| Family First Feature |

Kindness Remembered

11 readers share stories of caring and connection
A tallis
An email
A strand of pearls
A kugel
A thoughtful gesture
A small act
Yet the kindness took root
And the memory lingers


Not in Our Family

C.R. Far Rockaway, NY

Scandal happens to other people. Not to us. Not in our family.

For decades, this was the unspoken mantra in my head. What we experienced, what went on behind closed doors… that wasn’t scandalous, that was just daily life. No one outside the family would ever know. It was just our normal.

Until it wasn’t. Cracks slowly emerged in the shiny facade that had been carefully erected, projecting cool, enviable confidence to the outside world, even as the inside was gradually crumbling. But the more the inside crumbled, the louder the mantra reverberated in my head: Scandal happens to other people. Not to us.

So as we faced the inevitable shattering of the facade, we dialed up the mantra, gave it a little tweak. If the shiny facade we projected to the world is going to come apart, at the very least, we’d retain our dignity and privacy. No one from the outside world would hear a word about the goings-on from us. Let the rumor mill churn on its own, such is the way of the world; no piece of juicy hearsay would ever be traced back to a reliable source inside the family. We have each other, and we have busy, productive lives, baruch Hashem. This sideshow does not have to show up anywhere outside the four walls of our nuclear family.

And we kept to it, for months. Even as the crumbling interior generated the equivalent of multiple four-alarm fires on a daily basis, with raging emotions and practical emergencies that needed to be resolved at a dizzying pace, we had this. We’d been doing it all our life. What happens inside and what’s visible outside are parallel realities that never meet.

But then, there was a breach. From the most unexpected of sources, a public bombshell was dropped and the narrative slipped out of our control, leaking through the cracks that had been forming. For the first time in my life, when I left my house in the morning and saw women chatting at the bus stop and men walking home from Shacharis deep in conversation, the thought occurred to me: They are probably talking about me!

Still, I stuck with my trusty mantra. Yes, today’s juicy story may be about me and my family, but scandal doesn’t happen to us! So I kept going. If my workmates or neighbors had been schmoozing about me and were looking closer at me for any clues, they wouldn’t see a thing. Business as usual.

I hadn’t gotten to this point without practice, and maybe all that practice was for this moment, as I ran meetings and did carpool and waved to my neighbors and went about my business as if a grenade hadn’t just exploded near me, scattering explosive particles across the world on three continents.

I didn’t stop for a moment to think of the situation from my friends’ perspectives. I was so focused on doing my thing that it didn’t occur to me that they were grappling with this revelation. I had zero expectations from them.

A couple of days later, at nearly the same exact moment, my email pinged, and the doorbell rang. They were from two different friends, from totally different social circles — they don’t even know each other — so the timing was uncanny, as was the commonality of the unspoken message between the lines of their brief notes: We can’t imagine what this week has been like for you, we’re thinking of you. No need to respond, no need to share any details, but we’re here for you, on your terms, whenever you want.

At that moment, alone in my house, those tactful and meaningful gestures of kindness hit the bull’s-eye. It all caught up with me and I broke down with the deep, racking sobs that had been sitting just beneath the surface of my still-chanting mantra.

Scandal can happen to anyone — yes, even to me. But my friends gave me the greatest gifts I can ask for: dignity, respect for my privacy, and the message that whatever happens, I am still the same person to them.

Perfect Fit

B.T., Monsey

I was at that postpartum stage where nothing fits and everything makes you cry. We were making the kiddush for our new daughter now — even though I was only two weeks post birth — so my visiting in-laws could join. I’d schlepped around buying paper goods and pink candies and had even gone to the hall on Friday to set up. What I hadn’t done was plan what to wear.

Friday night I wore a (roomy) robe, and then after the meal, I decided to conquer my fears and face my closet.

Just as I suspected, nothing fit properly.

I pulled out a plain gray dress that might work, and blinked back tears. It was boring and old and sparked absolutely no joy.

That’s when my six-year-old wandered into my room, holding a shopping bag.

“Mommy, Malkie dropped this off for you before Shabbos,” she said.

I peeked inside, and in a stupor, pulled out not one, not two, but three brand-new, stunning dresses with the tags still on, in one size larger than my regular wardrobe.

Then I found the card.

Hey hun,

I wanted you to have something beautiful to wear to the kiddush.

The store said I can return the ones you don’t choose after Shabbos.

