Here is an interview with Fran Mendelowitz, who along with Vivi Nassim and Julie Levi act as the leaders of the SSLI Chesed Committee. These community leaders are truly parents of valor, who reached out to help their fellow parents and families even before the crisis hit. And they continue to serve, celebrating and mourning the major life events affecting the families in our community.
[Note: Chesed (or khesed (חסד)) is the Hebrew word for "kindness." It is also commonly translated as "loving-kindness," or "love."]
What is the Chesed Committee at The Schechter School of Long Island and what inspired you to re-instate it?
I was charged with initiating a Chesed Committee at Solomon Schechter several years ago. At that time there was a change in leadership at the school and there was a need to limit the scope of the Committee's efforts. I was asked to produce and disseminate cards to families in times of sorrow and simcha. While I was able to do that without a hitch, I always had a strong desire to enhance the scope of the Committee. I trusted that I would find the right time to expand the Chesed Committee.
As I was preparing to meet with the PA Presidents to discuss the notion of broadening the Committee, Julie Levi came forward and expressed the same wish; to revitalize the Chesed Committee. She had just paid a shiva visit to a grieving SSDS family and took note of their desperate need for community support. Julie and I, along with the help of Vivi Nassim, spent the next several months meeting and planning our New and Improved Chesed Committee.
The Chesed Committee is the arm of the school that reaches out to families during times of simcha, illness, disaster and loss. Chesed Connectors reach out to families to offer support and assess needs. As needs are determined, volunteers are assigned to provide help such as carpooling, meal delivery, babysitting etc. Additionally, families with new babies receive personalized picture frames and cards, while grieving families or those suffering illnesses or disasters receive cards, meals, books and reading lists.
During and after Superstorm Sandy, the Chesed Committee expanded its outreach even further. Several school administrators and Board members joined forces with the Committee to meet the expansive needs of families affected. Daily conference call meetings were coordinated to assess needs and match families with needed support. Day schools throughout the country and numerous friends of Schechter throughout Long Island stepped forward and generously offered to help. Hundreds of gift cards were disseminated, cars were provided, snacks were disseminated, carpools were coordinated, housing was donated etc.
Through the tasks of the Chesed Committee, small or large, Schechter families learn the true meaning of the Hebrew phrase, "Kol Yisrael Areving Zeh la Zeh;" all the people of Isael are responsible for one another. It is the support of their community that brings them comfort and relief.
(The Chesed Committee has also offered workshops to train volunteers about the meaning of g'milut chasadim along with the do's and don't of visiting the sick and comforting the bereaved.)
Now that Sandy is behind us, where do you see the Chesed Committee going in the next 18 months?
Throughout the storm and its aftermath, the Chesed Committee has continued to carry out its charge of meeting families' needs during times of simcha and sorrow. B'nai mitzvah cards were sent, shiva meals were provided and supportive phone connections were made. The Committee will continue to meet families’ needs as before, however we hope to coordinate our efforts with high school students through the able assistance of Rabbi Josh Rabin. In addition, we hope to attract new volunteers and offer additional training related to helping others during times of need and disaster.
What advice would you give parents at other day schools if they want to set up a similar committee?
Taking the time to plan and coordinate the day-to-day operations of the committee is crucial. Developing Subcommittees related to different needs (e.g. births, losses, illnesses) and selecting trained Peer Connectors to serve as points of contact for families has been quite effective. We would recommend hosting an initial kick-off meeting with a training/workshop for volunteers. We also advise parents of other schools to develop a manual with job descriptions for volunteers.
A critical part of the Chesed committee is enhancing awareness. We would recommend an extensive outreach effort to school administrators and secretaries while also submitting articles to school publications to let the community know about the Committee. Getting information to the Committee about illnesses, disasters and simchas is vital to the Committee's success.
Words of Wisdom
"To give is to get," and helping to form a cohesive and caring community out of a student/teacher/parent body has been a most rewarding endeavor.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "may I never get too busy in my own affairs that I forget to respond to the needs of others with kindness and compassion."