Acts of Kindness

In Judaism, there is a concept of “chesed shel emet” – a truly righteous act. Usually, this refers to acts we do for the deceased. How we handle the burial, words we speak. These are consider truly righteous because you do it with the full knowledge that the dead can’t pay you back. The motive is pure and often given at a time when of great need.

Sometimes, I see or hear about something that seems to reach almost that level of kindness. Something that touches deep inside and seems to be a kindness that comes simply from human decency but has an element of going beyond. One act of kindness reminded me of another, long ago. Both resulted, in some way, from an act of terror and both brought a measure of comfort.

The first happened just over 20 years ago. We had been in Israel a little over three years. My children were settled in to school, our fourth child had been born and we had bought a home and a car. On a personal level, moving to Israel was everything I had dreamed it would be…and even more. On a national level, there were so many terror attacks in those early years; and each came as a shock.

All were horrible. In all the years that we have lived here (and even before we came), there are those attacks which are forever burned into our memories. They cause such a deep level of emotional devastation that long after, we remember the place, the time, where we were when we heard the news. I was 14 and living in New Jersey when Palestinian terrorists attacked a school in Maalot – 22 murdered schoolchildren. I was home with my family here in Israel, as the Fogel massacre in Itamar was unfolding and will always wonder how anyone could murder a four-month old baby.

And the murder of the 7 girls in Naharayim was another such attack. I remember crying and asking my husband how any parent could possibly send their daughter off to school in the morning…and bury her that night.

The great act of kindness then was King Hussein flying in from Jordan and visiting each of the families. That he bore some responsibility for the attack cannot be ignored. It was his soldier that opened fire on the girls as they participated in a school trip. It was his army that armed the terrorist and ultimately, 20 years later, it was his country that released the murderer to freedom and celebrations for the murders he committed. Nevertheless, he stunned our country and touched our hearts by the simple act of decency in coming to the families and making a condolence call. He didn’t have to do that. No one would have expected him to fly in, and yet he did.

The second such act of kindness happened this week and also has its roots in a terror attack in which a child suffered. This time, it was one young boy who lost his parents; rather than 7 young girls who were lost to their parents. Eight years ago, Moshe Holzberg was just two years old when terrorists stormed the Chabad house in Mumbai and murdered his parents. He was saved by his Indian nanny and brought back to Israel.

This week, the Prime Minister of India came to Israel to sign some trade deals and further cement a relationship that is both economically enriching for both countries and politically advantageous for both. But more, India and Israel have an incredibly warm relationship and as someone who has visited India twice, I can tell you that the people of India truly support Israel.

Credit: Chabad

Prime Minister Narendra Modi did a lot of things during his visit. He shook hands with Israeli leaders, even hugged a few. He visited the sea and went wading into the water with Bibi. And he did something else.

He made a little boy, one who was left orphaned during a terror attack in India, feel special. Modi visited with Moshe, who is now 10 years old and living with his grandparents and told him he was welcome to come back to India to visit. He hugged him, smiled at him, and treated him as what he is – a precious child whose survival was a miracle.

I can’t explain why this visit touched me. Perhaps it is because no matter how much his grandparents have been able to give Moshe, he is still missing out on growing up with his mother and father. He deserves this moment, this special memory he will keep with him always. It doesn’t make up for not having parents, but it’s pretty cool to meet two Prime Ministers, even before you reach the age of bar mitzvah.

More, by the time Moshe was three years old, he had already learned that the world can be a very cruel place. I have no doubt that Moshe has been blessed with loving grandparents who have and will continue to share love and light and kindness with this special child that so many of us remember from that tragic day.

But, I hope Prime Minister Modi’s visit furthers Moshe’s awareness that the world is filled with kind people. Sometimes, that’s all we can do in the face of terror and cruelty – do one act of kindness, reach out and touch those who suffer…as King Hussein did back in 1997, as Prime Minister Modi did this week.


Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.