Turn a Stranger into a Family Member — by Barbara Heller

Feeling Stuck in a Narrow Place?

Change your Perspective, Create a New Vision, and relentlessly Take Action towards making that vision happen when you want to break THROUGH your own personal Egypt.
Similarly to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, you could say I heard an inner voice, or rather I felt a calling to move out of my comfort zone and I listened.
About a year and a half ago, I moved from LA to NYC. The greatest gift I’ve received living here was unexpected and wrapped up in a harsh cold candy shell.
I moved onto the Upper West Side-I know so cliche for a single Jewish girl to move into the most highly populated Jewish Young Professionals neighborhood or “the chood” (with an emphasis on the sound of the hebrew letter chet or the phlegmy sound) as we call it on the inside.
It just so happens that the building I moved into is situated just outside one of “the projects” as some people might call certain areas of low income housing.
I choose to walk through this area a few times a week on my way to work. I say my typical “Good Morning” to 25 different strangers on my way, and I see things up close that I never would’ve seen in my 15 yeas in LA, and it continues as I take my 45 minute subway plus bus ride from Manhattan to the Bronx and back in order to teach Mindfulness, Jewish Studies, Creative Writing, and Voice at the schools I have the privilege of teaching at.
In LA we get into our car bubbles and zoom past Skid Row on the freeway, never smelling the stench of someone who hasn’t had a shower for weeks. We don’t have to hear a single mother screaming bloody murder at her son in the subway because he was taking a few extra minutes at his soccer practice- watching him shiver and cry his eyes out -while she tells him how she cannot be late for work or she’ll lose her second job and don’t make her get all in his face.  I never got the “she’s crazy” looks because I decide to strike a yoga pose in the subway car instead of just sitting in the tightened up constipated face most people take on when they walk on “standing clear of the closing doors”.
Similar to Moses there were days that I definitely didn’t like what I was seeing nor how passive I felt I was being in my own environment.  Could I have any impact on those around me even at all? I reflected and I got the message that I should definitely take a look at things in a new way…
Living in the Hollywood smog of LA, you also don’t always get to make hundreds of new friends each day by just flashing a heart warming smile at someone sitting feet away from you, ask them “How is your day going?” and share real moments in real time. It also wouldn’t be commonplace to offer (within sometimes a 60 second window of the next Subway or Bus Stop), money, leftovers, tissues, headphones-yes I had to do this once for everyone’s benefit, book titles, Ted Talks, speeches by your Rabbis, songs by your favorite artists, and watch their faces light up as the doors open. You don’t get to converse over subjects such as “Why do you think that last school shooting happened?” “How beautiful did that last Singer sound who just lit up the whole train?” or share a laugh over the all too often “Yeah, I heard that man screaming about Trump and how horrible the world is right now. Not sure if screaming is the best way to deal with it.” I swear every single day I’m getting closer to world peace and a deeper understanding of the world at large.
Of course there are days when I just want to put in my ear buds and pretend to not feel what’s going on within inches of me, and tune out the world around me.  Moses tried to do this by “escaping to the desert” but wherever he turned there were supernatural things tossing him right back into the ring of the present.
One of our greatest gifts in life is being able to partner with G-d, step up, and take action to improve whatever is happening right around us. Whatever is happening in the 4 feet (dalet amot) or immediate present around us was specifically created just for us to help fix. So, more often than not I choose to sit fully present in my little plastic Subway seat and open my eyes, heart, and ears wider and offer whatever I can.  Even if it just acknowledging their presence by thinking in my head, “You are a spark of G-d’s Divine Being. You have permission to make this an awesome day.” Sounds kinda silly and Mr. Rogers-y right? Maybe I watched too many Mr. Rogers episodes, had too many awesome teachers like Rabbis Aaron, Binny, Seidenfeld, Sacks-to name just a few, or was given too shiny of an example of compassion and unconditional  love by my own Grandmother, Betty Kruger, my sister and mother and close friends in my ‘chood. Imagine if each of us took a few moments each day to just keep the thought in mind, “You (stranger) are of the same Divine Spark of G-d that I am.” Watch how each stranger can become a family member, no matter where they come from.

Harp. Watercolor illustration. Hand drawn of classical music instrument

Over the summer a song came out of me during a meditation class which I thought would lead to creating a piece of content about Police Brutality and Racial profiling. I set up a shoot date to make a video to go along with the song in LA in October. The most beautiful location to shoot it in was given to me by one of the kindest Jewish Educators and musicians, Craig Taubman and a DP was hired.  I had cast members, and a recording studio set up to make an extra special recording of the song. However, as is all too common in the biz, the day before I left NYC everything fell apart and we had to cancel the recording and the shoot. I prayed and sobbed over it for a few days. I had this feeling something bigger than I imagined would come out of this so I took a deep breath and let it go for a bit.
A couple months later on December 28th, 2019, the last night of Chanukah, 5780, a man who lived just a few blocks from me, entered the home of a Rabbi, well known for his extreme kindness, and stabbed several Jews celebrating at a party in Monsey, NY. I was shaken to the core. “How could this happen? I know there are White Suprematists out there like those responsible for the Pittsburgh shooting from last year. But my own brothers and sisters in my neighborhood? No! This cannot be happening. What on earth would possess them to do this? I had been hearing about these bouts of stabbings and punchings in Brooklyn-the victims being innocent Jewish people walking to the grocery store or to synagogue being stabbed or punched to the ground without explanation.
Although it didn’t happen to me physically, I felt that I was being punched in the gut.  The hope that had been growing within me since I moved here and was a part of this amazing community was shrinking and I began to feel full of fear.  I demanded answers.  I turned to G-d and asked, “What can I do? I know this cannot be the new reality and if I have any say in the matter I won’t allow it to be!”
And then within a few moments of sitting back and listening, it hit me. “I should take out my iPhone and start filming people in my neighborhood.  I should ask these fine people around me, “What can we do to stop these hate crimes? Why do you think they are happening? How can we be more united?” The answers I got were profound. We sang, laughed, cried, and hugged together.
Like Moses and Aaron I will not settle on what the news tells me how things are. I won’t settle on certain political leaders/gangs/underground hate mongers trying to create a world around me of fear and hate crimes. Within minutes the “strangers” I interview become like family to me.   What has come out of it is an overwhelming feeling that there is a majority of human beings that want to choose love over fear, goodness over laziness, and who will fight for good to win over evil behavior.
I created this series “Heart to Heart” to give us all hope: Please watch the first part of the Series “You Are Gold” and leave a comment and let me know what you think and if you’d like to see more!
And here is the original song I wrote before the stabbing in Monsey happened but is still completely related to it and other hate crimes as well as the divisions that still exist between us: “You Are Gold”
This song has just been nominated for an award for the Manhattan Association of Cabarets. We must spread the message of unifying as one human kind. The divisions are killing us, literally. I’m in the process of raising money for the production costs for my new video and the recording costs for the song. You can hear parts of the original song, “You Are Gold” in the soundtrack for the first part of this documentary.
I’d love to sing this song on live television and share pieces of the documentary as well if anyone wants to connect me with any segment producers on Talk Shows!

Thanks for taking a moment to reflect,


Barbara Heller is an Actor, Writer, Producer, Voice Over Artist and Director living in New York City. You can join her on

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