Living chesed
2010 UNSUNG HEROES

Living Chesed: Block Yeshiva girls display commitment to 'acts of loving kindness'

Block Yeshiva students

Block Yeshiva students (clockwise from top left) Tova Kay, Tamar Levy, Adira Axelbaum, Davida Wachsstock, Gabi Mankowitz, Malka Fox, and Aniel Shapiro. Photo: Kristi Foster

"Live Chesed" is the theme at Louis and Sarah Block Yeshiva High School this year. Acts of kindness are on the schedule day in, day out, for all the students in the Girls' School.

"All year, we are working together toward a common goal. That strengthens us and strengthens the school," says Gabi Mankowitz, 17, spokeswoman for the Chesed Committee. "Everybody takes part in helping the community in some way, and we all get a lot of pleasure from it."

Gabi and six other students comprise the Chesed Committee: Adira Axelbaum, 16; Malka Fox, 16; Tova Kay, 18; Tamar Levy, 16; Aniel Shapiro, 15 and Davita Wachsstock, 17. Five of them sat down recently to talk about their projects.

The Chesed Committee was founded three years ago by Shera Hirshhorn and Leia Wachsstock, who have since graduated. "We started doing projects to help people, and it developed into a program," says Gabi. The committee helps direct students to specific activities. Among the students' many projects are:

• organizing food drives

• helping families prepare for shabbos

• toiveling (immersing utensils and dishes)

• filling Purim baskets to help families fulfill the mitzvah commandment of giving

• sending packages to Jewish soldiers for Rosh Hashanah

• helping with childcare at synagogue

The students rotate responsibility for the projects so the time commitment does not interfere with their school work.

Last year with money the girls raised toiveling (preparing pots, dishes and utensils by immersing them into a ritual bath before they are used), they bought Hanukkah presents for children with cancer and other illnesses. The students also visit the elderly and spend time with children with special needs whose families request visits.

"You really feel like it's worth it when you see the happiness these visits bring to the kids and the parents," says Aniel.

The girls' efforts have garnered praise from their principal, Rabbi Gabriel Munk. "They are exceptional," he says. "This program is a remarkable grass roots development. In some schools I imagine there is a club for this kind of thing, but here this comes out of the students' understanding of what they have learned here. They have made it part of their lives."

The group is self-governing, with no faculty advisor, though Munk notes that the students often come to him with questions. "These are not normal questions, but deeper questions about diversity, questions about showing sensitivity," says Munk. "It takes mature kids to distill that kind of information and turn it into charitable acts, and the information has not just stayed in their brains - it's gone to their hearts. They are empathic, and for a principal, that is gratifying to see."

A bank of lockers at the front of the school serves as the bulletin board for charitable activities and programs. "We post announcements about our group and put up a calendar to show what events are coming up," says Aniel. They also post photos from recent projects. Later, Tamar assembles the photos in a scrapbook.

A poster on the lockers is covered in reflective paper. "We call it our mirror," says Gabi. "When we look in the mirror, we see our inner selves." Paper pizzas - the quintessential pie charts - also decorate the lockers. Adira explains that there is a paper pizza for each class, and whenever a girl visits an elderly woman or a child, her class gets a slice of paper pizza added.

Once every girl has gone on two visits and the paper pizza chart is filled, the class gets a pizza party - with real pizza. "That makes it fun," says Malka, smiling.

The Chesed Committee changes each year, as seniors graduate. At the end of each school year, freshmen heading into their sophomore year may join. Members divide up the tasks, taking responsibility for setting up appointments, keeping fiscal records and documenting the good works. At the beginning of each school year, the committee holds an orientation to talk about how students may help the community.

"The school is very cooperative, and that's good, because sometimes we need help or permission to move forward," says Aniel. "This program unites our school, because everyone is involved."


The Girls of Block Yeshiva High School

Seniors: Tova Kay, Mazel Moria, Rochel Esther Morris, Esti Munk, Shira Peskin, Ellie Sonnenwirth and Davida Wachsstock

Juniors: Adira Axelbaum, Rena Biel, Sara Esrig, Gabi Mankowitz, Natanela Keigsberg, Tali Koshner, Tamar Levy, Avital Shulman, Mairav Simon, Sivya Smason and Rebecca Wilhelm

Sophomores: Chaya Andrew, Amanda Drazen, Malka Fox, Rani Horowitz, Aniel Shapiro, Hannah Stein, Batsheva Sundy and Rachel Wolf

Freshmen:  Chaviva Kay, Michal Koshner, Dorit Markowitz, Devora Siegel, Yael Tobin and Lindsay Lingel

 Tova Kay, Mazel Moria, Rochel Esther Morris, Esti Munk, Shira Peskin, Ellie Sonnenwirth and Davida Wachsstock

Juniors: Adira Axelbaum, Rena Biel, Sara Esrig, Gabi Mankowitz, Natanela Keigsberg, Tali Koshner, Tamar Levy, Avital Shulman, Mairav Simon, Sivya Smason and Rebecca Wilhelm

Sophomores: Chaya Andrew, Amanda Drazen, Malka Fox, Rani Horowitz, Aniel Shapiro, Hannah Stein, Batsheva Sundy and Rachel Wolf

Freshmen:  Chaviva Kay, Michal Koshner, Dorit Markowitz, Devora Siegel, Yael Tobin and Lindsay Lingel