By Jeanette Walowitz
Twenty years, three generations and hundreds of people—that’s the annual Mitzvah Day by the numbers, which took place at the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore (RSNS). For over 20 years, our children, teens, parents and staff members come together to serve the needy and the elderly of Nassau County. In the words of one congregant, Orly, “it’s great for our children to become community-minded and move out of their comfort zone,” as they realize how they can help people in a world so much in need of repair. Every grade in the synagogue school, directed by Rabbi Jodie Siff, participates in a specially designed service project, either on the grounds of RSNS or in the community.
Orly’s sixth grader was part of the Daylight Run, a program run by Cantor Eric Shulmiller, which enlists volunteers to prepare meals at home and deliver them to the homeless at Hempstead Train Station, in cooperation with “Food Not Bombs.” In the social hall, 35 seniors from the Bristol Residences in Westbury were treated to a luncheon prepared by volunteers. One senior, Mary Castara, exclaimed, “Everywhere I look, I see beauty!” One third grader, explained, “I feel happy inside when I make people happy.”
Behind the scenes, 20 volunteers, led by Jillian Weisman, and fifth graders prepared 150 bagged lunches for the homeless who are served by the soup kitchen and shelter, Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN) in Hempstead. Rabbi Lee Friedlander worked alongside the volunteers, bringing his 40 years of experience in the rabbinate to secure and box each bag for delivery. One benefit of our work is that many people in need feel embarrassed to walk into the soup kitchen’s dining room, preferring instead to pick up a meal anonymously. Rabbi Lee recalled some more numbers: RSNS prepares and packs lunches six times a year, plus Mitzvah Day, yielding over 1,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A student in the Bat Mitzvah class reminds us it’s about a lot more than numbers, though: “Feeding the hungry and the poor is always a good thing to do!”