Hidden Star

Stepping forward one night at choir practice, 11-year-old Talya felt her head spin. When it came to solos, Talya’s voice came out sounding like a mix between a kazoo and a flute. She stood still, blushing.

“You can do it,” Talya heard her older sister, Dini, whisper. Dini who was only three years older, seemed leap years more talented and wiser. She stood one row behind her sister in the production, and she had already been up to the microphone five different times for solos.

Talya thought back to all of the times when her sister outdid her. Talya could be up half the night studying for an Algebra exam and still only make a B-plus. Dini barely studied and made straight As in all her subjects.

“Why can’t I be like Dini?” Talya screamed inside. “I can’t get anything right.”

And the harder Talya tried to be like Dini, the more she failed. So when it came to the girls’ choir production at the end of the summer, Talya was thrilled to have a part in her sister’s singing group. In fact, it was a miracle that she got in — only the best voices were let into the group. Talya figured it had to do with her singing teacher, Ms. Richter, who practiced with her the entire school year to help Talya prepare. She had spent hours practicing and singing around her house. And then came Talya’s audition. She climbed three wooden steps onto the stage in the shul auditorium. With three judges watching from the front row, Talya let out a half-perfect rendition of “Ma Ma Rochel.” That is until her coughing fit kicked in. Talya knew it was nerves, and luckily the judges still accepted her into the group.

“When you get nervous,” Ms. Richter’s soft voice flowed in her head, “keep breathing and singing.”
“That doesn’t happen to Dini!” Talya exclaimed, tears filling her eyes.

“Stop comparing yourself, and start looking at what you do well,” said Ms. Richter.

Talya began to think of some things she was good at. Like sports — she was the best at racing and jump rope, while her sister seemed to have two left feet. But Talya never really got to use her talents; she was too busy trying to copy her sister.

Choir practice increased to three times per week before the production. Miss Kayla decided to add some dance with the songs. A few girls couldn’t handle it. One of them was Dini. Talya, on the other hand, was a natural.

“Count the beat in your head while you sing,” she told Dini. “Dig your heels in.”

With Talya’s help, Dini got better.

The next day, Miss Kayla approached Talya: “How about helping me with the dance routine? You could be a dance coach.”

Talya was shocked. She had spent so much of her time trying to be just as good as her sister that she never recognized her own talents.

With Talya’s help, the Shalom Girls’ Choir danced and sang for a packed audience at the Farewell to Summer production.

Discussion Questions
1. In what ways do we compare ourselves to other people?
2. Why is it important for us to learn about our talents?
3. What are some ways we can learn about our skills and talents?

Danielle Sarah Storch is a local freelance writer. “Shabbat Table Talk” is a monthly feature synthesizing Torah insights and lessons for children of all ages.

The Real Winner

I stood on our blacktop driveway holding my bike. My hands smoothed over the shiny black metal frame. Its high leather seat stood proudly at the top, looking down on the wide handlebars with the extra-firm handbrakes. I hopped on my brand new mountain bike. As I rode down the dirt hill in our backyard, I hit a serious jump and bombed my way down to the bottom.

“Cool,” yelled Ben Goldberg. “Nice bike, Ron!”

He winked and then copied my ride down the hill.

“I’m test driving my Camelback,” my friend said, as he brushed some dirt off his face. “Now I want to ride yours, it’s a better brand.”

It was two weeks before the end of summer. I had plans to enter the bike into a local derby. No one was going to ride my new bike.

“Do you know how long it took me to pay for my GMC Topkick dual-suspension mountain bike?” I shot my friend a “no way are you ever going to ride my bike” look. I had saved $300 by mowing neighbors’ lawns, making my bed hundreds of times and tutoring my annoying little sister.”

But Ben wouldn’t let up. From the moment he saw my new bike in our backyard until the last day of camp, Ben literally spent hours and hours working on me. In camp, he’d tell me about how sweet it would be to ride my bike.

I didn’t give in, though, because I knew I couldn’t take a chance. The GMC would be in the mountain bike derby.

Until it wouldn’t …

One day after camp, as I rode my bike downhill, there was a rock. I hit it and went lunging forward over the handlebars; my bike hit a street light. My bike was bent; the wheels’ spokes were out of place.