Love you and mazel tov,


I don’t think I’ve ever received something more meaningful and perfectly timed.

And the next day at the kiddush, while I probably still looked tired and postpartum, I felt like a queen, holding my princess.


All Wrapped Up

Chani K, Florida

WE live out of town, where Judaica items are not easy to come by. So on our trip to Lakewood for a family simchah, purchasing a new tallis to replace my husband’s 14-year-old garment was a top priority.

The logistics would not be easy; we were coming just for Shabbos, and we had dozens of errands to run before lichtbentshen at 4:30 or so.

On Friday morning, my husband davened in the shul on the corner of my sister’s block. He was wrapping up his tefillin when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

“Please don’t be offended,” a stranger with a beard much whiter than my husband’s tallis said. “This is nothing personal, it’s just a little thing I do. I noticed that your tallis looks a bit worn — really, it’s not bad at all, I just look out for these things.” The kind man handed my husband a new tallis, explaining that since he retired and moved to Lakewood, he’d taken to replacing old talleisim as his personal mitzvah, because he felt it was more b’kavodik for yeshivahleit to daven in a beautiful tallis (and stench-free environment).

“That’s incredible,” my husband replied, as he gratefully accepted the gift. “I was on my way to buy myself a new tallis! How much does it cost?”

“No, it’s my gift,” Eliyahu Hanavi replied.

“Well,” my husband pressed him, “Can I buy a second one from you? I need to replace my Shabbos tallis as well.”

My husband followed the man to his car, where his trunk was filled with brand-new talleisim. And when my husband tried to pay — the man did not generally gift people with two talleisim — he refused to accept any money, only asking that my husband have him in mind when he davened.

This man could not know how pressed we were for time on this Erev Shabbos (nor how I’d threatened not to leave Lakewood unless my husband actually purchased a tallis), but his kindness went a long way towards our menuchas hanefesh that day. And each Motzaei Shabbos as my husband folds his beautiful, new tallis, I think of this man and his trunkful of kindness.


Regal and Royal

R.L., Israel

I was just coming back to life after weeks of debilitating nausea and vomiting during early pregnancy. It was the end of Adar; I hadn’t left my house since Tu B’Shevat (aside from a few hospital trips to get IV fluids). I’d lost a lot of weight and my skin was pale, my face gaunt, but I was finally feeling ready to leave the house and move my legs.

We desperately needed new couches, so my husband and I drove to the furniture store. I slowly made my way into the store. It was already getting late when we arrived, and we realized the store would be closing soon. But upon entering the store, my senses were overloaded; I felt dizzy and overwhelmed and extremely weak. I realized I’d pushed myself too far too soon, and I quickly sat down on the first couch I saw.

The saleswoman was helping someone; she turned around and I realized the customer in the store was a well-known, internationally acclaimed rebbetzin and mentor. I watched for a moment as she discussed throw pillows with the saleslady — and then, as she turned to gesture at a set of coordinated pillows, I saw her notice me. She told the saleslady she needed some more time to think about the pillows.

It was clear to me that the rebbetzin had instantly sized up the situation. She didn’t know about the past six weeks I had spent utterly paralyzed with nausea; she didn’t know how hard it was for me to be in that store, how much effort it took to get there, how miserable I felt realizing I’d pushed myself and the store was about to close — but somehow she was able to see that I was someone who needed help.

Not one word was uttered between us, but I could feel the warmth emanating from her. She’s a woman whom people pour out their problems to, day in and day out, but I was so weak I couldn’t speak. Instead, she simply sensed I was someone who needed help, and she gently took charge. She knew that if there were still customers the saleslady wouldn’t close, so she continued to think about throw pillows for a long, long, long time, while my husband and I picked out a couch, found the color we wanted, and ordered it. As soon as we’d finished, she miraculously figured out which pillow she wanted and paid, but not only that — she offered to drive the saleslady home because she’d made her stay overtime while she’d been ruminating over the color of her throw pillow.

I didn’t say thank you — I didn’t say anything at all — but I’ll never forget witnessing firsthand true royal behavior.


Gowns to Go

Tovah Schneider, Passaic, NJ

Almost eight years ago, I was a busy young mother getting my family ready for my brother’s wedding. The hall was in Lakewood, just over an hour’s drive from our home in Passaic, New Jersey, and we needed to be on time for pictures, but everything seemed to be going wrong. My husband was under the weather, my daughters’ hair appointments took longer than expected, and my normally easygoing baby was suffering from a terrible diaper rash and screamed all morning.

