June 1, 2010
It Takes A Smile To Change A Life
Every single act we do, every decision we make with regard to our behavior, affects our lives as a microcosm and as a macrocosm. Even the tiniest gesture, like a smile, can change our own fate and possibly the fate of the world in an enormous way.
When I was five years old, my parents were trying to make the decision of where they would send my brother and I to school. My parents were hoping to send us to the local public school, but my mother had made a request to the school board to send me to a different district with other Jewish kids whom I had had as friends. The school board refused to accommodate my mother’s request and insist I go to the recommended public school that had shared my zip code. “If you want your daughter with Jewish kids, then we suggest you move,” was their recommendation.
At the time, my father was practicing medicine and was visited weekly by a jovial Rabbi who spent his Fridays bringing wine and Challah to the patients and Jewish doctors. Each week, without fail, my father would receive Rabbi Newman’s visit followed by this question- “Nu, Dr. Shallman, where will you be sending your children to learn Aleph Bais?” And each time my father would say the same thing, “My kids are toddlers, I think we have time.”
After two years worth of Friday visits, the time had come. My parents had to make the decision of where they would be sending me to Kindergarten. That Friday Rabbi Newman came for his weekly visit with his weekly question, and my father responded- “Nu, Rabbi, what do you got?”
For years I always wondered what inspired my parents who were reform Jews, to put their two children into a traditional Jewish day school where half of their child’s’ day would be learning Judaic studies that included Torah text, lessons on Jewish laws, and a school that celebrated Israel, and Torah values daily, not just the three times a year that we normally engaged in Jewish practice. The school did not in any way represent the lifestyle we had at home. My mother and I barely lit Shabbat candles. The most Jewish thing we had, was some statue that looked like a Chai hanging on the mantle and stale Manishewitz matzo from Passover three years prior hiding in the cupboard. Aside from eating non-kosher chicken soup at the local “kosher style” deli, and lighting our Menorah followed by presents wrapped in blue foil paper once a year, our Judaism was hardly part of our lives except by association, of course.
Obviously, this decision completely reshaped my life. I was consumed with my Judaism on a daily basis that led to a very real journey, which created the path I am on today. Finally I asked my dad what made him do it.
My father recounted the moment he knew The Hebrew Academy was our home. He was waiting for my mother to come out of a meeting when he happened to see the third grade class being let out for the day. The Rabbi bent down and whispered gentle words of encouragement to each child, followed by a smile before dismissing them to the bus. Children walked past my father with a twinkle in their eye and my father said it was the most moving experience he had ever watched. It was at that moment he said he knew that what he wanted for his children was a school that would foster their love for Judaism, and for themselves for the sake of their self- esteem, and for their own self- pride. He knew we would have that as he watched it being demonstrated by Rabbi Dubinsky that day.
To think that one man’s smile changed another man’s life, which was an innocent act that the Rabbi never even thought twice about. He probably never even knew anyone was watching him.
What happens to you as a macrocosm, can affect your microcosm even by accident. This one innocent act proved to sustain, feed and change many other lives besides the ones who were affected by the encouraging words of this Rabbi. And if one random act can alter an entire path, how much more so, one foible can surely have the same ripple affect causing a flutter that gains momentum into a catastrophic wave which has everlasting affects on others’ future negatively.
I frequently imagine what would have become of my life had Rabbi Newman not visited my father each week in his office. I especially wonder how my life would have looked had Rabbi Dubinsky decided not to take the time to dismiss his students with so much kindness. To this day, he has no idea how that moment has affected and changed a life.
I have a rule that I never use real names in my articles, but this is one time, I felt it was necessary, for I hope that one day, both Rabbi Newman and Rabbi Dubinsky will read this article and gain much strength from knowing their random sweetness impacted an entire family in an incredibly memorable and positive way.
With my child’s eighth grade graduation around the corner, I dedicate this article to all teachers who have impacted my children’s lives this year and for many years to come.
Thank you to: