Deborah Greenswag is director of operations at Temple Chai, a reform Jewish congregation in Long Grove.
In 2013, the temple introduced the theme of Hineini or "I'm here to make a difference" to the congregation.
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Greenswag learned what Hineini meant to her from an unforgettable experience in South Africa last November when she and her husband visited an Early Childhood Learning Center and the Rainbow Senior Center in a segregated black impoverished township in Cape Town.
Greenswag said that at the Learning Center, "We were greeted joyously by about 30 children under the age of 5. Being greeted by these children will go down as one of the most precious moments of my life," she said. "They were all smiles and shouted with glee."
"At the Rainbow Center, we met the seniors of the community. They were stringing beads for bracelets and when they saw us they spontaneously began singing. I will always remember the sincerity of their welcome," said Greenswag.
"These visits were my Hineini moment in a way that I never before understood," she said. "I realized that being here to make a difference meant more than being at Temple Chai, or in my community or even in the United States."
Greenswag continued, "for me, Hineini now meant being here to help to repair our world. It meant that with each person that I help, no matter who they are or where they live, I help save the world, one person at a time, one day at a time. I decided to try to make a difference."
While in South Africa, Greenswag had learned about Ikamva Labantu, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing basic services to millions of residents in the profoundly poor townships where unemployment is rampant. Ikamva Labantu was aiding the Learning Center and the Rainbow Center. Greenswag decided to do a fundraiser at Temple Chai for Ikamva Labantu by purchasing beaded bracelets that the Rainbow Center seniors were making and giving them to temple members for a small donation.
"Donating to this amazing organization was a way for each of us to experience our own Hineini moment by really helping an impoverished people," said Greenswag. "I am so happy when I see congregants wearing their bracelets. I know that they, too, have experienced a Hineini moment."
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