My kind employer lets me leave my secretarial job twice a week to reach out and teach Judaism to students attending a Chabad after school Hebrew program located in Manalapan, N.J.
We start the two-hour session teaching the students the aleph–bais in the school library. When I entered the room one of my students who had become much more positive and cheerful over the past months was looking at me with pain and confusion in his eyes. Bewildered, I asked if he was tired, or had had a hard day in school. With a weak voice I barely could hear him answer, “My father is moving out.”
He is very close to his father. My student is the only son and he has a baby sister. I offered to go for a walk with him in the hallway where we could speak alone together.
I reassured him that no matter what, he will always be close to his father and stressed that his father will always love him and that their relationship will not change even if his father is not living with him at home.
He looked like he was in a state of shock so I kept repeating how sorry I was, and how strong he must be. I explained to him that Hashem does not give a person something to deal with that they cannot handle. I also told him that maybe one day he will be able to help children who are going through a hard time because he knows how it feels. He nodded in agreement about these things but I still wanted to do more to help him.
Then I thought of using another approach. We have an unusually compassionate and sensitive student in our classroom who is also struggling with parents who are not living together. She just turned 9 years old but speaking to her you would think she is much older than that.
I thought she would be happy to help out a fellow student in distress. I asked my bewildered walking partner if he would like another student who has gone through a similar experience to help give him support.
After he consented we returned to the library and I asked Ms. Compassionate if she would like to go outside with me, that I have something I would like her to do to help out a classmate. She was more than willing to cooperate. As soon as we returned to the library she moved her seat and pulled up a chair to sit next to the student who was sad. His face brightened with the attention she gave him and I was delighted to see the two of them speaking together.
The director passed out tickets to children who were behaving well and studying. He conducts a little raffle to win a Slurpy after we study the aleph–bais. Something special happened, Ms. Compassionate took her ticket and with a warm smile and placed it on the desk in front of her newly found charge. No one had hinted or asked her to give away her ticket, but she instinctively knew that helping someone in need meant making sacrifices.
I often think of that moment. I look forward to learning and growing with my students. I am grateful to Hashem for allowing me to witness and encourage young people to become great adults. With one act, one student, one day at a time, we can make this world a better place.