Let me tell you a true story that sends an important message to all of us. Halleli, a 4-year-old girl from Jerusalem with special needs, wanted to celebrate her birthday with her friends from kindergarten. Her loving parents arranged for everything: the place, the food and sweets, a clown to entertain the kids, and various fun activities that all the children enjoy doing. All her friends from kindergarten had promised they would come, and Halleli couldn’t wait to celebrate with them. But in the end, only one girl showed up. The candy, the clown, and the games just stood there, untouched and unwanted.
The next day, heartbroken, the girl refused to go to kindergarten. Her parents were beside themselves with sorrow and worry for their child and didn’t know how to comfort her. In his distress, Halleli’s father posted on social media what had happened, and matters took a sharp turn for the better.
A man from the neighborhood read the post and was overcome with emotion. “I have kids too,” he thought. “What if she were my daughter?” He felt he had to do something to give that girl an experience that would wash away her sadness. He decided to throw her the birthday party of her life.
He combed the neighborhood and told everyone about Halleli and that he was organizing a birthday party for her and asked everyone to come. A few days later, Halleli had her party. This time, hundreds of children and their parents showed up to make the little girl happy on her special day. Her parents were overjoyed and grateful beyond words to the kind stranger, and as for Halleli, her face beamed brighter than the sun.
This story doesn’t only tell us about human kindness. It is a warning sign. It demonstrates how heartless, perhaps even cruel, we can be if we are not organized and galvanized into positive action. It also proves the immense potential that lies in establishing mutual responsibility in society. When people who don’t know each other help each other because this is the value they live by, there is no end to what such a society can achieve.
The Jewish people became a nation when complete strangers found the words of their teacher, Abraham, compelling enough to implement. His teachings about kindness and mercy as the key to solving society’s problems struck a chord in the hearts of his listeners and they joined his group. This is why mutual responsibility and “love your neighbor as yourself” are the tenets of Judaism – social laws that relate not to God but to our fellow person.
Today, when alienation permeates every corner of human society, we desperately need mutual responsibility and care for others. These are the only qualities, the only values that can keep human society from collapsing altogether. Just as Abraham had found that the remedy to his homeland’s social ills were care for others, all of us must now realize that the cure for heartlessness has not changed since ancient times. The only difference is that alienation has now spread throughout the world.
Humanity must do today what the ancient Hebrews did – unite across divisions and establish love of others where today there is nothing but hatred. Perhaps such moving stories as the one about Halleli’s birthday will help us realize that mutual responsibility is not a noble but unrealistic notion, but an imperative step we must take to ensure our survival as a functioning society.