Nearly 300 people gathered at Shalom Park for Temple Israel’s annual Yom Gemilut Hasadim, or “day of performing acts of loving kindness,” to make sandwiches for the hungry, write letters of support to Israeli soldiers and build suncatchers for hospitalized children.
Most of the day’s activities on Jan. 15 were held in the synagogue’s Leon and Sandra Levine Social Hall. Members of Temple Israel auxiliary groups and students, parents and teachers from its religious school organized materials for participants to perform their acts at 18 different stations. Community Blood Center of the Carolinas parked a mobile unit in the parking lot.
As the 2017 Yom Gemilut Hasadim coordinator, David Rosenthal was pleased with this year’s turnout. As a Temple Israel member, he hopes his fellow congregants didn’t check their passion for the day’s charitable mission at the synagogue’s doors.
“In society, we’ve gotten caught up in intentional and purposeful days of doing these things or working volunteer hours that are mandated,” said Rosenthal. “That’s not what Judaism teaches you. In Judasism it should be second nature in carrying out an act of loving kindness.”
“My intent is to instill in our youth in our congregation the idea of committing these acts on a daily basis as opposed to a specific day.”
Since 2015, Temple Israel has coordinated the Yom Gemilut Hasadim date with the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend, inspired by President Barak Obama’s call to honor the day with service. Temple Israel, which has abaout 600 families as members, supports other charitable efforts throughout the year, including its strong partnership with Huntingdowne Farms Elementary School.
At Yom Gemilut Hasadim, Temple Israel Religious School teacher Ilene Dillhyon and some of her students manned a table where they asked participants to create birthday cake kits for needy children. Attendees decorated small paper shopping bags and filled them with a boxed cake mix, frosting and birthday cake candles.
Students delivered the completed kits to the Jewish Family Services food pantry, located at Shalom Park.
“A lot of our kids don’t believe it when (a child) says they are hungry and that there’s nothing they can do about it,” said Dillhyon. “But when you say not every kid gets a cake on their birthday a light comes on. They think, I can do something about that.”
Other food-themed acts including making 190 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and 125 trail mix bags for homeless shelters, which also benefitted by receiving 250 hygiene bags and 19 no-sew, fleece blankets.
Temple Israel congregant Bonnie Wallsh was especially interested in the table where people wrote letters of encouragement and drew pictures for Israeli soldiers. Although her schedule won’t allow it this year, she has traveled to Israel in 2015 and 2016 to deliver the mementos, around 100 each year.
Twelve-year-old Max Ganem and his parents, Jacques and Sherry Ganem, moved from station to station gathering ideas for the social action project Max must complete in conjunction with his upcoming bar mitzvah. Among the acts that Max enjoyed were writing letters and trimming blankets.
“When it gets cold (at the homeless shelter), they need something to warm them up and a blanket will really help,” said Max.
In addition to the service acts, Temple Israel collected monetary donations for its social action fund. Jonathan Berger, one of Yom Gemilut Hasadim’s founders three years ago, tended to a decorative ceramic tzedakah (charity) box made by his wife, Tess. Auxiliary group members sold homemade snacks and drinks as a small fundraiser.
Temple Israel Rabbi Murray Ezring said “There’s a quote from the Torah that says we should eradicate poverty from our cities. Yet we all have an understanding that we can never eradicate poverty completely. I believe what the Torah was teaching us is that we should always ensure that no group of people become economically an underclass where generational poverty is the rule of thumb.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: email@example.com.