Two weeks ago, I received a phone call from Shoshi,* a young woman who was our baby sitter over the past Sukkot holiday in Israel. She is a girl with a smile that lights up the world, who is always joyful and giving blessings to everyone she meets. One of 10 children, Shoshi lives in a small town near Jerusalem with six of her younger sisters. Her parents are divorced; her father lives in America and is unable to hold a steady job because he is disabled. He sends no money to his family. Her mother is trying desperately to keep the family together on the little income that she is able to earn -- about $400 a month, mostly from charitable donations.
Shoshi finally reached a point where she felt that she had nowhere to turn. She prayed to the Almighty and reached out to her friends in Los Angeles. She wrote to me that she felt so uncomfortable about contacting us but she was desperate and hoped that maybe we could help her. She had absolutely no money for the rest of her seminary year and if she did not come up with the required balance, she would be forced to leave. She described to me how much she was growing and how amazing the classes were and why it was so important for her personal well being to stay in this extraordinary school. She had been washing dishes at her seminary in order to earn spending money and to help out her family. Was there a possibility we could help?
Her email ended with this thought: "I know God has a plan for me and it will work out fine in the end."
Since Shoshi was the beloved baby sitter for two families, I contacted my friend. We knew we had to do something. We were committed to keeping her in school.
We wanted our children to take ownership, to feel the responsibility.
We brainstormed and agreed our children should be empowered to help Shoshi realize her dreams. They had a personal relationship with her; she had spent hours with them. We wanted our children to take ownership, to feel the responsibility. This was their opportunity to step up to the plate and experience the power of putting yourself on the line for someone else and really give.
They were off and running in a way only children can: they decided to set up a lemonade stand in the heart of Beverly Hills to raise money for Shoshi. We created posters and banners featuring Shoshi. Our children flagged down every car that came by and gave them a pitch. Every person who stopped contributed to our "Shoshi campaign." They were impressed that our children were taking responsibility for the welfare of someone halfway around the world.
Our lemonade cost a dollar. It was just an excuse for people to give whatever amount they could. Some gave $5, others gave $50. One person gave $20 and actually came back saying, "I need to give you more," and handed us $100. They were so moved by Shoshi's story and by our children. Our kids were riding bicycles through the neighborhood rounding people up. They saw the potential of their own personal power.
That Sunday afternoon we worked at the lemonade stand for only two hours and made $1000. We were so inspired that we decided to try it one more time. The second Sunday there were more kids, more adults, more excitement about our lemonade stand. We took in an unbelievable amount of money -- $4000 from the stand, and another $5000 through emails -- beyond our wildest goals.
Shoshi now has the financial wherewithall, thank God, to stay in seminary and some additional money for herself and her family.
We who are blessed to live in large communities with many resources must be creative and proactive in helping the Shoshis in our own lives. Writing checks is great, but sometimes it can be too easy. Digging in, putting ourselves -- and our children -- on the line is much more powerful for us and our families.
Don't wait for someone to knock on your car window. Look around, get involved and get your kids involved. They are the secret weapon and the future of the Jewish people. In helping Shoshi, we helped our own children most of all.
(*Not her real name.)