3,600 good deeds in memory of Berkeley law student

“Do you want to do a good deed today?” U.C. Berkeley students called out, inviting peers under an awning in the rain. The organizers showed prospective participants a colorful spin wheel covered in bits of advice: “Avoid negative speech,” “Call a parent or grandparent,” “Make someone feel special.”

With this simple question, U.C. Berkeley students and others amassed 3,600 good deeds (200 times “chai,” the Hebrew numerical 18, and the symbol of life) for the Judah Marans Day of Loving Kindness, held March 10 on the campus.

Nina Kampler, Judah Marans’ mother, embraces a friend at the Judah Marans Day of Loving Kindness. photo/courtesy nina kampler

After 27-year-old Judah Marans, a third-year Boalt Law School student and beloved member of the campus Jewish community, took his life this winter, the U.C. Berkeley Chabad student board took on specific mitzvot to emulate Marans’ characteristic warmth and Jewish pride. That resulted in a campuswide good deed drive, with input from Chabad, the Boalt Jewish Student Association and Marans’ family.

Participants were encouraged to enter their name, location and a good deed of their choice at www.jewishucb.com, where Marans’ family and others could see the commitments made throughout the day. If campus passersby needed inspiration to think up a good deed, they could spin the wheel with suggestions.

“I think when young people are struck by loss, there is a natural response to want to be proactive because students are naturally activists,” said Marans’ mother, Nina Kampler, who flew from the family’s home in New Jersey to participate on campus. “From the initial idea, it grew into something across the country and globally.”

For Mark Donig, co-president of the Boalt Jewish Student Association and a close friend of Marans’, this form of commemoration seemed true to his friend’s character. “It just felt so appropriate for someone who spent so much of his time trying to make people happier and make people’s lives better,” he said. “This was a person who really cared about … striving to understand what is the best way to create light around the world.”

At 9 a.m. that day, Berkeley students set up tables on Sproul Plaza and at Boalt Hall, where they approached fellow students about their goal of collecting good-deed pledges in Marans’ honor from people of all faiths and backgrounds.

U.C. Berkeley headquarters of the Judah Marans Day of Loving Kindness photo/rifkie lerder

Parallel events also began that day at Marans’ alma mater, Brandeis University in Massachusetts where he founded the school’s Law Journal in 2009; his high school, the Ramaz School in New York City; his elementary school, the Yavneh Academy in Paramus, New Jersey; and other institutions. With the help of students, family and friends from throughout the country, the day’s goal of 1,000 good deeds had already been reached by 7:30 a.m. Pacific time. Eager to up the ante, California organizers decided to raise the goal to 3,600.

To encourage participation beyond campus, Marans’ family and friends engaged in a widespread social media campaign, posting pictures of their good deeds with the hashtag #Judahkindnessday. Participants posed with sick or injured members of their community whom they visited, the baked goods they distributed, plus cans from school food drives and other efforts.

Both a Facebook event page and the U.C. Berkeley Chabad website were filled with these images.

The web page quickly filled with a wide variety of pledges. One participant donated 32 meals to children in need, another from Israel gave out cookies to soldiers, while others promised to give compliments and smiles or extend forgiveness to quarreling friends. As people shared the event on social media, entries popped up from all over the world including England, Ireland, Spain, Korea, Turkey and Bangladesh.

“Berkeley ended up creating a ripple effect of kindness. People who knew [Judah] personally, knew of him or just heard his story, were all able to take a horrific tragedy that cast a shadow of dark pain and create connective love … allowing goodness to emerge from this experience,” Kampler said. “As his mother, the loss of my son is a hole within me that will never be erased. But rather than focusing on my own personal sorrow, I am instead — together with my husband, other children, as well as Judah’s grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends — transported to a better place where we are literally lifted above the pain by the extension of so much loving kindness.”

Sara Weissman
Sara Weissman

Sara Weissman is the editor in chief of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, and a former J. intern who graduated from U.C. Berkeley. She can be reached at editor@newvoices.org.