Super Kids

Super Kids

Super Sunday is just around the corner. I’m referring to the Jewish Super Sunday, when scores of volunteers from the community gather each year in a central location for a marathon phone-a-thon to raise funds for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. The communal coordinating organization provides critical support for broad-based local and overseas needs including Jewish education, social services, and Israel. If past history is any guide, interspersed among the dedicated members of UJA’s Women’s Division and the Division of Business and Professional Leaders will be teens and preteens moved to give up hours of homework, TV, and hanging-out-with-friends time to man the phones for a shift or two.

Their willingness to help out on Super Sunday is emblematic of a phenomenon at which I’ve come to marvel: Many of our children, from the youngest to those bordering on adulthood (18 and over), are fully engaged in serious social action within the Jewish community — and beyond. And not just for a day or two, or even a month or two. When I read that November had been designated Jewish Social Action Month (by whom I haven’t a clue), I must admit, I was puzzled — because it seems that, in reality, our volunteer commitments and those of our children are year-round.

This conviction was brought home to me in a recent casual conversation — take note: not during the "official" Jewish Social Action Month — with my middle daughter, Sarah, a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College. As we looked around tony Bronxville, where the school is located, for a place I could take her out for lunch, she suggested a local eatery she’s been longing to try. "And," she mentioned, approvingly, "it participates in ‘Empty Bellies.’" When I questioned what that meant, she explained that "Empty Bellies" is a student-established and run organization through which the college dining service and many of Bronxville’s restaurants and groceries donate their uneaten or unsold food to a homeless shelter in the Bronx, an inner-city borough with pockets of severe poverty, a good ‘0-minute drive away.

That in and of itself would be extraordinary, but what struck me even more was what Sarah described as the highly efficient and organized manner in which this operation takes place. Every day, students have committed to make the rounds to collect the food and drive it to the shelter in the late afternoon. Some who don’t even have their own cars get involved with the collection and then go along for the delivery. Their dedication reflects a concern, unselfishness, and yes, even sacrifice that we don’t normally associate with this stage of life. And from Sarah’s off-handed reference, I got the impression, that she and her peers don’t consider this project in any way burdensome or unusual. It’s simply expected that they would want to and find a way to help others in need. They are not "activists," just simply responsible citizens.

True, "Empty Bellies" is not a Jewish organization, or connected to organized Jewish life on campus. Nonetheless, it highlights the point that we, as parents, have engendered in them a sensibility and a desire to pursue social and economic justice, to alleviate suffering by whatever means within their reach. Notably, they seamlessly incorporate these activities into the fabric of their daily lives, untroubled by the gulf between their own material comforts and the bleak lives of those who receive their largesse.

While as teenagers we may have railed against what we considered empty materialistic ambitions of our parents and grandparents and looked for ways to rebel through angry protests, moratoriums, petition drives, and lecturing our elders, our children, by contrast, are not motivated by adolescent rebellion and are not embarrassed by their own possessions. Rather, they take pride in the standard of living we have provided them and have internalized the impulse to aid the less fortunate, moved by a generosity of spirit, to share their good fortune with others.

This truth is borne out in countless causes they’ve taken up. These run from general, long-range projects sponsored by Jewish communal agencies and youth groups — spending a summer building homes through American Jewish Society for Service comes to mind — to private, short-term targeted efforts, such as one Woodcliff Lake teen’s success in raising $30,000 for victims of the Sept. 11, ‘001 attacks through a bracelet-selling initiative she ran through the Bergen County YJCC that fall.

As parents and as Jews, nothing about our children should please us more. The planet, I believe, will be in capable — and compassionate — hands once my generation’s (read Baby Boomers) time on it has expired. I can’t think of a more promising future for fulfilling our tradition’s sacred injunction, "If you save a single life, it’s as if you have saved the entire world."