It was nearly 12 years ago, as I stood in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport holding my huge, puffy wedding dress in one hand and wiping my tears with the other, that an angel saved me and inspired much of my life’s work.
I had ordered my dream wedding dress right after my engagement. Plenty of time, I thought, to have everything ready. Until the devastating tsunami struck in the Far East and my wedding dress – which was being sewn there – was destroyed. My seamstress in Chicago only told me about it a week before my wedding.
Trying to stay cool under pressure, I decided to wear my sister’s old wedding dress, which needed some altering. I booked an appointment with a seamstress in New York, where I was getting married two days later. It was the last appointment she had.
So there I was at O’Hare, begging the check-in clerk to get me on an earlier flight so I could make my appointment.
“I’m getting married in two days, I need to be on that airplane to New York,” I cried, pointing to the aircraft being boarded outside.
She looked at me with pity, but her answer was the same as the previous 10 times I begged her to let me on.
“Our standby rules have recently changed,” she said. “An earlier flight will cost $400.”
I had no cash or credit cards with me.
I went to sit down, feeling totally defeated.
I was going to miss the appointment, and with it my last chance to make my wedding dress fit.
Suddenly, the check-in clerk was standing next to me with a ticket in her hand.
“Run and board the flight, before it’s too late,” she said.
As I went to hug her, she shook her head.
“It wasn’t me who made this happen. A man overheard your story and paid the change fee.”
She pointed to a middle-aged man who was waiting on line to board his flight. I ran to him.
“Thank you,” I said. “Please, give me your address so I can send you the money.”
“No,” he answered kindly. “Just always remember this, and pay it forward to someone else in need.”
I was shocked and moved beyond words by this stranger’s selfless act of kindness.
“I will,” I enthusiastically told him as I ran to my flight.
This experience changed me. I was born into a modest yet comfortable family. I never needed to worry about having my needs covered. And now, the first time I felt desperate, with nowhere to turn, a stranger swept in to save me. It was awesome.
That’s when I decided that I wanted to spend my life helping others.
One year later, I moved to Israel. And although I always knew about my father Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s organization, The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, it was only when I met some of the 1.5 million individuals whose lives are touched by the Fellowship annually that I realized my calling in life was to join him in this holy mission.
During the Second Lebanon War, the first war that I experienced as an Israeli citizen, I worked on Fellowship projects in which volunteers delivered diapers, baby formula, food and water to civilians on the front line who were living 24/7 in their bomb shelters. I constantly thought of the “pay it forward” promise I had made to my angel in the airport.
I continue to think of him when I deliver Fellowship clothing cards to orphans, bring heaters to needy elderly in Ukraine, distribute food packages to poor Holocaust survivors, and take part in other humanitarian Fellowship projects throughout Israel and the former Soviet Union.
It is amazing to see that this “pay it forward” idea is not isolated; once you set the ball of doing good deeds in motion, it takes on a life of its own.
Just a few weeks ago a Fellowship worker, Orli, got on the bus and found out there was no money left on her bus card.
“I’m sorry, I have no cash, but I’ll pay you next time,” she said to the driver.
“No problem,” he told her as she sat down in the front seat.
“Where do you work?” the driver asked.
“The Fellowship,” Orli answered.
Immediately the bus driver stood up and gave her a hug.
“My wife was in a terrorist attack and the Fellowship was the first organization to visit her and to provide us with funds to help with medical expenses,” he said. “It is my honor to pay your bus fare.”
I just wish that man in the airport could see the domino effect caused by his selfless good deed.