The bus is about as far from a Batmobile as you can get. It clangs and bounces as it rumbles down the highway. There’s a small screech when we turn, and water drips from the ceiling whenever it rains. Not only do we fail to zoom through tunnels, we break out into a cheer whenever we pass another car. Still, this spectacular oddity of a vehicle sometimes feels like a super-mobile, which brings up the vague possibility that we might be spending the summer trying our hands at superhero-dom.
Like superheroes, when we swoop into a camp or JCC, people stop and stare. When there are kids around, our approach is announced by a resounding chorus of “whoaaa” and “look at that!” and “what the…?” People from all over have invited us into our houses, brought us snacks, offered us showers and ice and leftover oil and giant cucumbers. I have been hugged by strangers, and thanked for what I am doing before the program even begins. If we are superheroes, we are Batman or Ironman – just ordinary people who happen to wear flashy costumes (sometimes) and come out of the door of a fantastic bus.
It all feels a bit unfair. And it makes me incredibly hopeful.
The bus has the superpower of bringing out the best in people. Stripped of wariness and inhibition (because, after all, how often do you get to hang out on an upside-down bus? And if that doesn’t do it, how often do you sing about poop in public?), people of all ages are free to share their most playful, curious, generous, thoughtful, silly selves.
In a restaurant in Kansas a woman eating dinner overheard us asking for oil and immediately sent a text to every person she knew in the next few cities on our agenda.
Sitting outside of the Mitzvah Garden in Kansas City, a family invited us for dinner before even learning our names.
When we open the engine in a truck stop or gas station, at least three people approach and ask if we need help.
On a cloudy morning in New Jersey, a bunch of initially reserved pre-teens began enthusiastically singing about having a good day.
Countless families have opened up their homes to us and welcomed us into their families and lives at every step along the way.
Confronted with the overwhelming generosity and hospitality of people, I cannot help but reflect on my own level of superhero-ness. I happen to be lucky enough to be traveling on an upside-down school bus, teaching kids about things that I am incredibly passionate about. I am no superhero, just someone who landed the fortune of spending the summer in our Batmobile, wearing a Teva shirt and a nametag made of cardboard.
And yet, people expect us to be superheroes, or perhaps I just expect myself to be a superhero, and so I try my best. I gather all of my enthusiasm. I sing songs to strangers in the gas station. And I try my best to reciprocate the incredible kindness that has been shown to us.
At the end of our programs, we ask our participants to envision the world that would be necessary for a successful Shmitah year. When we produce less, we have to share more. We have to trust in the intentions of others, to give what we can, knowing that we may or may not be repaid. Could this crazy bus trip, this prolonged moment of giving and receiving, be a step toward enacting a Shmitah-ready world?
The sun is starting to set on this adventure, and soon my superpower will be left behind in a parking lot at Isabella Freedman, waiting for someone else to swing open the door and turn on the generator. Then again, the amazing people we have met don’t drive upside-down buses or ride bicycle blenders. They have shown the beauty that is created by true hachnasat horchim, by welcoming guests and giving of oneself. They are superheroes in their own right, and my hope is that I not only find, but actively search out chances to pay it forward.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude.