“We’re surrounded by kind people,” author Matthew J. Goldberg told the Journal. “We don’t necessarily meet [them].”
During the first fall of the pandemic, Goldberg lost his wedding ring. In November 2020 he was taking a walk with his wife, son and dog, when he saw a sign, “Ring Found.”
“It was found by the nicest people in the world who happened to be walking their dogs,” Goldberg told the Journal. “They were as happy for me to be reunited with my ring as I was. It was fortuitous good luck, but it was also their kindness.”
Goldberg, who lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, wrote up the story and posted it on his township’s Facebook page. It got a huge reaction, including someone who suggested it would be good for a book. Goldberg had already published an eclectic mix of books, focusing on everything from the joy and humor of parenthood to the agony and ecstasy of being a Philadelphia sports fan. He considered what a project like that would look like.
About two years later, it finally came to fruition.
“Rings of Kindness” is a compilation of true stories of acts of kindness received, as written by Goldberg and more than 80 contributing writers. These acts of kindness — some small and others quite heroic — made a difference in the lives of each of the writers who shared them.
Contributors range in age from high school students to senior citizens, and about 20 of the writers are based in Los Angeles. Their stories took place in schools, subway stations and stadiums, during concerts and the horrors of The Holocaust.
“I really think that we can spread kindness through our stories of kindness,” Goldberg said. “I decided the parameters should be acts of kindness from someone we weren’t closely connected with at the time: not a family member, not a significant other, not a close friend. If friendships or romances developed, so be it.”
While “Rings of Kindness” is non-denominational and written for a wide-ranging readership, Goldberg, who is also a long time Jewish educator, believes this book will especially resonate with Jewish audiences.
“Not only are many of the contributing writers Jewish, but a common element of these stories is empathy — and perhaps, less about tzedakah and more about chesed — extending acts of loving kindness, inspired by empathy.” – Matthew J. Goldberg
“Not only are many of the contributing writers Jewish, but a common element of these stories is empathy — and perhaps, less about tzedakah and more about chesed — extending acts of loving kindness, inspired by empathy,” Goldberg said. “I’m giving a talk in an adult education class at the JCC, and it’ll be great to hear how they react to the stories.”
While Goldberg managed to gather a few stories in the early stages of this project, it wasn’t until he connected with producer/writer/actor Wendy Hammers that it started to move forward.
“It was a creative shitach,” Hammers told the Journal.
Hammers is also from New Jersey, and her parents, who lived there until they passed recently, met Goldberg at a book fair in Collingswood.
“They struck up a conversation, as Jewish parents do,” she said. “They said, ‘Oh, you should know my daughter. She’s fabulous. She lives in Los Angeles.” Hammer said although her parents were big film buffs, they didn’t really know how business in Los Angeles actually worked. “My dad would literally say something like, ‘Steven Spielberg seems very nice. He’s Jewish. You’re Jewish. You should call him. I’m sure he’d be happy to hear from you.’”
While it doesn’t usually work that way, this time it did.
Goldberg called Hammers, and asked if she’d like to be part of the book. Hammer, who also teaches writing, replied, “yes,” and asked if she could share the opportunity with her students.
“I believe the most Jewish part of me is that I have a real, strong need to connect people and create community, which I do through my storytelling series, ‘Tasty Words,’” she said, “And which I do with my classes and, hopefully, in my life.”
Hammers started “Tasty Words” 21 years ago as a way to tell her stories and create a place where she and her friends could go on stage and share what’s going on around them. “Tasty Words” — which has had hundreds of shows and thousands of performers — is also a podcast.
On January 29, the 20 L.A.-based storytellers will be sharing their stories at Hammers’ “Tasty Words” salon show, which starts at 3:30 pm, and takes place in a private room at La Puglia in Santa Monica. Goldberg, who has never been to LA, will be joining the event.
“Connecting with Wendy was, and still is, a great blessing,” Goldberg said. “It was wonderful that she took to the project and got so many people involved with it.”
One of Hammers’ students, L.A. filmmaker and education advocate Harri James-O’Kelley, said, “It means the world to me to share my story in a book that is filled with kindness, and mitzvot.” James-O’Kelley’s story is about the random act of kindness that is an organ donation that saved her daughter’s life.
“I wrote my story during the holiest of times between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” she said. It was so perfect to be writing about gratitude and kindness, and the gift of life.”
Goldberg said that kindness starts with empathy for others, increasing joy, lessening pain and sharing experiences. “There’s certainly the sense of tikkun olam – of repairing the world – together,” he said. “It just ties in.” Hammers added, “Part of the way we repair the world is with storytelling. We share our stories so that people know they’re not alone. It makes the world a sweeter, smaller place.”