Since the girls’ gowns were so bulky, we decided they would dress at the hall. “Can you please put the gowns in the trunk of the car?” I called out to my 12-year-old son. “They’re in the closet upstairs.”

“Mommy, are all the gowns together?” he asked.

I knew that two of the gowns that had needed alterations had been tied together on the same hanger, and the third gown was hanging separately right next to them.

“Yes!” I shouted, distracted, as I hurriedly packed diaper bags, pajamas, bibs, and I don’t know what else.

When we finally settled everyone in the car, I heaved a sigh of relief. We were finally on our way. As we drove along the highway, one of my kids innocently asked, “What would happen if we left one of the gowns at home?”

I sat upright.

With a jolt, I realized that I hadn’t checked the trunk to make sure that all of the gowns were there. It was so out of character for me. I was the type who usually double- and triple-checks “just to be sure.”

Even though the kids reassured me that it was only a hypothetical question, I couldn’t relax. What if we had forgotten a gown at home?

We arrived at the hall, and my husband had barely put the car in park when I jumped out of my seat and flung the trunk open. Sure enough, there were two gowns intertwined on the same hanger, but where was the third? I frantically sifted through all the other bags… no third gown!

My 11-year-old daughter, whose gown was missing, burst into uncontrollable sobs, and that’s how we entered the hall. Amid all the bedlam, a woman I didn’t recognize approached me.

“I couldn’t help overhearing what happened,” she said. “I called up a place called Deja New, and someone is going to drop off a whole bag of gowns that should fit your daughter. All they ask is that you put the bag of gowns back on their porch at the end of the wedding.”

I was dumbfounded, especially when she told me that she didn’t even live in Lakewood.

Sure enough, a bag was promptly dropped off, and as we rummaged through the dresses, I found a burgundy gown that was almost identical to the one we had left at home. My daughter tried it on, and it fit perfectly! Smiling through her tears, she ran off to join her sisters. Relatives who had missed the whole drama thought all of my girls had beautiful matching gowns.

I spent a good part of the wedding in the bathroom nursing my agitated baby. But I’ll never forget the kindness of the compassionate woman who cared about a child’s deep distress and that incredible organization in Lakewood.


Game Changer

Breindy S., Jerusalem

“Whoever gets him will be a lucky girl, but I don’t feel it’s right for me.” Famous last words.

The shadchan hesitated.

“Hmm. He sounded so positive, and I was sure the feelings would be mutual. I took the liberty of arranging a time and location for tomorrow,” she ended off awkwardly.

“Can’t you just tell him it was a mistake?” I pleaded.

“Well,” Mrs. P. answered, “you see, he’s in yeshivah, and I’m not sure I’ll reach him soon. He’ll probably be on the way by the time I get hold of him. Sorry, Breindy,” she said, not sounding particularly apologetic, “but you did say you regarded Lazer highly, so just… enjoy a free drink!” she finished hastily.

The line clicked.

My cell phone slid to the floor as I dropped my head onto my knees. I needed a plan.

Mrs. P. was right. I did admire Lazer. He was sincere, a great conversationalist, and a rare blend of traits I admired. But did he match my vision for my future husband? I wasn’t convinced.

How do you get through a date when you’ve already decided it’s a no? I wondered dismally.

A game, my sister suggested. A game would lighten the mood, steer conversation away from deeper topics.

I agreed. My friends raved about Bananagrams, and I figured it was a good idea. The trouble was I’d never played before.

I got a set and spent the next hour googling how to play and winning techniques. Finally I felt ready to practice. I marched downstairs where my unsuspecting father sat stooped over his Gemara. His ever-twinkling eyes looked up questioningly.

I launched into a lengthy tirade about the date I’d been forced into, and when I ran out of steam, my father answered calmly, “I’ll play with you.”

Just to give context, my father is a renowned Torah giant. His time is sought after and oh-so-precious. His humility and yiras Shamayim leave people in in awe. But he didn’t hesitate to spend an afternoon poring over an instruction sheet and playing several rounds of Bananagrams with his highly confused 22-year-old daughter.

Later that evening, feeling a lot calmer, I left the house, yellow pouch in hand.

We didn’t end up playing, though. That evening was a turning point. The date went very well, and today Lazer is my very incredible husband.

