Local League’s Sport is Acts of Kindness

Zevi Daniel explains the point system the Baltimore Chesed League uses to the kids. Photo by Carolyn Conte.

Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim held a kickoff event for its Baltimore Chesed League, Sunday, Feb. 23, at the shul. About 110 middle school boys gathered in the afternoon to celebrate the beginning of a new season of charitable acts.

Started in 2018 by a board member of the congregation, the league is a social organization that has nearly doubled in size each year. The league began as word of mouth and now “everyone knows,” said Yaakov Lichter, member of the shul’s Chesed committee. The league is open to both synagogue members and nonmembers. The season lasts six weeks.

“It started out as a way to replicate sports where kids are into competition, so we make a competition out of the charity work and instill excitement in them,” Lichter said.

The participating children are grouped into 12 teams of about seven students. They and their respective coaches must complete a specific task each week to earn 15 points, so long as their recipient organization sends good feedback to the Chesed committee.

For example, coach Eli Klein took his team to Hatzalah of Baltimore to clean the office. “The Jewish faith stands on three pillars: prayer, studying, and kindness. This is one of those legs, and a fun way to do it,” Klein said.

The teams are sponsored by league partners, which include The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, Jewish Community Services, Bikur Cholim of Baltimore, and many more.

Each young participant is also encouraged to complete an act of service on their own time during the week, for an additional five points to the team. If the team reaches 20 points, they have succeeded for the week and will receive a reward. Prizes include dinners, trips, laser tag, and more. In the past, when teams have exceeded expectations, the committee has awarded extra prizes.

“It’s not us against each other,” said Yanky Lefkovitz, coach of the King David team. He took his team to the Friendship Circle to give Purim baskets to about 15 families. “The ultimate goal is everyone gets 6-0, and we all tie.”

The kickoff began with a hearty meal and the fun chaos and noise that comes when more than 100 preteen boys gather in the same room. It was followed by a short prayer service before the teams split up to serve their respective organizations for the week. Some of these charity chores included organizing books, gardening, and visiting nursing homes.

“We are teaching and modeling the beauty and morals of Torah life,” said Juliya Sheynman, executive director at the shul.

For Uziel Stern, 13, this is his second year of the Baltimore Chesed League. He enjoys visiting the nursing homes the most. “It’s just nice to connect to people who are older,” said Uziel.

Sammy Franco, 10, also wants to help seniors in particular, in case they do not have a lot of family.

Jake Lazerow, 11, joined to be with friends and practice kindness. He said he was prepared to do “whatever they throw at me!”

From the boys’ camaraderie, it was clear that the league also helps build friendships. When they were asked to pick their team name, one table’s team members rushed together to come up with ideas. The suggestions erupted into laughter and myriad calls of “No
comment, no comment!”

“I like to contribute back to my hometown,” said Betzalel Pleeter, 12. He then high-fived his teammates as they cheered each other on.

Judah Millner, 10, joined the league this year for the first time. For nearly 40 of the participants, this is their first year as part of the league.

Dovi Stein, 11, decided to spend his birthday at the kickoff. He said he came because he wants to do good in the world. The league strengthens his Jewish faith because it unites people, he said.

“It’s cool to compete not just for the sake of competition but for other people,” Dovi said.
Before the kids went off to their charity projects, the league played a prerecorded video by Rabbi Shmuel Silber to inspire the kids. In the video, Silber said that the Torah tells us that “If your brother is down on his luck, hold on to him.” He emphasized that it says hold and not help — that the responsibility to be there for others is uniquely on the shoulders of the person who sees the need.

“You have to make a difference using your guf, using yourself,” Silber said. “This is the highest form of chesed.”

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