My kids have winter break at the end of January, instead of in December, so a few weeks ago we were south-bound to Miami, along with the rest of the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland.

Since I refused, on principle, to buy seats, the four of us were seated in random middle seats throughout the plane (I feel the need to comment that it would have been easier for them to just seat us together, but perhaps they needed to make a point). I found myself in between two women, one of whom slept the whole time, and the other of whom talked to me the whole time.

The first thing she said, very respectfully, was, “I hope this isn’t an antisemitic thing to say, but it seems there are a lot of Jews on this flight.” (No ma’am, that’s not antisemitic, and thanks for not calling us apartheid-niks and genocide committers.) 

I laughed and agreed with her that, yes, there were a lot of Jews on the flight. I explained to her that many Jewish schools have winter break at the end of January since we don’t celebrate Christmas. She then asked me about my necklaces and I gladly told her about my Israel necklace and my necklace showing solidarity for the hostages

She then shared that, as a white, single, older woman (she’s 57) she had adopted two Black kids, and that she lived in a very white area, and was trying to help them navigate racism. She felt connected to my identity as a Jewish minority member who is currently dealing with worldwide condemnation and expressed her empathy for us Jews.

I asked her how she came to adopt the kids and she told me the most unbelievable story. She had once befriended a homeless woman, which started with her offering to buy the woman lunch. Their friendship developed, and she helped her with her addiction and assisted in getting her into recovery. Sadly, the woman relapsed and eventually died. So my seatmate, never having had kids before, and busy with an active and stimulating career, became a mom for the first time in her 50s and chose to take a step back professionally so these kids could grow up in a safe and stable home.

I think you could’ve lifted my jaw off the floor when she concluded her story. 

I can’t think of a greater act of kindness than giving a child a home, especially a child who is at risk of going into state care and repeating the patterns of the previous generation. I can’t imagine, at the height of one’s career and single lifestyle, with no parenting experience, taking on such a serious and permanent responsibility. I was absolutely blown away by the woman and her story, and truly, it takes a lot to blow me away.

In my travels I’ve come across many inspirational people, many rabbis and scholars and truly special individuals, but for some reason, her simple story and her simple solidarity just blew my mind. In this crazy world we live in it was beyond heartwarming to discover that beautiful human beings also roam the earth.

Random middle seats? I guess not…

”Who is wise? One who learns from everyone” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1).