Kan Tzipor: Inspiring Stories on Seizing “Magic Moments” of Opportunity to Do Chesed

By Stephen J. Savitsky
Feldheim Publishers
New York, 2022
239 pages

In traditional Jewish thought, the mitzvah of sending away a mother bird from her nest before removing an egg or a chick that she was guarding—seemingly a minor matter—is considered particularly significant. Kan tzipor (usually called shiluach haken, sending of the nest) is described as one of the two Biblical commandments—along with honoring one’s parents—that will bring long life to the person who performs it for showing sensitivity to the feelings of a mere animal.

Stephen Savitsky is a veteran lay leader of the Orthodox community. He is a former OU president (2004–2011); a former OU Board chairman; on the board of directors of Partners in Torah; has served in roles in several other Jewish organizations; and has founded several innovative communal initiatives. To him, the mitzvah of kan tzipor, which he assigned as the title of his collection of chesed stories, epitomizes a unique aspect of a Jew’s responsibility.

Unlike most other mitzvot, “there is absolutely no preparation necessary before fulfilling this commandment,” he writes in his introduction, citing the Torah’s wording, “Should a bird’s nest appear before you” (Devarim 22:6).

“You have to ‘chance upon’ this mitzvah; it must suddenly appear before you with none of the prior planning or preparation necessary for other mitzvos, such as observing Pesach, building a succah, or even laying tefillin,” Savitsky writes. “Rather, it’s a mitzvah that is totally unexpected.”

For a Jew, it is a carpe diem opportunity.

Intrigued by the mitzvah, Savitsky “always came away feeling there must be more . . . than I was understanding, a deeper, more profound lesson.”

That lesson is: “kan tzipor moments.” Sudden chances to help people—when you observe their need.

The book’s tacit message: you don’t have to be a big macher to do big things.

Savitsky has shared this lesson so often at his frequent public speeches that he has earned the title “Mr. Kan Tzipor.” People often share their personal kan tzipor stories with him. These constitute his book. “What they all have in common,” he writes, “is that when [they] heard G-d calling out to them . . . they heeded that call.”

Books that contain inspirational chesed stories could fill several shelves in a library; but Savitsky’s has a chiddush. He’s collected a certain type of story—ones that meet his kan tzipor criteria, of men and women taking bold action with no advance notice.

Savitsky tells of stories that have happened to him, to friends, and to strangers.

He tells of the time he and Gregg Petit, a non-Jewish financial public relations expert, leaving on a flight from LaGuardia Airport one morning, encountered a distraught young woman; she was going to be married in a church that weekend and had just discovered that there was no room on their flight for the large bag that contained her wedding gown.

He tells, too, of a woman who experienced antisemitism at work; of a ba’al teshuvah whose one-time yeshivah friend was about to marry outside the faith; of a college student from Argentina; of a Jewish cab driver in Israel and a non-Jewish cab driver in Manhattan, and more.

He also tells of a cabinet member and a president, of a prince and a philanthropist, but they are not his focus. Rather, it is “ordinary” people acting extraordinarily when given the chance.

The trio boarded last, to an ovation from the other passengers, who had heard about the drama taking place.

The book’s tacit message: you don’t have to be a big macher to do big things.

“One of the criteria of a kan tzipor moment,” Savitsky writes, “is that it must be an opportunity that lasts for one swift moment, which, if you don’t grab that moment, will be lost forever.”

Such as Mary McGuire, the forlorn bride-to-be at LaGuardia Airport. Savitsky, his kippah plainly visible, and his colleague convinced a gate agent and the flight crew to persuade three people seated in the plane’s first row to exchange their seats for Savitsky’s, his co-worker’s and Mary’s, who were allowed to lay the bag with the gown across their laps, buckled in, for the short flight. The trio boarded last, to an ovation from the other passengers, who had heard about the drama taking place. And the pilot went on the intercom and thanked “Rabbi Petit and Rabbi Savitsky for their wonderful act of kindness.”

“I had just gotten semichah from United Airlines,” Savitsky writes, “something I don’t think any other Jew can claim.”

The gown arrived in Columbus in perfect shape.

Several deplaning passengers, some “who were not at all visibly Jewish,” congratulated Savitsky and Petit on the kiddush Hashem they had made. Mary, of course, was very grateful.

On the car ride to his morning’s appointment, Savitsky called his wife. “Genie,” he said, “I had the greatest day today.”

“How can that be, Steve?” she asked. “Your meeting hasn’t even started yet.”

“I know!” Savitsky told her. “But this morning I was blessed with a kan tzipor moment!”


Steve Lipman is an avid reader and a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.

This article was featured in the Spring 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
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