When Teaneck resident Mitchell Gross died in April at the age of 36, his friends wanted to ensure that his memory would be preserved in a fitting way.
“He loved children,” said Rabbi Michoel Goldin, new youth director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County. “He was always helping kids in need.”
To commemorate the young man’s love of children, his friends established a fund to create “youth chesed programs throughout Bergen County.”
Goldin, who was brought on to head the Kids in Action project for the Chabad House in Teaneck, has been working with youngsters for the past three months, involving dozens of children, ages 5 to 12, in a variety of what he calls “kindness” programs. Additional activities have been created for teens.
“The amount of good deeds we’ll be doing in [Mitchell Gross’s] name will be enormous,” said Goldin.
In October, 7-year-old Leah Rubinstein of Teaneck participated with about 70 others in a leaf-raking program for Teaneck families who could not manage the chore themsleves.
“I enjoyed it,” said Leah, a student at Yeshivat Noam. “It felt good and they thanked us for doing a mitzvah.”
Judith McLead, a teacher at P.S. 20 in Paterson, was one of the people Leah helped. A lifelong Teaneck resident, McLead recently had hip replacement surgery and could not tend to household chores.
According to Goldin, who spoke with McLead after the children raked her leaves, “Early Sunday morning I stood by my door with my walker surprised to see how many kids and especially young ones [came] to help rake my lawn. I said thank you to these wonderful children for as long as I could stand…. I am very grateful and I hope the children received as much as I did.”
Mendy Garb, a 9-year-old from Teaneck and a student at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, raked leaves as well, as did his sister Kaylah, 11.
“The bigger kids held open the garbage bags for the younger ones,” said Schneur Garb, the children’s father.
But while the leaf-raking was fun, said Mendy, his favorite activity so far has been making cards for the Teaneck police and delivering them to the police station.
“The cards said ‘Thank you for being a policeman,'” said Mendy, noting that he particularly enjoyed the tour of the police station offered when the group went to deliver the cards.
“We learn about good deeds,” said Mendy, “how people can do things” to help others.
Lt. Mike Falvey of the Teaneck Police Department said it was “an absolute joy” to have the children come to the station.
“We let the kids put the cards in [police-station] mailboxes,” he said, noting that each child carried one card addressed to a specific officer.
“They were super-excited,” he said. “We had to lift them up to put the cards in.”
Noting that the officers hadn’t been told about the cards in advance, Falvey said that “they thought it was great. Everyone’s was different, but they were all good.”
“I’ve never seen a project like this,” he said. “We’ve received thank-you letters for individual acts, but these cards thanked us for everything and for serving and protecting the community.”
According to Goldin, the “kindness group” meets every three weeks on Sunday mornings.
“The first time we had about 35 kids,” he said, noting that the group discussed the importance of thanking people and, especially, why the police are important to a community.
“The children wrote letters and drew pictures,” he said. The event – like all others -was followed by “pizza, fries, and a raffle.”
The next event drew 60 children, he said.
“We went to the police station with the letters and they gave [the children] a tour. The officers compared their pictures and hung them up. It opened the kids’ minds to the idea of safety, and they had a good time,” he said.
The third event, again drawing some 60 youngsters, brought the children to the Teaneck Creek Conservancy to cut down reeds to be used as schach (roofing material) for sukkahs.
“There are a lot of expenses during Tishrei,” said Goldin, and “poor families can’t afford them. They have a hard time making ends meet.”
After the children bundled the reeds, cut down by adults, Rabbi Goldin distributed them to families in need.
The most recent project, Leaves for Kindness, brought the children to the homes of two families who requested help from the town in raking their leaves. On Nov. 16, the group will hold a coat drive to collect winter gear for children in Israel.
“The beauty of the program is that we’re doing something now,” said Goldin. “The programs are about showing kindness to other people, and [teaching] the children to think about someone else. Also, the children themselves are learning how to do kindness.”
Goldin added that in teaching kindness, “we are creating leaders, with an everlasting effect.”
The Chabad youth director pointed out that the kindness project draws children from all denominations and from towns throughout the area. He said he wants to go to public schools as well, encouraging non-Jewish children to engage in acts of chesed.
“We tell people to let us know if there’s anything we can do. We want to make the Chabad house a source of good for all people, Jews and non-Jews.”
For further information about the chesed program, call 201-907-0686.