I started working at the Jewish United Fund on August 31, 2015. The day my director called to say I got the job I told her I felt like I won the lottery. I was ecstatic to be working for an organization I was so passionate about. I walked into the office my first day with big dreams and high hopes of what my future would hold. I remember telling my mom that I felt like it was the first day of the rest of my life.
As I reached the lobby on my office floor for the first time, I saw a big quote on the wall that read "Do not stand idly by the suffering of your neighbor." I remember pausing for a moment, thinking that quote conveyed so much of what I already knew and loved about JUF. It was an organization focused on helping those less fortunate than us and making the world a better place. I did not know that quote would come to define so much of my life as I now know it.
On September 2, 2016, my world was shattered. My 21-year-old brother, Scott, suddenly and shockingly lost his life. Heart broken and paralyzed, my family began the journey of rebuilding our life -- a life after Scott. The days subsequent to the loss of my brother can only be described as a nightmare. I don't particularly think I could've ever been prepared for a situation like this. I received an overwhelming amount of calls, messages, visits and letters from my coworkers at JUF. Dinner was sent to my family on three separate occasions by people in the office.
When I returned to work, I was immediately greeted by my colleagues with flowers, candy, cards, and countless emails. Not a day went by that I wasn't acknowledged by innumerable people, whether it was a touch on my shoulder or a lunch plan where they selflessly used their time to support me. One colleague continuously brought me a Starbucks cookie and large coffee in the morning. She said it was only a small gesture she could think of to brighten my day, if only for a moment.
These are the type of people that work at JUF. This is the culture the organization embodies. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate their life to the service of others. I did not realize just how special these people were until I became the person in need. I remembered the quote. "Do not stand idly by the suffering of your neighbor". My colleagues have gone above and beyond to demonstrate the definition of these beautiful words. So many people have treated me with kindness beyond belief. Instead of focusing on ways I am broken, they have helped me focus on what's being rebuilt. They have helped turn my heartbreak into hope and my tragedy into possibility.
That is what's helped my family begin our "Selfless for Scott" movement: Scott quickly became remembered as the most selfless and genuine individual. Each year around the holidays and Scott's birthday, he would not ask for presents. Instead, he asked for people to make donations to a charity. Around his birthday this year, his friends created an event on Facebook describing this story. They mentioned how, this year, Scott is not with us to urge us to donate or participate in a great cause, so it's on us to take the initiative. They asked everyone to help spread some of Scott's goodness by performing a random act of kindness and then post about the experience on Scott's wall using the hashtag #selflessforscott.
I put together a volunteer event on his actual birthday for anyone to attend. Around 200 people came out and packed 400 meals for those in need at The Night Ministry and Inspiration Corporation. My family continues putting on events honoring Scott. This summer, we partnered with Greenstar Movement -- an organization that connects youth to their schools and neighborhoods, and people to each other, while revitalizing under-served communities. And we worked at the Metra underpass in Woodlawn to design a mosaic mural, helping to beautify the area.
I miss Scott every second of every day and I think about the lessons he's instilled in me in his 21 short years of life. No opportunity is ever too far out of reach. Simplicity is never enough. No amount of kindness can ever be too much.
I turned around one day to realize that the plans I had in my head for the rest of my life were, simply, plans. I guess the funny thing about life is that everything can change in the blink of an eye. I feel an enormous sense of pride coming into JUF every day and dedicating my life to the service of others. It has taken me a year to write this but I continuously questioned ways to thank my colleagues for the incredible amount of strength and life they've helped breathe back into me this past year.
Today, every day as I walk onto my office floor, I see that quote I marveled at on my first day of work. I think about the person I was when I first read it, the person I've become in the last year, and the person that JUF has so inspiringly shaped me into.
Ali Boorstein is a program associate for JUF's Tikun Olam Volunteer (TOV) Network.