Yes, I know it's Hanukkah. But this story is timeless. Think about it when you light the Hanukkah lights.
It was the morning before Passover. Despite COVID having hit New York hard, with hundreds of people dying a day and thousands sick, Jews were preparing to observe the holiday of Passover when I suddenly got a phone call. A single friend who was en route to the place he planned on spending Passover at figured he had COVID and would not be able to go there. He was headed back to his empty apartment, unprepared and uncertain.
While I have helped set people up with Shabbat meals, even last minute, in the past, making Passover arrangements at 2 PM for someone in quarantine would be tough. Due to the pandemic’s crushing impact on New York, many well-prepared individuals did not have enough Matzah and Passover food for themselves, let alone providing for someone else. I did not know what to do. Then came my West Side Miracle.
I posted on an Upper West Side Facebook group a brief description of the situation. Within a few minutes, I got to see the most beautiful thing in the world. While I expected people who clung to every scarce piece of kosher for Passover food and Shmurah matzah, West Side singles came forward with kindness that overwhelmed me to this day.
It is hard to describe the sense of horror in the air at the time or the extent to which kosher for Passover food was scarce. And yet, one person went to the grocery store to get this young man groceries. I told him to buy whatever is needed and that I would pay him. He shopped generously, delivered, and refused to be paid. Others came forward with homemade food, supplies and even brought him a Haggadah. They dropped it off at his doorstep and asked for no reward to recognition.
Since it was a three day holiday attached to a Shabbat, West Sider singles were not just delivering a Seder or two meals, but food for the entire Passover. Those who could not come deliver before Passover made sure to check in and help out as the holiday went on.
I personally kept on getting messages asking if there was anything else that can help this young man, yet everything was already taken care of. The angels that came out to help asked for nothing in return, and did so with utmost humility, just to be kind. Others kept on checking in to make sure everything was ok with him. An initiative of Israeli American’s called Ozen Kashevet—listening ear, made sure they called often to see how he was doing and made sure to keep up with him in the weeks that followed.
We often hear, rightfully so, about the beauty of “out of town” suburban communities; that is true, but I will never forget the power of kindness I witnessed on the Upper West Side. As New York got hit harder than any city in the world, I saw my fellow New Yorkers show kindness in a way the moves me to this day. The angels that came out for others and looked out for others, despite facing challenging times themselves, will always remind me to strive and be a better human being. They came forward out of nowhere and went back to their quiet life, asking for no credit, fame, or recognition.
Those were our worst of times; those were our best of times.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He lives with his wife in New York City and is the president of EITAN - The American-Israeli Jewish Network