All it took was some pocket change. In a brief moment, our rabbi connected to our 2-year-old this past Shabbat. Our toddler had no idea that tzedekah meant charity. But he loved it when our rabbi pulled out a handful of change from his pocket, and let Simon pick out coins and stick them into a tiny slit in the box. One by one.
Rabbi Howard Jaffe, a towering man with a booming voice, showed the softest of hearts. No words were exchanged. It did not matter. It’s all about making connections. One by one.
The encounter undoubtedly will leave an impression on our son. Simon is learning as a tiny child that a rabbi is another adult in his life that cares about him. Rabbis are not far-away figures behind a lectern. They are people willing to lean down to toddler level. They are our leaders, our teachers, and our friends.
My son’s experience is vastly different than mine. I went to Sunday school until age 12 and never attended services until adulthood. Rabbis at the temples I belonged to as a child were strangers. I never connected to them and cannot to this day remember any of their names. In fairness, my family spent scant time at temples. Still, I wonder whether I would have been more enthusiastic about temple and Judaism, as a child if rabbis had tried to connect. The more comfortable a person feels, the more likely they are to want to return to a place. Connections matter. One by one.