Somewhere in the United States, a man found himself behind an elderly woman in the checkout line at a supermarket the other day. As she counted out her money, she discovered she didn’t have enough for one remaining item in her hand. Put it on my bill, the man whispered to the cashier.
The old lady, a little confused by the transaction, went home with the item: a box of Shabbat candles.
The man had done his clandestine act of kindness, indirectly, because of Shoshana Greenbaum.
Shoshana, a longtime teacher at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, was one of 15 people killed in a terrorist bombing at the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem two years ago this week (Aug. 9). She was 31, married for 15 months, five months pregnant and a beloved figure at the Long Island day school.
"She wanted to be the perfect teacher … to reach every single student … to make them better people," says Shmuel Greenbaum, her widower.
To perpetuate her legacy, to encourage chesed, he began sending to a small group of friends daily e-mail stories of kindness from Jewish books. Finding interest in his stories, especially after the 9-11 attacks on the United States that followed Shoshana’s murder by a month, he expanded his outreach into a pair of programs on the Internet.
A Tradition of Kindness (www.traditionof kindness.org) offers the stories, reprinted with the publishers’ permission, as well as anonymous stories submitted by readers, inspirational thoughts about kindness and a jobs listing. A nonsectarian Web site, www.partnersinkindness.org has similar contents for a general audience.
His effort, including public speeches and a planned book about others who have reacted to terrorism with kindness, "is directed at people who want to make themselves better and to make the world better," says Greenbaum, 40, who thought of the idea while composing a eulogy for his wife while traveling to Jerusalem, where she was buried. "I thought to myself, God’s trying to tell me something. This is an opportunity to help other people."
He wasn’t bitter, he didn’t think of revenge on the day his wife was murdered?
Greenbaum is silent; he doesn’t understand the question. He measures his words, speaking with conviction but little visible emotion about Shoshana and his kindness campaign. Greenbaum, a computer programmer at the New York City Transit headquarters in Brooklyn, calls chesed the only response to the hatred that motivates terrorists.
"Kindness is giving of yourself to others. By giving to a person, it causes you to love them," says Greenbaum, who works on his projects in his spare time in his home in Passaic, N.J. "By giving, we emulate God. That’s our purpose in the world: to emulate God’s kindness."
The 5,000 subscribers to the stories on his Web sites include Jews and Christians and non-believers: and Muslims, so far in Kuwait and Iran. Readers tell Greenbaum "they are in a situation and they remember a story they read and it changed how they acted."
The man who helped the elderly woman had read a story a few weeks earlier about a Wal-Mart customer and "a shabby-looking man" who wanted to buy some art supplies. "I … have learned from your e-mail lessons," he wrote Greenbaum.
The NYCT has placed Partners in Kindness posters in its 200 buildings. Greenbaum wants to bring a Heroes of Kindness poster campaign to the entire transit system. He’s working to make the campaign national, to "affect millions."
On the upcoming anniversary of his wife’s death, he will participate in a siyum, a meal marking the completion of Talmud tractate, with friends and family.
There was a suggestion on the yahrzeit last year to observe a moment of silence in kosher pizzerias worldwide.
"I felt very offended," Greenbaum says. "There is a better way to react than silence. Caring is the most effective."