Posted by: colloquiallyspeaking | March 18, 2012

Manilla Envelopes

Every year Rabbi N.W. Dessler would appear at the doorway with a manilla envelope in his hand.  We would respectfully rise and wait for him to ease his slight frame into the teacher’s chair before scraping our chairs back and arranging ourselves behind our desks.

He would speak in a low voice and I would have to strain to hear the words I’d heard every year since first grade.  He would speak of our brethren in Israel.  He would speak of little children going to bed hungry.  He would speak of our duty as their sisters to reach into our pockets and give.  He always smiled softly as he placed the envelope on the desk.  Then he would push himself up off the chair with his palms flat on the metal surface before him.  With his long frock flowing behind him and his head towering towards the ceiling, he would float out the door and down the hallway with his manilla envelopes lightly grasped in his long-fingered hand.

And then the contest would begin, and because I didn’t understand the concept of winning a tzedaka competition, I would quietly watch the envelope fill up and envision those poor Israeli children who had no food to eat.

Rabbi Dessler is no longer with us, but maybe someone is still handing out those envelopes and telling the story of the hungry children.  But maybe, if he is sitting at the teacher’s desk and holds the attention of impressionable young girls, he should talk about the mothers who are going to bed hungry because they would never let their kids go hungry.  And maybe he should also explain how little Israeli kids sometimes speak English at home and have mothers and fathers who try so very hard but can’t seem to make enough.  And maybe he should point to that desk where another little girl once sat and thought about those hungry children and didn’t know that she would have to one day ask that the contents of that manilla envelope be sent to her address across the world so that she could feed her own little hungry Israeli children.

And maybe, just maybe, she could see those kind eyes of Rabbi N.W. Dessler again and really, really feel that he was including her when he said that we have to take care of our family.


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