How did you feel when you last thanked someone for their assistance? How did you feel when someone held the door open for you? How did you feel when someone called you or texted you out of the blue just to say, “Hi. I’m thinking of you?” Good, right?
Everyone is capable of doing a good and kind deed every day: welcoming someone by introducing yourself or pausing so someone can go ahead of you, making a meal for someone not feeling well, sending a thank you note, giving food to those in need, making a phone call to check in on a neighbor or relative. These are all actions of gemilut hasadim, good and kind deeds.
Starting in Kindergarten, our students learn that a mensch, the Yiddish word for a person of integrity, is someone who does good and kind deeds. Through the book, How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer, students learn what it means to “fill another person’s ‘bucket’” through positive actions versus “emptying” or “dipping into” another person’s bucket by being unkind, teasing or bullying.
Students take pride in recognizing their own “bucket filling” actions, such as being polite by raising their hands, inviting someone to play on the playground, and thanking or assisting their teachers and parents. They quickly realize that being a mensch and filling other people’s buckets fill their buckets too, making everyone a happier member of our kehilah/community.
Throughout the day at school, our students have a myriad of opportunities to do gemilut hasadim: students hold the door for their classmates, welcome guests to classrooms, and help clean the lunchroom after their class eats. Even in our “new normal”, students are building their “muscle memory” to be “bucket fillers” through good and kind deeds in their classrooms.
Walking into a first grade classroom, you hear the students encouraging one another with, “You’ve got this bud. Let’s give him some more think-time,” when another classmate is stuck on a math problem. “The kids are incredibly supportive of one another,” shared Emmy Lowe, first grade teacher. “They give each other time, encourage one another to take another chance, and are so patient with one another.” Ms. Lowe went on to say, “The most kind and best deed we can do is to be responsible with wearing masks, our hand-washing and sitting six-feet from one another outside so that we can eat lunch without our masks on. I thought this was going to be difficult for first graders but it hasn’t been at all. They want to keep each other safe and in school and take this responsibility seriously; this is truly gemilut hasadim in action.”
Another good, kind and colorful deed was that of Emily Mallory’s Kehilah Crew. The students created colorful dots that are stuck on the walls of the Middle School’s hallways to remind students how far to stand from one another. Each giant dot is hand-colored by the students, bringing both a wonderful splash of color and a gentle reminder to all.
As values go, according to Jewish teaching, gemilut hasadim is more important than even the value of tzedakah for three reasons:
- these are acts that can benefit all people, regardless of socio-economic status;
- they are actions that support the living or the dead (attending a funeral is an act of gemilut hasadim); and
- gemilut hasadim can be fulfilled through giving of tzedakah or assisting someone with your time, presence and thoughtfulness.
This fall, we are focused on two all-Kehilah gemilut hasadim efforts. In October, we are asking students to bring in non-perishable food items as well as fresh produce so that we may “share the harvest” with local food pantries who provide emergency food to those in need. Unemployment due to the pandemic has led to more of our neighbors experiencing food insecurity. According to Gina Cornia of Utahns Against Hunger, food insecurity has risen by over 9% since February 2020, with 17.4% of Utahns in July being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
On November 6, we will be out raking leaves for our annual Fall Leaf Haul. While we can’t sing the day’s anthem due to the concern over aerosols spreading coronavirus, we will be singing our beloved leaf-raking song in our hearts while we are “having a ball at fall leaf haul.” This is a spirit-lifting kehilah bucket-filling event, as we feel great about helping our neighbors and they are so grateful for our efforts.
Through good deeds and acts of kindness, McGillis is making a difference.