On this Shabbos, Parashas Kedoshim, a historic movement for achdus will bring together 54 shuls and all 11 schools in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway community. It’s all part of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation’s highly acclaimed Kamocha program that has been transforming students’ lives in schools nationwide for the past four years.
The program focuses on the message of Sefirah, which marks the devastating loss of an entire generation of talmidei chachamim, the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva. The message Chazal draw from this event—that Torah cannot stand when mutual respect is lacking—speaks today louder than ever. The Five Towns and Far Rockaway Shabbos of Inspiration, sponsored by the Majeski family, is a golden opportunity for every member of the community to proactively heed the message and turn inspiration into real growth and change.
On this Shabbos, 54 shuls will join the 3,500 children in 11 Five Towns and Far Rockaway schools who are participating in the Kamocha program— a one-month effort during Sefirah to focus on the mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro. Parashas Kedoshim is a particularly appropriate time for the united Five Towns program, since it contains two of the seminal Torah pesukim of the mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro: “V‘ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha — love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and “Lo seilech rachil b’amecha — Do not peddle gossip to your fellow Jew.”
Kamocha takes the mitzvah of V’ahavta and simplifies it into a clear method of ensuring that a person’s deeds and words actually fulfill this mitzvah. As Hillel told the gentile who asked for a summation of the Torah, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” With this in mind, Kamocha participants are asked to filter their words and actions through one lens: “How would I feel if this were done or said to me?”
This question resolves most gray areas into a black-and-white picture of what should or should not be said. Everyone knows what would hurt him. Students, teachers, and principals report that by using the “How would I feel?” barometer, along with learning the halachos of shemiras ha’lashon, taking part in interactive class projects and hearing inspiring words, an amazing transformation takes place in classroom, playground, and playing-field behavior. Students are elated: “People used to yell at me when I missed a catch, but now they don’t,” said one boy. “This has had a huge impact on me because I learned that just one thing can have a huge impact on someone for the rest of her life,” a student reported.
The Five Towns and Far Rockaway schools are all participating in Kamocha this year, and now, with the Shabbos of Inspiration, the shuls in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway are getting on board as well. Each rabbi will address his kehillah to highlight the importance of the mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro and impart a deeper understanding of “V’ahavta l’’rei’acha kamocha.” In addition, special guest speakers will be rotating among the shuls on Friday night, Shabbos morning, Shabbos afternoon, and shalosh seudos. They include Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro, Rabbi Yechiel Spero, Mr. Michael Rothschild, and Rabbi Yisroel Majeski, as well as Five Towns natives Ben Brafman, and Charlie Harary. Their goal is to push ahavas Yisrael and shemiras ha’lashon from the wish list to the priority list of every listener.
By learning, and being inspired, the families of Five Towns and Far Rockaway will have the opportunity to truly make an impact on their own families, their community, and on Klal Yisrael. This year, Sefirah can indeed become a time of lasting change as one community joins together to make v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha a reality.