It’s been over 20 years since that summer. But I’ve never forgotten Henchi and her kindness
Years ago, you crossed paths. It may have been a brief encounter, it may have been a relationship spanning years. In that meeting place, something changed. Her hands warmed your essence, left an imprint upon your soul.
Seven writers sought out the women who changed them — and told them of the impact they’d had
The summer I turned 11, I attended sleepaway camp for the first time. Although none of my friends would be attending Agudah Midwest, I was buoyed with excitement, enthralled by all of my sisters’ camp stories. I knew I’d be fine leaving home on my own.
I was in for an unpleasant surprise.
From the moment I stepped off the bus, I was engulfed in a cloud of desperate, deep homesickness. I managed to make one friend, but it was only our shared homesickness that drew us together.
To my disappointment (and envy), she left after a few days, while my parents were adamant that the best thing for me was to stay and prove to myself that I could handle this. But all I could talk about was how badly I wanted to go home; I’d call home multiple times a day from the camp’s pay phones.
I remember waiting in line to use the pay phone, and just as it was my turn, the phone rang. I picked up.
“I’m so homesick,” I sobbed into the receiver. “Can you call back later? I need to call my mother!” The poor, confused caller on the other end immediately agreed.
At the time, I didn’t even recognize the humor in that exchange. My homesickness trumped self-consciousness. It dictated everything. I couldn’t seem to get past it.
I don’t remember how I connected with Henchi Weiner. She was one of the head counselors — the “strict” one who enforced curfew and rules. We loved her, but everyone took her seriously.
The first time I spoke to Henchi, she patiently listened to me cry and validated my feelings. She didn’t try to convince me that my homesickness was silly or tell me I was being too dramatic. She let me be exactly whom I needed to be and feel exactly what I needed to feel.
From that day on, Henchi came to my bunkhouse every single night to tell me goodnight. The strict head counselor would come over to my bed and ask how my day had been! I couldn’t have felt more important.
Henchi also told me to knock on her door each morning so we could walk to Shacharis together. And I did. Morning after morning I’d wake up, get dressed, and walk through the dew-drenched grass and quiet, still-sleeping campgrounds to Henchi’s room.
The confidence our relationship gave me helped me move past my homesickness and enjoy the remainder of camp.
It’s been over 20 years since that summer. But I’ve never forgotten Henchi and her kindness, the way she showed me that she was rooting for me and that she valued our relationship. She gave me a sense of belonging. I felt singled out and special. Henchi didn’t just assuage my pain — she recognized and validated who I was.
I was a little nervous about reaching out to Henchi after so many years had passed. It wasn’t only that I’m shy on the phone, especially when speaking to someone I don’t know well. In my mind, Henchi was still 12 years younger than I am now. I wanted her to stay that way: the perfect picture of a selfless post-seminary girl.
I wondered what she was like now. And I realized that someone with that kind of graciousness couldn’t possibly have changed very much.
I’d once figured out that my husband’s old friend was Henchi’s brother, so I got her email address from him, then emailed to ask if we could talk. When she responded with her phone number, I saw in her automated signature that she was a therapist. I wasn’t surprised at all.
Henchi Goldberg née Weiner didn’t remember who I was. Somehow, I didn’t find that surprising either; I saw it as further proof of the kind of person she is — someone who exudes kindness, with the individual acts melting into one another. We starting talking, and I felt comfortable right away.
I reminded her of our morning walks and our nightly talks. I could hear the sweetness in her voice, and I knew she was the same kindhearted Henchi I remembered.
It was an enlightening experience to reconnect with someone who’d had such a deep impact on me. Expressing my gratitude reminded me just how significant small acts of kindness can be. It pushed me to ask myself how I’m creating that kind of acceptance for others.
As I hold on to Henchi’s kindness, I’ll allow it to guide me, in the hopes that the ripples of her kindness will keep spreading.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 694)
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