Hadar Bet Yaakov, Queens’ newest girls’ high school, ran a chesed storytelling Zoom event on Tish’ah B’Av afternoon to connect teenage girls with the essence of the most somber day in Jewish history. Instead of focusing on the historical facts of the day, the program highlighted the reason for the Bet HaMikadash’s destruction: sin’at chinam (needless hatred) and then spotlighted the midah (attribute) most necessary for its return: ahavat chinam (love for no reason other than recognition of another’s intrinsic worthiness) and ahavat Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew).

Mrs. Shoshanna Friedman, HBY principal, introduced the Zoom event and gave an overview of the significance of ahavat Yisrael in our lives, emphasizing its all-incorporative key role in a Torah-observant lifestyle. “Although these concepts are foundational, this isn’t what today is going to be about,” she told the girls. “I want you to all appreciate the invaluable quality of ahavat chinam, but I don’t want today to be about intellectual appreciation. I want today to be about emotional connection, and you only get that through stories – stories that mean something to their storytellers. Today, you’re going to listen to stories of ahavat chinam in people’s lives and see it through their eyes.” The afternoon, she told them, would be an afternoon of storytelling, personal perspective, and meaning. “Each storyteller gives us a chance to grow as she passes the candle to the next story teller.”

HBY teachers came on for 20 minutes each, beginning with Mrs. Rachel Rambod, who told moving stories of difficult chesed during this past Pesach’s quarantine time and shortly after, and Mrs. Shaindel Simes who talked about the life-changing quality of making simple “How are you” phone calls to grandparents or anyone in need of a call. Mrs. Khavi Rosenshein discussed “filling ourselves up with good things” because it makes us happier people, and showed how chesed is both a gift to someone else as well as yourself. Ms. Sara Nasirov told of memories of a warm, welcoming family over ten years ago when she and her sister were stranded on Erev Pesach, and Mrs. Devorah Muskat recounted a moving story of Jews in Israel who went above and beyond to help each other in times of deep distress.

There were some young voices included, as well, with Aleeza Ashurov, incoming HBY ninth grader, and Rikki Friedman, a Shevach tenth grader. Both girls told their own personal stories of chesed: Aleeza remembered an “almost” Shabbat disaster that ended up wonderfully because of kindness, and Rikki described the strong impression someone made on her by their special attention to kibud eim (honoring one’s mother).

“I’m not the same person I was at the beginning of this event,” Mrs. Friedman said, as she ended the program later that day. “I feel changed because I understand chesed and ahavat Yisrael differently. You can’t help but be transformed after listening to these powerful experiences.” Hadar Bet Yaakov created their HBY Connects program to facilitate growth and connection to Torah for high school girls everywhere.