Each year at this time, as the holiday of Purim approaches, I begin to refer to my friend Esther as “Queen Esther” I have been very blessed to have found friends who have taught me about generosity, charity, and chesed (kindness). Sometimes I think that by the grace of G-d, they found me! These women have pointed me toward a path of living a noble and enriching life through the mitzvot they perform and the glee with which they do so. While I am a total work-in-progress, these women encourage my growth and my choices.
I came across excerpts from an essay called “Friends for Life” on the Aish.com website (March 2008) written by Rabbi Dan Roth. He writes about what the Mishnah says regarding the purpose of having a friend: “The purpose of making a friend is to have someone to learn from and grow spiritually, someone who will encourage you to keep the mitzvot properly and point out areas that need improvement should you fail.” Rabbi Roth says that we should look for friends who are at a level above ourselves. “A friend should be someone who will inspire us to grow and whose traits we wish to emulate,” he says. The Mishnah teaches us that we must “buy a friend in order to keep a friend for life.”
My friend, Esther Rabizadeh of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, emigrated with her husband from Iran in 1979. They raised a family and participated in the Jewish community there, and we met in 1987 when our children were in the JCC preschool together. It is impossible to be unhappy around Esther. She exudes so much joy and positive energy. Her love for Torah and Judaism is contagious and she has tackled many missions in her life. After completing her Jewish education at Gratz College, Esther began her teaching career and hosted lectures and classes in her home for the community. Nearly every erev Shabbat, the family has many guests for dinner. In the last five or six years Esther has been packaging and delivering lovely Shabbat packages to Jewish patients in all the local hospitals. Some weeks, she makes packages for as many as 30 people. She arrives carrying a large sack of bags, in her enormous “Shabbat” hat and delivers the treats with a smile and often a song.
Esther has also organized a Tehillim reading group that has expanded across the country, and her campaign for the use of the greeting “Shalom Aleichem” (“Peace on to you”), as a greeting for all Jews has also become a huge phenomenon. She is very passionate about promoting the idea that Jews should greet each other with the words the Talmud notes as the appropriate greeting. The Talmud instructs the greeter to say “Shalom Aleichem,” to which the response is “Aleichem Ha Shalom! (“On to you, peace.”). Esther says, “Shalom Aleichem- Pass it along!”
My friend, Sarah Antell, a Baalas Teshuva, always has a huge reservoir of energy to do good things in the community. She made it her mission to bring lunch for an entire small Yeshiva every day while that school was operating in Cherry Hill, NJ. Each day, the young men would enjoy her homemade whole wheat bread. Sarah is open in sharing her challenges and the path she has taken in her Torah life. She has shared even the most basic, but nonetheless vital, kitchen rules of kashrus with me and answers my questions generously. Sarah, with her own tools and her own hands, remodeled two bedrooms and a bathroom in her home so that she could accommodate more Shabbat overnight guests. This included drywall, wallpaper, painting, electrical and sewing. “Hotel” Antell is a lovely place. She frequently hosts lectures and classes in her home.
Marilyn Sherby, my wonderfully creative, artistic friend, makes it her mission to check in with her friends to make sure everyone is happy and in good stead. When she is not knitting hats and blankets for the Ronald McDonald House in Camden, NJ, she is sewing and cooking for them and buys toys for the children. She loads up her car and delivers all of these things herself. When my son was stationed in Iraq in the Army, Marilyn sent him huge packages every week for 14 months.
My new friends at Am HaTorah Congregation have helped me make the transition to a new town. Diane, Kate, and Nancy have been kind and generous.
Here is the lesson we should all take from Rabbi Roth’s “A Jewish Perspective on Friendship”: “If friends are joined by the desire to grow together, their souls will be bound with one another and the friendship will last throughout their lives.” Everyone should be so lucky to have a friend that will inspire them and teach them.
The challenge for us is to work very hard to be that friend to someone else and to be that friend who supports and challenges another person in their path of growth. The biggest compliment for me would to be chosen as that friend by someone in my life. Finding lasting and meaningful friendships could be as simple and profound as finding a study partner, assisting with a project in the shul, helping in a sisterhood project, or volunteering.
In the meantime, my friend “Queen Esther” texts me: “Shalom Aleichem.”
“Aleichem HaShalom,” I say back.
Deborah Scheinberg is a retired science teacher and astronomy professor. She received her Bachelors and Masters degrees of Science from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Born in Washington, D.C., Deborah married Jerry Scheinberg of College Park, Maryland in 1972. The Scheinbergs raised two sons, Aaron and Joshua, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, before moving to Bethesda, Maryland in 2015. Both songs are military veterans.