May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

What’s Your Side Hustle?

Sheitels being set and sold out of a garage. People flipping houses. Tutoring after a grueling day of students. People selling things on Amazon. Everywhere you turn, it seems everyone’s got a side hustle. It’s no different than 50 years ago, when my mother would go to a basement in Brooklyn and buy stockings and shmattas from hardworking women.

Many have side hustles because they want more expendable income and financial freedom, not necessarily because they need to cover their bills. Not complacent with mediocrity, they opt to work harder and go the extra mile because they want the dividends.

Interestingly, side hustles are not solely relegated to financial endeavors alone. Rather, this very idea of not being complacent and working harder is precisely what separates the super accomplished people from the average.

This point occurred to me recently when I found myself in a conversation about community people. Someone observed that many people accept mediocrity, just happy to get by doing the bare minimum, living their lives, phoning in their Judaism, raising a nice family, and pretty much stopping at that. But then you see other people — people who go beyond the call of duty — going the extra mile. While many of these people have their names on buildings, and rightfully so, many others in klal Yisroel are unknown yet still busy working their own respective “side hustles.”

I suppose the first person I saw who went beyond just writing a check or going to shul was my father, who served as president of the Hebrew Academy of Miami and eventually built the eruv in Miami Beach. In the First Intifada, his foundation purchased appliances and bought gifts for many victims of Arab terror, even visiting many of the families in hospitals. And this was in between all of his other obligations, which were many.

No doubt, this inspired my brother Jason (aka Kisvai Chaim) to not only give shiurim and leyn for his shul without pay, but he was also one of the original founders of JSU. After Oct. 7, he ordered and distributed thousands of rubber bracelets which read “VELO NEVOSH” (do not be embarrassed), bringing a message of achdut and chizuk to all Jews throughout the world.

In my old shul sat a humble math and social studies teacher affectionately known as Mr. K. Aside from being a legendary educator for many years, he was also responsible for performing thousands of taharas and training countless others. The mitzvahs he has built through his admas nefesh — not to mention being a supremely fine gentleman — will leave his heavenly imprint for all eternity.

Yakir Wachstock is a hardworking man working in the yeshiva world while dabbling in Amazon to supplement his income. One day he received a phone call from Maj. Daniel Jacobs of the IDF, who explained to him that they were in desperate need of tactical combat boots. Without recompense, this humble man, who even refused to be photographed for a newspaper article that covered the original story, spent untold hours every day raising money and purchasing tactical boots. To date, he has helped thousands of people and counting. I know this because he walked to my shul on Shabbos and gave a quick speech. As he left, he mentioned that he walked hundreds of miles on Shabbos to help raise money for these much needed boots — and he does not get a penny!

Aki Stein came up with a brilliant way to help the soldiers while simultaneously helping klal Yisroel with his brilliant site, www.sharejustonething.com, which allows someone to do a mitzvah as a zechus for a soldier. To date, over 50,000 people have committed to lighting candles, putting on tefillin., keeping Shabbos, wearing tzitzit, all thanks to the selfless dedication of a bona fide rockstar.

Paul Newman was about the biggest movie star around, but he chose to dedicate his profits to a higher cause, donating over $500 million to charities over a 35-year period. (And most people only liked him for his eyes.)

In my hometown of Hollywood, Florida resides a sweet loving and brilliant cardiologist lovingly known as Larry, who gives hours of his life every week tutoring students without remuneration,and sending out a weekly beautiful divrei Torah.

Years ago, Dov Katz, an unassuming gentleman from North Miami, saw that many families needed food for Shabbos. Seeing an opportunity to help, he left his comfort zone and started Tomchei Shabbos of Florida, successfully feeding thousands. Yet because of his humility, you’d never know it, always calling Tomchei a “team effort.”

Fifty years ago, Rav Dovid Leib Cohen and his colleague Rav Chaim Goldberg, z”l, decided to raise money for those less fortunate without pay, and by 2023 had raised umpteen millions of dollars — without keeping one cent.

Let’s not forget the generous man who purchased close to $500,000 in flights for soldiers going to Israel, or the countless people that have raised millions, organizing and shipping thousands of duffle bags filled with protective gear, boots, snacks, cell phone chargers, tzitzit (many made by fellow Jews who care), and so much more.

It’s been said that Noach walked with God, while Avraham walked ahead of God, constantly reaching for more. This is what separated them (Noach saved no one but his prerequisite family, whereas Avraham left Charan with “all the souls he made.” This is why Noach is only obligated to seven commandments as opposed to Avraham’s children who got an additional 606 mitzvot!

Hashem wanted someone who was going to reach higher and actively seek out Hashem, and that came in the form of Avraham Avinu. Even when God Almighty was visiting him after his brit, when he had every reason to calmly ignore the doorbell, he ignored the pain and received his guests. (Remember, this is pre-Advil and Vicodin, folks.)

Moshe Rabbeinu could’ve easily remained in the palace. After all, they had a wonderful pension plan (and I’m not going to even mention their 401(k) plan), and all of his needs were taken care of, but true to character, he went out to observe the “burdens of his brothers.” This very quality — of looking beyond oneself — is the key factor that elevated him from a prince of Egypt to the greatest leader and prophet the world over.

So the next time someone asks about your side hustle, forget about Amazon for a minute and consider your legacy. Sure, you had a rough day at work but remember the immortal words of Aiden Wilson Tozer, who warned us that complacency is the deadly enemy of spiritual progress. BH, we have the golden opportunity while we are here to do Tomchei Shabbos, taharas, hachnasat orchim, bikur cholim, charity projects (my son Binny raised over 300,000 for Chai Lifeline and he’s only 17!), and community events are but a few of the many things we can all do to up the ante.

What’s remarkable about all of these individuals is that they are regular people like you and me, except they went out of their comfort zone to do for others. My cousin Rose Lubin, one of the many lone soldiers who tragically left us too soon, said at her bat mitzvah, There will be a time that I will not exist in this world. So what do I do? I will do something great for the world. I won’t wait for the world to do something for me.” She did indeed. Let us all find strength in the many individuals who have chosen to do a little more for someone else.

Mi k’amcha Yisroel!


Avi Ciment lives in Florida and is a longtime columnist for The Jewish Press. He lectures throughout the world and has just finished his second book, “Real Questions Real Answers.” He can be reached at www.avitalks.com.

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