TIME Culture

How Simple Acts of Kindness Can Change Lives

Grandfather with his grandson
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David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

We are surrounded by stories of sadness, cruelty and violence. Evil arrests our attention. But there are also moving stories of selfless goodness. They could easily go unnoticed, but such acts can also change lives forever.

My brothers and I grew up with a story of something that happened to my father, who died seven years ago. It is a story of family tragedy and astonishing, quiet kindness.

My father’s father died when my father was 11. His mother was a widow at 34, and as an only child, he bore much of his grief alone. In accordance with traditional practice, he began to walk very early to synagogue each morning to say prayers in his father’s memory for the next year.

At the end of his first week, he noticed that the ritual director of the synagogue, Mr. Einstein, walked past his home just as he left to walk to synagogue. Mr. Einstein, already advanced in years explained, “Your home is on the way to the synagogue. I thought it might be fun to have some company. That way, I don’t have to walk alone.”

For a year my father and Mr. Einstein walked through the New England seasons, the humidity of summer and the snow of winter. They talked about life and loss and, for a while, my father was not so alone.

After my parents married and my oldest brother was born, my father called Mr. Einstein, now well into his 90s, and asked if Mr. Einstein could meet his new wife and child. Mr. Einstein agreed, but said that in view of his age my father would have to come to him.

My father once wrote about what happened: “The journey was long and complicated. His home, by car, was fully twenty minutes away. I drove in tears as I realized what he had done. He had walked for an hour to my home so that I would not have to be alone each morning. … By the simplest of gestures, the act of caring, he took a frightened child and he led him with confidence and with faith back into life.”

Mr. Einstein’s act might have remained unknown. Yet without that kindness, I doubt that my father would have become a Rabbi, that I would then have become a Rabbi (along with one of my brothers), or that my niece would now be studying to be a Rabbi. There are generational ripples to kindness. People can sink, but they can also rise. Don’t let anyone give you cynical, thoughtless lectures about the essential cruelty of human beings. When they do, tell them about a man named Mr. Einstein who day after day, took a walk to save a child’s soul.

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