Originally appeared on Jewish Muse
The boy and girl stared at the ice cream truck, their faces drooping in longing. “What would you like? An ice cream sandwich?” the ice cream vendor asked. The children’s mother shook her head. She had already told her children no. “Sorry, I didn’t bring any money,” she said.
The vendor pulled out a few popsicles, peeled back the top of the wrappers, and handed them to the children. The kids ran off, smiling and licking their treats. A man sitting nearby tried to offer the vendor money for the popsicles; this man did not know the children but did not want the vendor to lose money. The ice cream man refused the offer. His was a mitzvah in the park, a genuine act of kindness.
“It was $3,” he said to me as I watched my toddler run between the grass and sidewalk. “It won’t make me rich or poor.” To him, what matters is putting smiles on kids’ faces.
Standing outside the ice cream truck, we chatted more as a wind ensemble played marches and Broadway tunes at a free concert in a Lexington park. The ice cream vendor has six children and a seventh on the way; his kids range in age from 2 ½ to 14. He has driven this ice cream truck since 1994 – close to two decades. He said he loves his job. As we spoke, a little boy, perhaps 8 or 9, ran up, and the vendor put his arm around the boy’s shoulders. The vendor said he had been selling ice cream to the boy since he was a toddler, and he even remembered the name of the boy’s first ice cream purchase.
I will always remember this vendor. He lost a little money but celebrated the loss. To him, children’s smiles are priceless. To him, a job is not always about every dollar made. I spent about four hours last spring participating in my temple’s mitzvah day; I played in a band at an assisted living home and loved the experience. It was a mitzvah, but an organized one.
What I treasured most about the mitzvah I witnessed this week was its spontaneity. The ice cream vendor reminded me that helping others does not always have to be scheduled into our lives. It is something that can – and often should – happen naturally.