Several hundred Temple Beth El congregants will spend a day performing “Tikkun Olam,” or “repair of the world,” on May 15 as they work on more than 30 projects to help the greater Charlotte community.
Mitzvah Day started 17 years ago as a Temple Beth El service project. “Mitzvah” means “good deed,” and over the years the annual event has made a lasting impact in Charlotte.
“We are people helping people,” said Lisa Moreland, the event chairwoman. “If everybody can just do their little part, I think it has a cumulative effect.”
Much of the Jewish faith revolves around looking outside of oneself and helping others, Moreland said, and Mitzvah Day is a tangible way of doing that.
“I think it is a physical demonstration of your faith and your relationship with God,” she said.
Temple Beth El has continued to add to Mitzvah Day projects as it has grown to more than 500 participants, and families, children and people of all ages can find volunteer work that suits their interests and abilities.
The leadership team added a number of projects last year, and this year’s new project is work in a community garden between the education building and the library in Shalom Park that was dedicated in the fall. Volunteers will seal wood on the garden beds, lay mulch and repurpose benches.
The garden is associated with the Friendship Gardens network, and much of its produce will help feed families in Charlotte, Moreland said.
Other project focus on community work the temple does year-round, such as its partnership with Sterling Elementary School. Volunteers from Temple Beth El are in the school every week helping in classrooms, and the temple also provides clothing and outerwear for students.
On Mitzvah Day, volunteers will assemble gift bags that each of the school’s almost 800 students will receive for the summer.
The decorated bags include a book appropriate to the student’s age group, a handwritten note or drawing and a toy or game the student can play with over the summer.
The gift bag project has grown significantly as Sterling Elementary has grown, Moreland said. The temple initially provided bags for 400 students, and the number has now almost doubled.
Temple Beth El volunteers include a mix of returnees and newcomers each year, Moreland said. Some have led the same projects for years, while others try different projects.
Moreland said her son, who is 10, likes to help clean the Ronald McDonald House, while her daughter, 12, enjoys more artsy projects. This year her daughter will help lead activities for children at Charlotte Family Housing while adults prepare meals for resident families in the facility’s kitchen.
“It’s neat that they both can find something that suits them,” Moreland said.
Other projects include making lunches for the Salvation Army Center of Hope, stuffing tube socks with toiletries for homeless men and packing bags with swimsuits, sunscreen and other swimming essentials for Freedom School students who go to summer camp.
Moreland said Temple Beth El’s service doesn’t end on Mitzvah Day, Moreland said. Some volunteers end up working year-round for organizations they first encountered on Mitzvah Day.
“People do find something they really liked working on, and they kept doing that,” she said. “I think that not only do we have an impact on that day, because we actually do a lot, but I think it also feeds forward.
“It’s a great way for people to try something out that they then might follow up with.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about Temple Beth El, visit templebethel.org.