HACKENSACK, N.J. — As if the dreaded morning commute and drive back home were enough to compound an already fragile existence.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the current state of affairs follows people into their cars while they sit in gridlock powerless to escape the traffic and flurry of bad news from economic decline to the latest death toll, which is inching closer to a worldwide tally of 1 million people lost inside one of the world’s worst years.
But if you’re traversing the heavily-traveled Route 80 westbound in Hackensack, a spontaneous glimmer of hope is in your peripheral vision and demands to be noticed: A billboard emblazoned with a placating message directed at you: ‘Think Good, It Will Be Good.’ And the message of hope is spreading.
The idea for the billboard campaign — which has been up in the last couple of months and will continue into at least October — came from an anonymous sponsor after viewing Rabbi Mendy Kaminker, director of Chabad of Hackensack’s circulation of the age-old Chassidic expression first coined by the third Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch in the 19th Century, on social media.
While Kaminker acknowledges the idea of wishful thinking, he said positivity an attitude one needs to work on every day to adapt a well-adjusted attitude.
“It’s not natural for anyone to be all the time positive. As human beings, we’ve seen two forces,” Kaminker explained. “We all have difficult moments of negativity and anxiety and I’m experiencing them as well. I always had that quote. It’s something we all share. Being positive isn’t a switch of a button, you have to work on it each and every day and you need reminders and support. We do have within ourselves the strength we need to deal with our fears, and it’s a matter of resigning yourself to be faithful. It’s a constant effort.”
Rabbi Kaminker said positive feedback has since poured in from Facebook users who said they felt uplifted upon seeing the encouraging words comfort them after a bad day as if they were being spoken to by a higher power. Additional praise came from a Hudson County resident who took a screenshot of the image and sent the message to his friends — one piece of advice the person promised to implement and take to heart.
“The pandemic took a tremendous toll on our emotional well-being,” said Kaminker. “We’re constantly bombarded with worrisome news of the economy and the pandemic and how can we uplift people and give them a boost of positivity in their lives. With the Chassidic phrase, we felt it’s so empowering. It takes you from being in a position of passivity to a position of ‘we can do something about it and change our attitude and have faith and hope, and we’re going to generate a positive experience.”
Apart from the eye-catching billboard, also a part of his campaign of hope, Rabbi Kaminker recruited volunteers to distribute more than 1,600 masks to needy families during a free mask drive-thru on a Sunday in early May. Under sunny skies, volunteers donned latex gloves and black and white masks emblazoned with the magical words to thankful recipients.
Kaminker has also been busy compiling the Jewish Calendar of Empowerment, which denotes special dates and holidays in every month and contains a different empowering message to instill feelings of faith and hope amidst these troubling times. The calendar is coveted by community leaders around the country who would like to display it in their own homes.
“Our job as a community organization is to provide the need to organize different programs and one of the greatest things is emotional support,” said Kaminker, who was recently recognized by Congressman Josh Gottheimer as a Hometown Hero for his service to the community at large.
In continuing to carry the torch of this positivity campaign, the congregation hosted a talk in recent weeks with London author Rabbi Medel Kalmenson who penned his novel “Positivity Bias” as part of Chabad of Hackensack’s workshop entitled, “Designing a Life of Positivity” via Zoom. Hundreds of viewers tuned in which included spectators from Austria, Israel and Europe.