of kindness in their community and receives $3,000 US for their school.
Last year, Shoshana Burton and Jessie Claudio, then of Richmond Jewish Day School and Az-Zahraa Academy, respectively, won the Class Act award for Abraham’s Tent: Using Diversity as a Base for Unity, a joint Jewish and Muslim service learning project. Together, they planned a week of giving: teachers and students alike spent the week handing out scarves, shoes and bag lunches in one of Vancouver’s poorest neighborhoods and performing other acts of generosity in their community.
This year, with both Burton and Claudio at Vancouver Talmud Torah, they and their students were runners-up to the award for their Kindness Project.
With the organizational efforts of the sixth and seventh grade students of VTT, local community members were gifted with myriad kind gestures over a span of several months. Among the projects were a Random Acts of Chesed Race, in which students and their families gathered together to spread kindness across the city through a series of small acts; a holiday gift exchange with a neighboring Catholic school, during which students shared in one another’s traditions; and a donation drive for a nonprofit working to provide shoes to children in Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Ruben’s Shoes), for which the group collected more than 710 pairs. In addition, the group also paired up this spring with the local Catholic school and the Muslim Shia Ismaili community to distribute care packages to the homeless community in Vancouver – a project that not only helped the homeless, but the students as well.
“The focus was not only on handing out necessities and food to needy people but also to interact with them with compassion and restore their hope to make sure they understand that they are not forgotten,” wrote Burton to Random Acts, adding that the projects were meant to “build bridges of understanding that we are more of the same than different.”
“Jewish education includes many lessons about doing chesed, being generous, being compassionate, being nonjudgmental and inclusive from a very young age,” Burton said. “Our goal at VTT is not only to teach about it but also to provide students with enduring real-life opportunities to apply those so they can see and feel the great impact of their kind actions…. When we allow them to have a voice in how we will do things, they become empowered and literally unstoppable. They want to do more and we continue to be amazed and touched, seeing them inspired and inspiring all who are around them, including parents and teachers. The younger students watch the enthusiasm of the older ones and want to do it, too – it becomes contagious and takes a life of its own.
“Kids are not only compassionate but also curious to know more about the world, other cultures and faiths,” she added. “Our Grade 7 students had three projects with Muslim and Catholic students. They did not only learn to see similarities and common practices between faiths but also found themselves teaching about Judaism, feeling proud to tell the world who they are. Another example of building bridges with other cultures was when we invited a First Nations cultural group from Alert Bay to come learn about and participate in a Havdalah ceremony. When we were done with the Havdalah, we participated in one of their traditional drum circles, it was fascinating and moving.”