School Desk

SAR students seek to cultivate ‘chesed’

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Sorting and packing medical supplies might not seem like the most exciting thing. But don’t tell that to Orli Segall.

“I think this is really fun,” said the 12th-grade student, who attends Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR) High School.

Orli was taking part in her school’s Senior Chesed Day, an annual event where the senior class breaks up into groups and spends the morning volunteering at organizations around the city. On Jan. 8, her group was at the Afya Foundation in Yonkers, a non-profit that collects unused medical supplies from local hospitals that normally get thrown away to send to developing countries in need.

“It’s just really nice,” Orli said. “People get things that otherwise wouldn’t get used or [would have] gone to waste, so it cuts down on waste, it’s conserving, and that’s also good.”

Chesed, a Hebrew word that loosely translates as kindness, is considered a core virtue in Judaism. Chesed can present itself in many ways, from hosting strangers to volunteering, like the SAR students were doing last Friday.

“I think it’s really important to care. In the Jewish tradition, we value doing the right thing and morally being kind to people, being selfless and thinking about others beside yourself,” Orli explained.

SAR puts a strong emphasis on chesed, offering school-sponsored volunteer opportunities and encouraging students to pursue their own charitable interests.
Shuvi Hoffman, a SAR teacher who chaperoned the trip to Afya, said students take that encouragement seriously, organizing events like bake sales and clothing drives.

“It’s a very Jewish value to give to your community and give to people who need help,” said Ms. Hoffman, who teaches Hebrew along with classes on the Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible.

She added that students consider themselves lucky, appreciate how much they have benefited from their communities and want to give back.

“It’s great for me as a teacher to see them in a different setting, to get to work together in a different setting,” Ms. Hoffman said as she sorted supplies with her students. “It brings out different qualities that you can’t necessarily see in class and in school.”

Orli said attending SAR has helped internalize the importance of chesed. She volunteers outside of school as well, and plans to continue practicing the virtue after she graduates.

“I have such a great feeling knowing… that these medical supplies can make a difference,” she said.

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