Parents

The amazing way one girl is fighting back against hatred, a stone at a time

In February, Lauren Pearl Morgenstern was watching the news when a story about vandalism in Jewish cemeteries across the country aired. As the St. Louis-native watched, she spotted the last name Pearl, her maiden name, and wondered if the tombstone belonged to one of her relatives. She soon learned it belonged to Rebecca Pearl, her great-great-grandmother.

When her 6-year-old daughter, Ayel, discovered that people destroyed tombstones in Jewish cemeteries, she felt sad and wanted to comfort the families.

“I want to make the whole world feel better,” Ayel told TODAY.

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Morgernstern asked her daughter what she wanted to do to help.

“I let her lead,” she said. "She keeps us on our toes."

Ayel first considered hosting a bake sale and sending the funds to the families with vandalized tombstones. The family lives in Parkland, Florida, so helping with clean-up efforts was tough.

But then Ayel had another idea.

“We ended up hand-painting rocks. Jewish tradition is you put a rock on the tombstone when you go to the cemetery,” she said.

Jewish people use rocks to honor the dead much like others might use flowers. With that in mind, Ayel started painting. She first paints a base coat on each rock and adds one of two special designs.

“Ladybugs and hearts,” she said. “Because ladybugs are for good luck and hearts are for a little extra love.”

Courtesy Morgenstern family
When 6-year-old Ayel Morgenstern heard that people vandalized tombstones at Jewish cemeteries, she painted rocks to give to families to place on their graves after they were repaired.

She painted enough rocks to send to the three Jewish cemeteries impacted by vandalism. With each box of rocks — 150 to St. Louis and Rochester, each, and 100 to Philadelphia — Ayel enclosed a handwritten note, which includes the message:

“I want to make the whole world to feel better and for everyone to be kind.”

While Morgenstern felt touched when learning people have been placing the rocks on their families’ tombstones, the reaction from social media has stunned the family.

“What a lovely caring child! Too bad adults can’t follow her lead,” one Facebook message says.

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Another reads “Ayel, you are a beautiful girl inside and out.”

The family has received thousands of messages of support and love. A video Morgenstern took of Ayel talking about why she’s painting the rocks has been viewed more than 100,000 times.

Courtesy Morgenstern family
When 6-year-old Ayel Morgenstern heard that people vandalized tombstones at Jewish cemeteries, she painted rocks to give to families to place on their graves after they were repaired.

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“The response has been so positive. At the end of the day, it just takes a child to open up everyone’s eyes. It is simple, just be kind,” Morgenstern said. “Here you have a 6-year-pld little girl, hopefully, brightening the world and enlightening people.”

Morgenstern isn’t surprised by her daughter's actions, as she says Ayel has always been special. She’s been painting on canvas since she was 18-months old, excels at dance, and befriends everyone from her classmates to the crossing guards. And, Ayel already knows what she wants to be when she grows up: “a doctor and a scientist” so that she can help others.

“I feel so lucky to have her as our daughter. She is just an incredible soul. I learn from her every day,” Morgenstern said.

Courtesy Shaina Leigh Photograph
Girl paints rocks to adorn desecrated Jewish tombstones

When Ayel learned about the Westminster attack in London she wanted to do something kind for the victims, too. Already, she painted rocks for Kurt Cochran, the Utah man celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary, who died in the attacks, and her mom's sending them to his family. Morgenstern is seeking information about other victims so Ayel can give them rocks and notes, too.

“This child wants to change the world and make kindness matter,” she said. “Everyone should be like her and have a heart as pure and as golden as hers.”

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