There will be something new in every Forsyth County public school classroom this year: a small, yellow plastic ark, with a coin slot — part of a partnership with Congregation Beth Israel to promote “Acts of Routine Kindness” (ARK).
In Jewish terms, think of the ark as a pushke (the Yiddish word for tin can) used to collect tzedakah (commonly translated as charity, but derived from the Hebrew word for justice or righteousness).
Forsyth County students and staff will be encouraged to drop coins into the arks and schools will select nonprofits to receive the funds. In addition, on each day of the 180-day school calendar, the Forsyth County school district will post “kindness inspirational messages” on its social media accounts, using the hashtag #ARK180Project.
“The thinking is that kindness is a muscle that needs to be flexed and the more we flex the muscle of kindness we become kinder people,” said Rabbi Levi Mentz of Beth Israel, which is located in Cumming and is associated with Chabad of Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties.
“The goal is to turn kindness into a routine, daily habit and to change the lives of both the person giving and receiving, therefore improving our world with positive and consistent action, and inspiring hope,” a statement from the school district said.
The arks, which will be placed in every classroom, grades K-12, in each of 42 schools, “represent that we are all sailing in the same boat,” Jennifer Caracciolo, the district’s communications director, told the AJT.
Serving 53,500 students, Forsyth County operates the fifth largest school district in the state, with 23 elementary, 11 middle and seven high schools, as well as a more vocationally-oriented high school.
Caracciolo said that making kindness part of the curriculum will help the district’s students, whom she described as still “struggling” with the disruptions in their lives caused by the three-year COVID-19 pandemic. “We want them to be connected. They need to be connected,” with peers and trusted adults, she said.
Mentz credited the idea of students beginning their day by focusing on kindness to the late Lubavictcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
The ARK project began about a decade ago, with a Chabad rabbi in Johannesburg, South Africa, who distributed hundreds of thousands of the yellow charity boats. It was introduced in the United States several years ago by a Chabad rabbi in Connecticut. Last year, it was introduced at five schools in the El Paso Independent School District in Texas and this year will go district-wide.
“It’s not about raising money. It’s about raising a generation of kind people,” Rabbi Levi Greenberg in El Paso told the lubavitch.org website.
In addition to Forsyth County, the ARK project also will debut this fall in school districts in Waukesha, Wis., and St. Louis, Mo. “We want to have brilliant children. We want to have brilliant children that are menschesf, that have a heart, that are caring, that are kind,” Mentz said.
To do that, the oft-spoken idea of “random acts of kindness” must be transformed into “routine acts of kindness,” he said. “Kindness can’t be random, because then we leave a lot of people on the side.”
In November 2021, the school district and Beth Israel planted 500 daffodil bulbs at the Forsyth County Arts and Learning (FoCAL) Center, in memory of the estimated 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust, part of a larger effort to plant such gardens around the world.
Beth Israel, Chabad of Forsyth and the Forsyth County Schools also sponsored a March 2022 Holocaust remembrance event that featured Dr. Edith Eger, a Holocaust survivor and psychologist. A recording of the event is used by the district as part of its Holocaust curriculum. Funds raised through ticket sales helped purchase 3,300 plastic arks.
Caracciolo said that the Forsyth district has partnered with Christian churches on other projects.
The school district, whose student body is now majority-minority, reflects demographic changes in a county with a history of racist activity. Caracciolo said that the Forsyth County student population today is 49 percent white, 27 percent Asian, 14 percent Hispanic, 5 percent African American and the remainder either of two or more races: native American or Hawaiian-Pacific Islander.
There is a small, but steadily growing Jewish community in north Georgia, numbering perhaps few thousand people. Congregation Beth Israel, established in 2016, now serves some 400 families in various ways. Groundbreaking for a synagogue and community center was held in August 2020.
The ARK Project is just part of Mentz’s vision. “This is just the beginning of our work with this. Our mission is to bring kindness to the entire county,” he said, explaining that next steps could involve placing the yellow arks in government offices and in businesses.
“All I can say is that in Forsyth County, there will be an explosion of kindness,” Mentz said.
- Dave Schechter
- Forsyth County
- Public School
- Forsyth County school district
- Acts of Routine Kindness
- Rabbi Levi Mentz
- Beth Israel
- Chabad of Forsyth
- Jennifer Caracciolo
- Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
- Rabbi Levi Greenberg
- Forsyth County Arts and Learning (FoCAL) Center
- Dawson County Chabad
- Lumpkin County Chabad