Thank you, Ta! I know you continue to get a kick out of this, but the kindness you showed me in the form of your precious time was precisely what I needed just then.


Seeing Beyond


MY husband and I were married for four years and not yet blessed with children. We were juggling visits to doctors and trying to live a “normal life.” It was very hard — our friends were having babies and moving on, while everything we tried failed and then failed again.

At the same time, I kept getting requests from friends and neighbors to cook meals for women after birth. I cooked these meals with a (semi-fake) smile, pondering the irony, and wondering if anyone would ever consider what I was going through. It seemed to me that everyone around me was on chesed “autopilot” and not taking the time to think about others who were maybe struggling with something less familiar.

One very hectic week I was out of work more than I was there, traveling almost daily from Lakewood to Manhattan for a procedure (that subsequently failed). Thursday night, a coworker called. She said she knew I’d had a busy week, and she would be making Shabbos for us. I told her it wasn’t necessary, but the next day she sent over a warm, fresh potato kugel.

That kugel tasted so good — not because of the recipe she used, but because it told me there was someone who cared, who realized I could also use chizuk, even though what I was going through was totally uncharted waters for her.


Room in the Heart

R.J., Zurich

I’MEuropean, and when I moved to the US for shidduchim a decade ago, I boarded with friends of my parents for close to two years, until I got engaged. Well, I didn’t really board with them. I lived with them, because they wouldn’t take any money from me.

And they treated me like a daughter. Literally. They took me to all their extended family events and simchahs as if I were a blood relative, and brought me along on their family summer and winter vacations. Their children treated me like a sibling, their grandchildren like an aunt, and not only their extended family, but even their mechutanim would invite me for Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. They bought me birthday presents; I still have the pair of dangly silver earrings they gave me for my 22nd birthday. Wow, did they ease my homesickness.

Even though I was so far from home, I didn’t feel like I was navigating shidduchim alone. I dated from their house; they’d meet the boys I went out with in their living room first, and wait up for me until I got back. Some of their kids even checked out a few of the boys I went out with.

There was one time when a promising shidduch fell through, and even though it was late at night, they both came to pick me up from the subway station when I returned, though I could have easily caught a cab. It was a chilly night, way past midnight, and I was exhausted, incredibly emotional, and physically nauseous from distress. I was standing huddled in my puffer coat on the street, trying to flag down a taxi, when their car pulled up at the curb. I still remember how cared for and loved I felt then.

Unfortunately, the father of the family passed away many years too early, but I was zocheh to name one of my children after him. My hope is that my son will grow up to be as kind and caring as his “grandfather” was.


Gifts with Grace

Shani Gerlitz, Lawrence, NY

Nearly ten years after my parents married off my older brother, they were anxiously anticipating the next wedding. As the oldest of four single daughters, I resolved not to have my parents or any of my siblings blame me for restricting their prospects. I gave each of my siblings my sincere blessings to date and move forward.

It was sister number three who met her chassan first. I remember my mixed emotions as I dressed to leave from a singles’ weekend to attend her vort. My immediate family had flown in from the West Coast for Shabbos — and here I was, networking with some people I’d already dated, and others I’d likely never date. Still, despite the disappointing weekend, I was thrilled to wish my sister mazel tov and curious to meet her new family.

After all the excited greetings and introductions, my sister’s future mother-in-law pulled us three single siblings aside and handed each of us a velvet box containing a beautiful multicolored string of pearls. She made it seem like it was a normal custom for the chassan’s family to give his kallah’s single sisters a gift. While none of us felt envious, we were still blown away by this gesture of genuine empathy and thoughtfulness. We left the vort with our treasures in hand and our dignity intact.

Nearly 18 years later, this piece of jewelry is not just a fabulous accessory, but a sentimental reminder of someone who thought beyond themselves at their own simchah.


Ups and Downs

Rina Hershberg, Israel

NO one told me that motherhood was going to be so… draining. By the time I got home from the hospital after a grueling three-day labor and complicated delivery, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep for a week straight. Junior wasn’t on board, though. Baby cried and cried 24/7, and no amount of soothing or rocking made any difference.

I schlepped myself to the pediatrician, sure there was some physical or chemical infantile mutation that was causing this adorable little fuzzy-wuzzy to turn into a six-pound bag of raging, roaring fury. But no, all was healthy and fine, assured the wise old doctor. And taking pity on the huge bags under my eyes that could hold a month’s worth of shopping, he dispensed that age-old worthless suggestion: Sleep when the baby sleeps. Which was intrinsically flawed advice as baby did not take after mommy — he needed no sleep.

