A ‘Big’ Celebration

Joshua Runyan
Joshua Runyan

Growing up as an only child, for some of the time raised by a single mother, I long harbored a fantasy of what life would be like with a sibling.

That’s why today — especially in the midst of the chaos of a house with eight children — I can take a deep breath and marvel at the blessing that each of my children have to be bonded to seven other siblings. (Though at times they might individually disagree with me, studies have shown, for instance, that those from multi-child households have a leg up on such measures as resiliency and academic performance.)

I made up for the lack of a sibling with friends and by engaging in multiple activities. But, especially in a world characterized as much by the atomization of social life as by the technological revolutions that have made a concept of “having” 1,000 friends not so far-fetched, there are many children starving for personal, tangible connections. That Baltimore has an organization such as Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program is good news indeed.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, Jewish Big Brother Big Sister is celebrating 100 years of connecting youth to older mentors. Having its genesis in visitations of Jewish inmates in prison, today it operates as a mentoring program through Jewish Community Services.

“It’s a tried-and-true program,” says Howard Gartner, a former Big Brother who also served on the organization’s board. “There’s never going to stop being a need for young boys and girls to have strong mentors in their lives.”

For some, the experience can be transformational. Stories abound of young boys and girls who have either fallen into the wrong crowd or were in danger of doing so whose lives turned around through the caring attention of an older community member. Seen through a Jewish lens, the time and effort one human being expends to improve the life of another pays infinite dividends; as the Talmud says, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

While we at the JT wish Jewish Big Brother Big Sister a hearty “Mazel tov!” on reaching its first century mark, I think it’s important for all of us to take to heart the mission that informs the organization’s work. For some, a structured program like the one Big Brother provides is an ideal solution. Others might get the support they need through an ad hoc combination of friends, family members, neighbors and teachers. Some might even benefit from both.

Regardless of how a child gets the leg up he or she needs, for any system to work requires dedicated volunteers. I urge each and every one you, dear readers, to think about what it might take to improve a child’s life. And then to get out and do it.


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