Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Delivering a Fresh Batch of Hope

By Susan Esther Barnes

I actually wrote the following story over a month ago, but I didn't want to post it until after it was published in our synagogue's newsletter. All I did was take out a few names in the interests of privacy.

These days, teenagers lead busy, complicated lives. What with homework to finish, social and athletic activities to participate in, and numerous text messages to send, it seems they have time for little else. Why is it, then, that every Tuesday night Monica can be found baking cookies she won’t even get to eat?

Monica and her mother, Jessica, have always enjoyed spending time together in the kitchen. When Monica was preparing for her bat mitzvah last year, she was able to use her cooking skills when her class made a meal for the men staying at our synagogue as part of the temporary rotating winter shelter. “The best part was hanging out with the guys after they ate,” Monica exclaims, “I learned a lot of things from them that I wouldn’t have assumed. One of them even spoke Hebrew!”

Monica’s Torah portion, T’zav, was about making sacrifices, so for her mitzvah project she decided to sacrifice some of her time and energy each week by baking cookies for the men she had met at the homeless shelter. Now that it’s more than a year later and her obligation to do a mitzvah project is long past, Monica has faithfully continued to bake for the men every week again this winter.

“She does it all,” says Jessica, “All I do is drive her there to drop it off.” Asked why they do this every week, she says, “Everyone wants to do good stuff, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to do. At the synagogue they make it easy to do things for other people.”

Jessica also finds meaning in a term Rabbis Lezak and Kushner use, “hiddur mitzvah,” or “beautiful mitzvah,” which is about not only doing a mitzvah but doing it in a beautiful way. As Rabbi Kushner explains, “It is the difference between doing kiddush with a paper cup or doing kiddush with a cup a child made or someone gave to you.”

As Jessica describes it, “For me giving is purposeful and fulfilling. If someone took the time to help me and my family, it would give us a tiny bit of hope. You can’t live in your own head, in your own bubble. You can’t wait for someone else to do it.” And so, week after week, Jessica drives Monica to the synagogue to do a hiddur mitzvah; to drop off a freshly baked batch of hope.

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