This school year, our religious school students will have prepared over 800 sandwich lunches for Samaritan House.
This school year, our religious school students will have prepared over 800 sandwich lunches for Samaritan House, a local non-profit that serves people living in poverty. Under the leadership of our Social Action chair Linda Leeb, our kids are experiencing the pleasure that comes from doing one of the most concrete and immediate of mitzvot: feeding the hungry.
When Rebecca Schwartz, Linda Leeb and I first dreamed up Project Sandwich over the summer, it felt ambitious and a little risky. Would the parents donate enough supplies? Could the kids get the work done in a timely way, and not leave a huge mess in the social hall? Most of all, would the entire endeavor require more effort than Linda or anyone else could afford to give? But Linda took it on, with the calm efficiency, commitment and vision that I have long associated with her.
A different grade sponsors the project each time. Parents from that grade donate supplies, and a few parent volunteers setup an assembly line in the social hall and oversee the labor. The actual food prep is done by the students in that grade, during Judaic Studies hour—putting their lessons into action.
Seventh grade went first. Linda and her volunteers covered the tables with butcher paper to create a working service. Students at one station prepared peanut butter and jelly. Another station prepared cheese and mayo. A third station put carrots and cookies into baggies, and a fourth station packed the paper bags. Every 20 minutes, the kids rotated stations. It all went relatively smoothly, though Linda and her daughter Greta and I were still cleaning up after school let out, and Linda was back early the next morning to get the 200 bagged lunches from our fridge and bring them to Samaritan House.
A month later, sixth grade was on deck, and it all went a bit smoother than the first time. But the third effort was the real test, because now we were to dip down into younger grades: 3rd, 4th and 5th grade working together. Additionally, 5th grade includes several students with nut allergies, and we had to devise an elaborate plan to be sure they would not feel excluded.
We worried needlessly. The third graders had, if anything, the most energy and focus of all, and the three classes working together made 210 lunches in less than one class period. That left time at the end for teachers to reflect with the students. “It felt good to do something that will help people,” one student said. “Do we get to do it again?” another asked.
So much of our religious school curriculum focuses on seeing the suffering of others, and responding with compassion. It is a curriculum that is meaningless if contained to the bookshelf. And yet, the suffering around us is so enormous, even as adults we often do not see how to make an impact.
Shimon ben Azzai taught in the Ethics of the Father, “the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah.” I could see the truth of that statement in the eyes of our students, as they spread peanut butter on a piece of bread. Hunger will not disappear, but tomorrow a person would eat because of their effort.