Two weeks in, my husband, who’d taken his fair share of sleepless walks back and forth across our miniscule dining room, told me that our neighbor across the street was a bubby many times over and a fantastic babysitter as well. Her husband, (whose sleep was most likely disturbed by this new nocturnal neighbor) told mine that his wife would be thrilled to watch the baby a few hours every morning so I could get some sleep (and my husband could get back to kollel).

I protested, like every good new mother, but was (thankfully) overruled. I knew Bubby Moskowitz and yes, she was a warm, devoted woman who I knew would take good care of my little prince. The only catch was that she lived five flights up with no elevator. My poor abused postpartum self simply couldn’t contemplate making the trek up and down the stairs, carrying the baby and his paraphernalia. I couldn’t rely on my husband to do it; his hours in kollel were far longer than Mrs. Moskowitz’s availability.

There was a bochurim dirah next door to us, and the boys must have felt sympathetic to this little future yeshivah bochur whose parents had no idea what could make him happy. One exceptional tzaddik approached my husband one morning and asked if he could help out with any errands. (My husband must’ve looked as bad as he felt.) “Sure,” answered hubby half-jokingly. “Can you bring my baby to the babysitter and pick him up?”

“No problem!” said I-don’t-remember-his-name (Eliyahu Hanavi?) And for the next month, five days a week, Mr. Best Guy in the Mir knocked on my door every morning at nine, took Junior all wrapped in his snowsuit, and schlepped him up five flights of stairs to Mrs. Moskowitz, then bumped the stroller back down all those stairs, bringing him back on the dot of one before heading to Minchah. I always thanked him profusely, he would nod politely, and that was the extent of our communication.

But what he didn’t know was that he saved my life. Four weeks later, when Rosh Chodesh Nissan heralded bein hazmanim, I was a different person. With a month’s worth of three-hour stretches behind me, I was now able to tackle my screaming bundle of joy with equanimity, patience, and love.

Best Bochur went home for Pesach break and got engaged (this must be a segulah that all bochurim should try). We lost touch with him after that, but I’ve never forgotten what he did. I just hope that this guy’s marriage, kids, and home give him tremendous nachas and simchah, because he gave me the opportunity for the same.



A.B., New York

When I was 12 years old, I transferred from my chassidish cheder to attend  seventh grade in a new, more American-style yeshivah. It was like entering a different world. I had no idea what they were saying half the time; my Toisfos was now Tosafos, Burich was now Baruch. It was a tremendous struggle. They were both very good yeshivos, but they were on completely different playing fields. I didn’t possess the academic skills, the social skills, or the right accent to blend in effortlessly with my new classmates. And I was drowning, in every sense of the word.

For the first time since first grade, I had a woman as a teacher, Mrs. Cecile Weider. All of our other teachers were male, and so I assumed a female teacher would be a pushover and I’d be coming in to make “choizek”; this was going to be “Peerim.” But Mrs. Weider made it very clear that there would be no games and she would have total control of the class. But she saw me, and she understood that I was completely lost. For some reason, she took the time to help me — even in subjects she didn’t teach. She threw me a lifeline, becoming the saving grace that year on every single level. That difference translated into my Hebrew classes, into my home, into English, math, and science — everything.

Fast forward six months. I was still struggling, but I was in a much better place and I was able to keep up. I remember it like it was yesterday: I was standing up at my bar mitzvah in my father’s shul in Canarsie, which was a 45-minute walk from my house — and an hour and 20 minutes from Mrs. Weider’s. I was about to start leining, standing on the bimah — it was a high bimah and a low mechitzah, so I could see into the ezras nashim, when I saw Mrs. Weider standing there. I’ll never forget that moment. She’d spent so much time with me, put in so much effort to help me — and at that moment, when I realized she’d walked an hour and 20 minutes to hear me lein, I realized just how much she cared.

Twenty years later, I was walking my children into TAG when I saw their principal — and realized it was Mrs. Weider. I went over and said to her, “I’m sure people share with you all the time the impact you had on their lives. But I just need you to know that you set my life in a trajectory that has carried me until today. Seventh grade can push someone one way or another. The words ‘thank you’ will never be enough. You changed my life.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 829)

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