Yoni Greenstein, an Orthodox Jewish man who grew up in Monsey and works in corporate America, realized something six years ago: many companies have seats at ballgames and events meant for clients which go unused, while many Jewish children suffering from illness and other difficulties could benefit from a pick-me-up that free seats at a baseball game, circus, or concert might provide.
With this simple idea of connecting excess and need, Yoni began keeping track of sporting and other event seats that were going to go to waste and started searching for sick or underprivileged children who would benefit from an outing to a ballgame which could distract them for a few hours from the hardship in their life. He knew from his own experience as a sports fan that going to a live event attended by tens of thousands of people can put a smile on most anyone’s face. And it worked.
After a few years of informally making these matches, Yoni was asked very last minute to help a terminally ill twelve-year-old girl fulfill her wish to go to a Stanley Cup Final hockey game and meet some athletes. To help him pull off this near-impossible feat in only twenty-four hours, a shared friend introduced Yoni to Mike Dube, another observant Jewish man who spent his life involved in both chesed and sports. (He’s the founder of Dube Zone, an after school sports program in the metropolitan area.)
Shortly thereafter “Sharing Seats” was born. When Yoni and Mike were offered perfectly good seats on Shabbos or yom tov, they realized it was a wonderful opportunity to expand outside the Jewish community to brighten the lives of non-Jews who were suffering as well. This tremendous Kiddush Hashem they perform has caused non-Jews to called Sharing Seats a “God given agency.”
While media outlets usually focus on the negative in their coverage of Orthodox Jews, news outlets—including major networks—have covered the kindness that these men are adding to the world. Who does sharing Seats help? Everyone and anyone – from special needs kids, to teens trapped in wheels chairs, to cancer patients, to siblings of children with cancer, to veterans, to families who lost a child in a war.
Sharing Seats remembers the kids who are often forgotten. On a recent Shabbos in the Five Towns, Mike heard about a nine-year-old boy whose father had passed away years earlier and who had now become an orphan with his mother’s passing. Instead of simply feeling bad then moving on, Mike and Yoni arranged for the boy to get tickets to a football game that Sunday and will be sending him to a Rangers game on his birthday. Mike’s rabbi recently relayed to him the idea from our sages that visiting the sick removes one sixtieth of the illness and by helping these kids suffering through diseases and other hardships they are doing the same.
They have not kept track of exact numbers, but estimate that they have helped around one thousand kids nationwide. Since launching in New York, Sharing Seats now has branches in Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and are expanding to Dallas, South Florida, and Toronto. Not only are Mike and Yoni involved in doing good, they are empowering others to do so as well, as people in their network can help make a match if they have extra tickets or know a child in.
How do these experiences affect the recipients? When the twelve-year old girl who went to the Stanley Cup finally succumbed to her illness, Yoni and Mike paid their respects to the family at the shiva. They were planning on sitting quietly in the back, but when the parents of the girl saw them walk in, they began gushing about how much that evening touched their daughter and how greatly they were all impacted. For a person who is suffering through illness or other hardship, “Simply knowing that someone took the time to care [about them] can make all the difference,” Mike explains.