It was the first day of the new season at Camp Machanayim, and the counselors had gathered for their annual staff meeting. Following the usual safety speeches, division head Eliav Friedman stood up to make the same announcement he had given the summer before, and the summer before that: that as counselors, if they were to notice any camper who looked homesick, left out, or just sad, they were to approach the boy and talk to him, buy him a treat from the canteen, and make him feel included.
“When I was a kid in Camp Agudah,” he told the staff, “I was having a hard time, I was homesick. There was one guy, Ezzy Fireworker, who looked after me. He noticed I was upset, and he took me to canteen and bought me some treats. It absolutely changed my summer.” Eliav now pays his debt forward by putting his staff on the lookout for children like him. Hearing such a personal story helps the staff to appreciate the power of a simple gesture and take Eliav’s message to heart.
The owner of Camp Machanayim, Rabbi Goldstein, had heard this story before, but this time, he was inspired to do something. What an impact this counselor had had on Eliav, so many years ago! And what an impact he was indirectly having on all the children who had passed through Camp Machanayim’s gates!
Rabbi Goldstein called Camp Agudah and searched through their records until he was able to track down Ezzy Fireworker, now some 15 years older. He couldn’t wait to relay the story, to share the far-reaching consequences of his actions with this unsuspecting man. What a ripple effect! He called Ezzy Fireworker, introduced himself, and explained why he had contacted him.
Ezzy listened quietly. “To be honest,” he said, “I don’t remember an Eliav Friedman.”
Rabbi Goldstein was disappointed, but Ezzy went on. “I don’t remember his case specifically because I did this all the time in Camp Agudah. When I was a kid in camp, I’d had a hard time—I was homesick, I felt left out. Then one day someone came over to me, gave me personal attention, and bought me a snack in the canteen. I knew what a small gesture could do for a camper, so as a counselor, I made sure to look out for kids like that.”
Rabbi Goldstein couldn’t believe it—another link in a beautiful cycle of chesed. “Wow!” he said. “That’s amazing! Who was it?”
In Camp Agudah in the 1980s, Ezzy told him, it was common for roshei yeshivos to come to camp for Shabbos, to spend a weekend in a Jewish environment in the mountains and to provide the campers with living role models of a Torah life. One Shabbos, Agudah’s guest was Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky. It was he who spotted the young boy moping on the sidelines.
“He noticed me,” Ezzy told Rabbi Goldstein, the memory still poignant all those years later. “He took me to the canteen and bought me something, and then he invited me into his bungalow, shmoozed with me for a few minutes, and gave me a treat.”
It was that concern for every child that the older Ezzy sought to emulate as a counselor. It was that concern that he displayed toward a young Eliav Friedman so many years later, and it was that concern that Eliav guided his staff to show.
Aha! This is the effect of chesed. One kind action can ripple outward for generations.