Mesorah (Jewish stuff)

Filling Up Our Cardboard Boxes

A couple Shabboses ago my husband and I had a discussion about what it means to fulfill your potential. I always think big REALLY BIG (though, honestly, not so super big) and so if I’m not doing something that’s reaching a lot of people I feel like I’m not doing all I can.

But then we reflected on how some people’s tafkid, purpose in life, would be to do something on a more micro level, a level focused on their own nuclear family, or their own personal growth, something like that.

That was our discussion. That same week, I received an email from Chumie Jacobson, project manager for Ner Echad, with the following article. I love it when the hashgacha works out like this! Kismet!

Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

~ ~ ~

Some of my earliest memories are of brown cardboard boxes with lids, full of files. As soon as I was old enough, I learned how to build and collapse these boxes and I loved that job. As I got older, I began to take interest in what the boxes held. The Creative Learning Pavilion, (now used and known throughout the world as,) was a vast collection of teachers’ materials from Jewish educators all over, culled together to support each other.  This was being done for the first time- and it was my mother who was leading this incredible effort.

I grew up knowing my mother had done something important. She saw a need, and created a way to help facilitate better Jewish education worldwide, and I was extremely proud. Every year I would help load those boxes onto a truck, and we’d travel to the Torah Umesorah Jewish educator’s convention. There, I was known as a ‘staff kid’ and absolutely everybody knew who my mother was.

As I grew older, I always had this niggling sense that I wanted to do something like my mother; something meaningful with my life. After I got married, we moved to Jerusalem where my husband learned in the Aish Hatorah Kollel in the Old City. Our lives became full and purposeful with teaching those less exposed to Judaism than we were. We planned to stay on that course as long as possible, and we saw no reason why anything would change. It was a wonderful chapter in our lives.

Five years and two beautiful children later, G-d had other plans for us. We ended up moving to Brooklyn, New York. My main function in life became driving my son around to various therapies, and navigating New York City traffic. Not exactly my glory days. I soon found myself working a low level desk job and watching days pass into months and years. It seemed like everyone around me was doing something meaningful with their lives and I’d missed the boat. I grew up on piles of boxes that had changed the face of Jewish education, but now I was running on empty…no boxes to fill…

Two years later I took a job at a marketing firm that primarily represented non-profits in Israel. I was excited to use my creativity, and for a higher purpose! But G-d had even better plans in store for me. My new bosses turned out to be close with members of the Kanievsky family in Israel. There was a project they were thinking about launching, called ‘Ner Echad’, in memory of the late Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky.

I had met the Rebbetzin, twice actually, and as anyone who ever met her will tell you it was an unbelievable experience. She related on a very personal level to each and every woman who came to see her –regardless of background, nationality or religious affiliation. She made me feel like the most important person in the world… it had touched my heart and moved me. What I hadn’t known was that through the Rebbetzin’s hundreds of daily visitors, she had been raising and quietly distributing close to 2 million dollars a year to widows and orphans! My bosses explained to me that her husband, Rav Chaim, was greatly disturbed by the void his Rebbetzin’s sudden passing had left behind, and had asked for something to be created to carry on her legacy.

At that point, ‘Ner Echad’ was not much more than an idea:  to help fill that void by forming an organization to promote unity among Jewish women…and I asked my bosses to please let me help bring the dream to life.

We fine tuned some details, and the idea took form.  Every Jewish woman who signs up would receive a weekly message on Fridays with her local candle lighting time, give an automated dollar donation toward the Rebbizen’s widows and orphans fund, and get the name and prayer topic of another woman to have in mind when she lights candles that week. The concept was simple. And brilliant.

The next year was an absolute whirlwind for me – suddenly being thrown into a very real project with the potential to change the world. I was tapping into a side of myself that had lain dormant for far too long. There I was, phoning all sorts of important Rebbetzins to ask them to support the project, going to meetings with website developers and marketers – and these people were taking me seriously…. Me!

A fire was lit inside me.  It turned out there was no such thing as ‘missing the boat’ – here I was filling my very own boxes; filling my life with meaning. I came to understand that each and every one of us has a purpose – something we can give – to help the world. I see now, that no matter what age or stage we’re at, we all need to find our passion.

I once again found myself attending the Torah Umesorah educator’s convention – only this time to promote “my” project. To my delight, everyone I spoke to was impressed and happy to help. Who didn’t want to help promote Jewish Unity? The feedback was endlessly inspiring.

Each week now, when I light my Shabbos candles knowing I’m a part of a worldwide movement, it makes feel so connected, and so proud. The day we had sent home the ‘Ner Echad’ flyers with my daughter’s first grade class, she came home beaming.  “I told my Morah that my mommy works for Rebbetzin Kanievsky!” My heart swelled with such warmth… I could almost see the cardboard boxes at her feet.

Becoming a member of Ner Echad, the worldwide movement to unite Jewish women, takes 2 minutes on or by calling 844.637.3242. For any further information you can contact Chumie Jacobson at

5 thoughts on “Filling Up Our Cardboard Boxes

  1. I always feel very disappointed when I think about my potential. I was something of a high-flyer at school and then I got to Oxford, but after that I got lost in mental illness. Lots of my Oxford peers have gone on to really big things, but I don’t even work full time. And I don’t have a wife and kids, so I can’t say I’m working on that. Sometimes I tell myself that maybe I’m just here to work on myself, but that always seems a cop-out answer and in any case, I don’t think I’m doing so well at working on myself.

    1. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said that improving even one middah is harder to do than mastering Shas, so I’m pretty sure being here to just work on yourself isn’t a cop-out answer, BUT I totally understand why you could feel like it is.

      It’s hard to feel like you’re not accomplishing your potential, but that’s exactly what I was wondering – how do we know what our potential is exactly? We all have limitations, some are more confining than others, and I think (not like I’m an expert by a long shot) that our job is to do the best we can with what we have to work with at whatever stage of life we’re at. Sometimes things change, sometimes we don’t, but we can only do what we can with what we have to work with at this exact time.

      As always, sending you thoughts of strength. Always appreciate your input and comments. :)

      1. Thanks for the thoughts of strength.

        I’m very bad at working out my limitations and potential. I always want to be doing more than is probably feasible for me, given my health situation. I’m trying to be kinder to myself, but when I am, I often feel like I’m being too easy on myself.

  2. I love the message in this post. I think we need to do what we are passionate about and what there is a need for. See a need and fill it and enjoy doing it….so it fills others and ourselves up in the process. I enjoyed reading Chumie’s writing as I remember her and her family when they lived in LA for many years. Wonderful people.

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