By: Rivka Bennun  | 

Operation Torah Shield Taught Me That Small Acts of Kindness Go a Long Way

Students often have a hard time believing they can actually make a difference. 

Only a few months ago — what now feels like ages ago — we published our first editorial lamenting student apathy on campus. Our world has vastly changed since then, and thank God, we have seen a tremendous boost in student activism as students rushed to help Israel in whatever ways they could.

One such example was Operation Torah Shield (OTS) 3, a week-long student-led relief mission to Israel last month. Armed with duffel bags of supplies for soldiers and dreams of making an impact, nothing could’ve prepared us, a group of 35 YU students, for what we were about to experience. One week in Israel taught me a lot about how small acts of kindness make a big difference, a message I believe we can all continue to internalize and act upon.

Tending to Admat Kodesh

Zion’s roads are mourning,” Yirmiyahu tells us in Eicha as he laments the destruction of the Temple. When the Jewish people suffer, the land suffers as well. Embarking on this mission, I had a great sense of longing to tend to the land of Israel in some tangible way. In the past, Eretz Yisrael had taken care of me; now I needed to go and take care of Eretz Yisrael. 

This need to care for the land took its most literal form through farming and cultivating. Many of the farms in Southern Israel employ foreign workers, primarily from Thailand, who perform the manual labor required for farming. Following the Oct. 7 massacre and the start of the war, most foreign workers fled home, leaving Israeli farmers without the labor needed to harvest thousands of acres of produce. So we arrived at the farms, rolled up our sleeves, and got to work. We spent hours working, our knees deep in mud, and harvested thousands of eggplants and cabbages in moshavim near the Gaza border.

On a broader scale, this may not have made the greatest difference; after all, eight hours of manual labor can only get you so far. But the point was that we showed up and did what we could, and in our own small way, we made a difference. While picking some eggplants might not seem glamorous, it made an impact. Every small thing counts, no matter where it is done, even if it may not seem like much.

Showing Up for Klal Yisrael

The Talmud famously teaches that all of Klal Yisrael bear responsibility for one another. Since Oct. 7, we have seen probably the greatest manifestation of this statement in many years, and the response from YU students, including OTS participants, was no exception. We had the opportunity to show empathy and to provide comfort to acheinu Bnei Yisrael right there, on the home front. We visited wounded soldiers, shiva houses and army bases, seeing many different people, like all of us here, doing their part.

I felt a little self-conscious at times — I’m a stranger to these people; why would they want me to visit them? Then I watched Rabbi Reuven Brand, who had joined us on our trip, and I observed the way he would sit across from a family in a hospital room, look them in the eye and say, “We are here from America, and we just want you to know that we are with you. We support you.” I quickly learned that a simple statement of support and love goes a long way. We as one chelek of Klal Yisrael were able to go and take care of another chelek of Klal Yisrael. 

Every single person’s support makes a difference, no matter how they show it. Showing up for other Jews boosts morale, and encourages others to keep going. 

Taking care of Klal Yisrael can take many different forms. With so many soldiers drafted to fight, families have been left behind and mothers struggle to run a home and look after their children alone. OTS ran a carnival for such families, where we helped run activities and spend time with the kids. A surprising number of women came up to various students and thanked them for doing this, saying it was the first time they were able to relax in weeks since their husbands had been drafted. 

What was supposed to be a small event, something to bring a little joy to a community struggling to stay afloat, was a small act of kindness that ultimately made a difference. It helped mothers who had not had a spare moment to themselves up until that point. One parent even told us that supporting families who are upholding the home front is just as important as supporting soldiers who are on the front lines.

While it is hard to sit in America and feel like you can make a difference, what I ultimately learned on this trip was something we can all internalize: that the smallest deeds still make an impact, no matter where in the world you are. Each person has their own strengths that they can utilize to help, and what might seem insignificant actually makes an impact. 

As the semester winds down, and as the war wears on, we shouldn’t lose sight of the ways in which we can help. Stay active, keep showing up and show support in your own way. It may be small, but it is ever so meaningful, and it makes a difference.