Joe Sheridan, a Catholic quarantine inspector in Sydney, Australia, and a long-time student of theology, knew there had to be more to understanding G-d and his own mission in life.
As fate would have it, the church he attended was located only two doors away from a Chabad center. On a whim, Joe decided to take his spiritual quest a step further, and phoned the center for a ten-minute appointment with Rabbi Zalman Kastel. The session lasted an hour, but its impact would stretch across the width and breadth of Australia’s largest city: in the course of their conversation, Joe and Zalman would discover the mutuality of their concerns for society and their common desire to spread kindness and goodwill in a world complicated by conflict and hostility.
“When we realized how much we had in common,” says Joe, “we figured the best way to get our message across to the world would be through children, and the best place to reach children is in the classroom.” Inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s message to CNN’s Gary Tuchman, that humankind increase in acts of goodness and kindness to hasten the redemption, Joe and Zalman recruited a Muslim journalist, Seifi Seyit, and formed the Goodness and Kindness Campaign sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch of the North Shore. Representative of the world’s three major religions, the three men put their respective differences behind them and chose to focus on their common humanity.
“Many people are concerned about the state of the world but don’t think there is anything they can do,” says Rabbi Nochum Schapiro, director of Chabad of the North Shore. “The Rebbe believed that ordinary people can change the world, one good deed at a time.”
Since its inception, the campaign has been introduced at more than a dozen public and private schools across Sydney, and its message of
compassion vividly conveyed to more than 1,000 schoolchildren of all denominations. The trio’s presentation includes interactive games and storytelling and culminates with students pledging additional acts of kindness, which they commit to in writing, on individual pieces of fabric. The bits of material read comments like “I won’t fight with my brother,” and “I’ll see the good in everything,” and are sewn together to form the ever-expanding Australian Quilt of Goodness and Kindness. The group hopes to hang the quilt for display on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, on the 11th of Nissan, the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The campaign is geared towards children, says Rabbi Schapiro, “because they are open to new ideas, and are most receptive to positive changes.” The project’s goal, he emphasizes, “is to inspire and empower people with
a vision of changing the world through a chain reaction of goodness and kindness.”
Described by Lynn Doppler, principal of the Rozelle Public School, as a “program which embraces diversity and promotes communication, cooperation, trust and understanding across cultures and belief systems through discussion and enjoyable games and activities,” the campaign has evoked an exceptionally positive response, according to Rabbi Kastel. Bridging the ideological differences often blamed for so much prejudice and intolerance, the campaign, which expects to reach 10,000 schoolchildren by year’s end, is inspiring them with the hope and belief in a world of goodness. Adam, a sixth grader at one of the participating schools in Sydney, sums up his response to the program: “I think it will change a lot of people’s attitudes; it might even change the future.”