“My bike is ruined!” I screamed to no one.

I was lucky that I could walk — just a tad banged up — so I dragged my bike back home. I thought the whole way about the derby, barely holding back tears. Then it hit me: What about Ben’s Camelback?

I called him.

“Can I borrow your Camelback for the derby?” I explained about my crash.

There was silence on the other end of the line. Then, “But you didn’t let me use yours.”

He hung up. A few hours later, he called back.

“I was thinking about it,” Ben’s voice sounded a bit louder. “You can use my bike, and if you win, we’ll split the prize!”

“There’s no prize Ben, but can I still borrow it?”

“Ok, sure.” Ben’s words were short but strong.

I realized that Ben Goldberg was the real winner of the derby.

Discussion Questions
1. How do you think Ben overcame his inability to lend his bike to Ron?
2. Why does the Torah expect us to lend objects to our friends even when they do not do so?

Danielle Sarah Storch is a local freelance writer. This story is based on the Torah law that states that one is not allowed to say: “You didn’t lend me your rake, so I’m not lending you mine,” and the idea that we must go above our natural feelings to do what the Torah expects from us.

Follow The Leader

It was the third week at camp, and things were running smoothly.

“Lineup at 6 a.m. by the flagpole,” Art, our counselor, called out to us one afternoon.

“We’ll announce the leader for our overnight then.”

My best friend, Mo, looked at me.

“Maybe he’ll chose me, I’m an Eagle Scout,” he said.

The job of “leading” the overnight involved taking head counts, giving directions and guiding the group for water breaks. Mo was a natural, and he had a friendly personality. This year, however, Adam was also in our bunk. He was strong, an expert in martial arts, and he had a personality to match his physical strength.

“Bet Art will choose me,” Adam said. “I always get chosen as the leader of everything.”

So when 10 messy-haired boys with untucked shirts trudged to the flagpole the next morning , I was surprised to hear Adam talking so loudly.

“I’ll make sure you get lots of water breaks,” he announced, as he shot me a victorious smile.

He wasn’t chosen yet, but he was acting as if he was our leader already.

Art called for silence, scanned the lineup and then announced, “This year’s leader for our annual overnight will be … Mo Schwartz.”

“Yes!” Mo yelled out.

I slapped Mo a high-five, as Art handed him the trip map.

Next thing, Adam was leaning over Mo, looking at the map. He put his lips to my ear and whispered, “Mistake. They need me as leader. They’ll regret it when I beat them to the campsite.”

I shrugged off his comment.

Mo took a head count, and we began shuffling through the woods down a dirt trail. Ten minutes went by and Mo called for a water break and a head count.

“We’re short one person,” I heard Mo yell. He took roll call and realized that Adam was missing.

A feeling of panic swept through us, and Art called out that we had to stick together and scout out the area while calling Adam’s name.

We searched and searched. Then we really started to panic. I started to say a silent prayer when a piercing scream filled the air.

We followed the calls for help and found Adam curled up in the dirt by a large rock — he was holding his ankle.

“I think it’s broken,” he said.

Mo radioed a park ranger who arrived a few minutes later and drove Adam to the hospital. Art arranged for a bus to take us all back to camp; we were postponing the trip.

The next day, Adam returned — with crutches and an ace bandage. He said he was sorry. Art addressed us, too.

“There’s an important lesson here,” he said. “You should follow a leader, even if you think you might be a better one.”

Discussion Questions
1. How could Adam have used his leadership skills to his advantage?

2. Have you or a friend ever had a situation where you had to give up being a team captain or a leader for the sake of the group? How might things have turned out if you had resisted? How did they turn out when you just gave in?

Danielle Sarah Storch is a local freelance writer. Shabbat Table Talk is a monthly feature synthesizing Torah insights and lessons for children of all ages.

In The End, Cheaters Always Get A Failing Grade

Raphi and I were walking home from school one day when I playfully jeered him for getting such good grades.

“How do you do it?” I said with a smile.

My life changed forever with his answer: “I cheat.”

“You what?” My mouth dropped opened, and I just stood there staring at my friend; I didn’t know what to say.

Somehow, I brought my next thought to my tongue: “How do you cheat?”

