By Dani Granowitz ‘17
Three times a year, Heschel students travel throughout the city and volunteer at over twenty organizations, schools, and parks.
In the past, students selected their top five Hesed opportunities from a list and were assigned their first or second choices. This year, however, Va’adat Hesed changed the Hesed day system and formed groups based on minyanim. President Jamie Sutton explained two reasons for this change. The first was relatively simple. “It’s important to keep Hesed day fresh and maintain interest,” said Sutton. The second reflects a thoughtful decision to incorporate prayer into Hesed day. “We wanted to bring people together who are already bound by prayer in an active setting. It’s important to volunteer with a group that you learn and pray with regularly.”
The social component of Hesed day in the past both enhanced and undermined its objective. On one hand, minutes before Hesed groups set off by subway, bus, or on foot, students scrambled to switch groups in order to remain with friends. They opted for groups for social reasons as opposed to volunteering with an organization that genuinely interested them. Furthermore, because of the relatively unstructured nature of the groups, some students skipped Hesed day. Anxious about spending a day in Brooklyn or Harlem without close peers, or simply unenthusiastic about their organization, many stayed home to study for exams.
This fall, however, the day had a record high attendance, with almost 100% of students from each grade in attendance. Va’adat Hesed attributes this success to the change in groups. “Students felt a greater obligation to going, as opposed to if they were in a group where they aren’t normally with people they meet with every morning,” said Sutton.
Furthermore, some minyanim deliberately chose to work with organizations that reflect their principles and discussions. For example, Rabbi Jonathan Klatt’s “My Brother’s Keeper” minyan visited the Manhattan Children’s Center because it is currently examining societal marginalization and inclusion. “I thought it would be a great place for us to see the work people are doing to help people with mental disabilities first hand,” said Rabbi Jonathan. He believes it added context to the discussion and gave students real experiences to substantiate their ideas. “I think it is very important because prayer should move you into action, and in terms of our minyan itself, it was very important to make those connections, instead of just talking about something all the time,” he said.
However, while students enjoyed volunteering with members of their minyan, many hope the next Hesed day will revert to random groupings. “I think that Hesed day should be with the whole school, and a chance to get to know kids you don’t necessarily know. Heschel emphasizes inter-grade bonding, and Hesed day should reflect that,” said senior Max Maron. Maron is not alone in his views. Junior Noa Mintz, a member of the Orthodox minyan, said, “It was nice to go with tefillah groups and to have closer connections in tefillah. But for the future, I like being randomly assigned and getting to know people I wouldn’t otherwise encounter.”
This year’s Hesed day was a success, featuring over five new organizations and achieving an unprecedentedly high attendance.