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As we approach a new year, find more ways to emulate kindness daily

Throughout the year each of us searches for meaning. This search becomes more intensified as we anticipate the start of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and contemplate the other important holidays that follow in rapid succession. Our sages instituted the sounding of the shofar during the month of Elul to stir our souls in order to awaken us to the importance of the coming weeks — not just days — of awe. 

Each of us finds meaning in different ways. Some eagerly anticipate the rabbi’s message, designed to provoke thought, meaning, and change for the coming year. {mprestriction ids="1,3"}Others find inspiration in the familiar, haunting melodies that touch the soul. Others enjoy gathering as a community to pray or sharing a delicious meal with friends and loved ones as a meaningful way to celebrate the holidays. Many find meaning in nature, eagerly anticipating the splendid display when the leaves change color. In short, inspiration can be found all around us, if only we are open to seeing it.

In Kansas City, many of us have been touched by two special people who inspire us by teaching and emulating kindness. Norman Polsky, z”l, promoted kindness by distributing small flashlights with the kindness message. SuEllen Fried promoted the “Kindness Is Contagious … Catch It!” message and the “Power of Kindness” pins.  Both have impacted many locally and around the country.    

The kindness message is simple, elegant, and very inspiring. Each of us has the ability to do kind deeds (gemilut chasadim) and touch others in a profound, powerful way. As with practicing yoga, we need to be mindful in order to practice kindness.  

Our tradition teaches that we can affect our fate for the coming year in three ways: repentance, prayer, and tzedekah (loosely translated as charity). I would argue each requires mindfulness and leads us to being kinder people.  

Repentance: Our mindfulness makes us realize we sinned and wronged others. By asking forgiveness of those we have wronged, we articulate our awareness that we, intentionally or unintentionally, may have hurt another. Maybe we forgot to RSVP to a party, failed to return a phone call or email, or didn’t follow through on an obligation. After recognizing we could have acted differently, we commit to behaving differently in the future.  

Prayer: Through our prayers, we ask for G-d’s help to change. Each of us must find a way to translate our prayers into action. We ask for strength to become more empathetic listeners; better communicators; and more appreciative of the deeds and generosity of others. Ultimately, through our mindfulness and good deeds, we pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Tzedekah: We show kindness by doing what is right — giving charity in order to improve the lives of others. Two examples come to mind. Consider getting involved in the Chevra Kadisha, which helps to prepare our loved ones for burial. Participate in projects impacting or helping others. At a recent Jewish Federation Women’s Philanthropy meeting, we assembled 1,200 feminine hygiene kits to be distributed to three recipient agencies – JFS Food Pantry, Newhouse and SAFEHOME.     

I would argue that a community built on kindness (gemilut chasadim) is the kind of community where G-d’s presence is felt. It is a community where people do mitzvot daily. This is a community where Judaism is alive guided by Torah values.   

May each of you be blessed in the weeks ahead with inspiration, peace, good health, and abundant kindness. May each of us dedicate ourselves to building a beautiful community based on G-d, Torah, mitzvot, and acts of loving kindness.

Lisa Bernard is the chair-elect of the Women’s Philanthropy of Greater Kansas City{/mprestriction}