By SUSAN WOLLNER
Cooking meatballs for the soup kitchen, raking leaving at a homeless day center and writing personalized letters for IDF soldiers in Israel are just a few of the acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world) that brought volunteers, young and old, together on Sunday, April 15 from four Albany congregations for this year’s Mitzvah Day.
According to organizers, the annual event was a win-win for both the Jewish community and the agencies that benefit from the work of volunteers. Volunteers Marcia Horelick and Becky Marvin, who were project captains for two of the 21 projects included in this year’s Mitzvah Day, agreed.
“Having members from all four synagogues, from kids to senior citizens, working together was an enriching experience,” said Horelick, a Beth Emeth congregant who was a captain, along with her husband Michael, for a group decorating and filling welcome bags for the Ronald McDonald House. “We, as volunteers gain as much from this day as the recipients of our gift bags or school snacks. The smiles on a 4-year-old’s face as he decorates a bag, echoes this,” she said.
Marvin of B’nai Sholom asserted that Mitzvah Day was “a chance for the entire Jewish community to come together and make their values and presence felt in the larger community.” She added “It provided a chance for families to do good together; a chance to learn about some of the non-profits in our community and the work they do.”
220 Pitch In
More than 220 volunteers, including about 65 children, from Congregations Beth Emeth, B’nai Sholom, Temple Israel and Ohav Shalom were engaged in mitzvah projects throughout the afternoon. This is the first year that the four congregations came together for one Mitzvah Day, said Gail Kendall, co-chairwoman of the event.
For Kendall, who has organized mitzvah days several times in the past, each is a labor of love. “Tikkun olam is a basic tenet of Judaism and one
that kids learn about from the beginning of religious school,” Kendall said.
“Many people want to volunteer to help out but don’t know what to do on their own,” Kendall said. “The hope is that this event will help people find out more about projects they can work on, and become more interested in these agencies,” she added.
Volunteers gathered at Beth Emeth at 11:30 a.m. to meet their team members for a luncheon, which was cooked at Temple Israel. They were greeted with a welcome and a blessing by Congregation Beth Emeth’s Rabbi Scott Shpeen and Cantor Jodi Schechtman. Then the volunteers were off to work.
Variety of Projects
Many of the teams stayed on-site to complete their projects, while others went to various locations to do spring clean-up projects or work at the Regional Food Bank. Outdoor projects included yard work and indoor cleaning at Family Promise day center for the homeless, trail maintenance at the Mohawk Nature Conservancy, cleaning of the Beth Emeth cemetery grounds and chapel in Loudonville and garden preparation and planting at Diane’s Farm on the Beth Emeth grounds. The farm grows vegetables for a soup kitchen.
Marvin, who is a co-chairwoman of B’nai Sholom’s Social Action Committee, served as a captain for the indoor and yard clean-up at Family Promise, an interfaith, grass-roots response for homeless families with young children in Albany. Marvin reported that working on this project was particularly meaningful for her because families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. Also, B’nai Sholom is a support congregation for Family Promise.
Cooking or baking is always a popular on Mitzvah Day and this year was no exception. One team was busy in the kitchen making 20 pounds of meatballs for a soup kitchen while others baked hundreds of cookies and bars for the Ronald McDonald House and the City Mission. In addition, other teams assembled 24 Breakfast-to-go bags for families at Ronald McDonald House, 80 afterschool snack bags for Trinity Alliance and 100 bag lunches for the City Mission Homeless Shelter.
Elana Kamenir, an Ohav Shalom congregant who led a project that brought together five adults and three teenagers to bake treats for guests at the Ronald McDonald House and for the hospitality room at Albany Medical Center, enjoys how family-oriented the event is for volunteers. “It is structured in a way that the whole family (including my husband and two daughters) can work on a project together and is inclusive of all members of the Jewish community across all shul affiliations,” she said. “The baking project also allowed the team to make something that brought a little joy to families who are going through a difficult time,” she added.
Unity In Service
For volunteers interested in being creative, several projects were suited for the artistic adult or child. Sitting side by side at Beth Emeth throughout the afternoon teams wrote 94
personalized letters and cards to IDF Soldiers in Israel, designed 100 towels for Joseph’s House Homeless Shelter and put together 200 pink ribbons for To Life! Breast cancer education. Teams also assembled 24 supply bags for refugee families, 24 welcome bags for families at Ronald McDonald House, 130 craft kits for pediatric patients at Albany Medical Center and 17 birthday party packages for children at the City Mission.
“It is wonderful to be actively engaged in tikkun olam as a community,” said Judy Avner of Ohav Shalom, who served as a captain for a project that entailed creating birthday parties in a box for homeless children at the City Mission. “There is nothing better than coming together with other members of the Jewish community to improve our larger community. Very fun and important,” she said. Avner’s group, which included four adults and 2 children, filled boxes with cake mix, frosting, party plates, napkins, utensils, napkins, hats, favors, candy, birthday candles and
other party items.