Raphi was about to walk away, but he stopped and answered the question.

“Listen,” he said, his voice suddenly softer. “I sit next to Shapiro, and I lean over to check my answers with his.”

“What if Shapiro gets them wrong?” I asked.

“I write the answers on a small paper that I keep in my socks.”

We walked the rest of the way home in silence. At his door, I spoke again: “Cheating is not cool.”

Raphi glared.

“You promised not to tell, Kaplan.”

“But why?” My voice trailed off. “Why would you cheat?”

Raphi looked at me: “I guess I always like being the best.”

I watched his front door slam. As I entered my house, next door, I had a stomachache. At dinner, I sat quietly, still pondering this new information. Mom and Dad were discussing someone from my dad’s office who was “let go,” for cheating on his taxes and fudging with the numbers on the accounts at work.

“Why would anyone do that?” my mom asked Dad.

Then I spoke up: “Maybe he was under pressure to be the best.”

My eyes locked with my father’s.

“Yes, and see what it cost him,” Dad said. “A job and his reputation. I would like to know how his family feels about him now?”

My sister, Shelly, had been listening to all of this, too.

“What about my friend with dyslexia who makes all Bs in school? Is she a loser?” Shelly asked.

“Actually Shelly,” said Mom, “she is what I would call a winner. If she tries her best and is honest, she is No. 1 for her.”

Then it hit me. Raphi was going about being No. 1 in the wrong way. To him, good grades meant he was a winner. The sign of success is how hard one tries — and if he or she is honest.

A few weeks later, Raphi and I were walking home once again.

“I’ve been thinking about this cheating stuff. It’s not worth it,” Raphi said.

I just looked at Raphi, confused.

“I read in the papers about that man who worked with your dad. In fact, his son is my friend. The guy’s going to jail. Did you know that his son told me that he never wants to speak with his father again?” Raphi said. “It’s not worth it. The newspaper said that the guy cheated as a kid in school, too.”

Raphi sighed.

“It’s over,” he said, kicking the dirt in front of his house. “It’s better this way.”

“Yes it is,” I said. “Yes it is.”

Danielle Sarah Storch is a local freelance writer. Shabbat Table Talk is a monthly
feature synthesizing Torah insights and lessons for children of all ages.

In The End, Cheaters Always Get A Failing Grade

Raphi and I were walking home from school one day when I playfully jeered him for getting such good grades.

“How do you do it?” I said with a smile.

My life changed forever with his answer: “I cheat.”

“You what?” My mouth dropped opened, and I just stood there staring at my friend; I didn’t know what to say.

Somehow, I brought my next thought to my tongue: “How do you cheat?”
[Read more…]

An Honest Mistake

It was my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. For their special day, Dad had commissioned a piece from an Italian glass blower. Mom loved fancy lamps, so Dad bought her a Morano handmade chandelier. It had cost him a pretty penny, and it had taken the artist half a year to create.

You should have seen the excitement and love in Mom’s eyes when she received the gift, and Dad told her he had already arranged for an electrician to come and hang the piece two days later.
[Read more…]

Lessons Of A ‘Loser’: How Chaim Gained His Confidence

I hated recess. No one believes me, but it is true.

Our recess looked something like this: Ari would split the boys up into teams for kickball.  I was mostly chosen last.

“Can’t you kick a ball?”  Ari, the oldest guy in class, would yell from the grass, as I was up to the plate.

He was the best player.  Whenever I was up to kick, I mostly missed the ball. [Read more…]

Forgiving Shana

Everyone loved Shana.

In her quiet way, Shana would ask the girls to play jump rope or sardines at recess. She would spend time reading quietly in her room. I was one of her biggest fans — until the day the trouble began.

It was the middle days of Passover, and Shana had come over for a play date. We had gone up to my bedroom, where I had a brand new doll collection and a one-of-a-kind antique doll carriage from the late 1800s.
[Read more…]

Useless Avi

Eli was a tall, bright and athletic 12 year old. He threw the football like a pro, and he caught passes better than anyone else. Sam, who was shy, played an OK game. His throws didn’t spiral, and he tripped a lot during practice. So when Sam was placed on Eli’s after-school football team, Eli couldn’t stop picking on him.
[Read more…]