BY CHERYL SLAVIN
On the blustery Sunday before Thanksgiving, members of the Orangetown Jewish Center gathered to participate in the synagogue’s annual “Mitzvah Day,” a day long event full of opportunities to engage in community service.
“This is one of the best traditions of our congregation,” explains Rabbi Paula Drill. “Our community comes together to care for each other, and then brings that caring out into the world.”
The event is always held the Sunday before Thanksgiving, as a way of leading into the season of giving. Later on in the year the OJC will also host several overnight guests as part of the Helping Hands Network, as well as continue its outreach to local nursing homes, food pantries and adult residences.
“’Mitzvah’ actually means ‘commandment,’” Drill continues, “and the ethical commandments in the Torah focus on protecting the vulnerable, such as the poor, the homeless, and even our animal companions.”
The day opened with prayers followed by a hearty homemade breakfast prepared by volunteer Lori Liner and her cooking crew. After breakfast Lauren Yoket gave a presentation about Leket Israel, the national food bank of Israel. The audience learned more about the concept of “food rescue,” as well as techniques and strategies for gathering surplus food from commercial and agricultural sources to be redistributed to food banks, soup kitchens and other non-profits.
The real work of the day, however, began when the congregants disbursed to participate in a wide variety of service projects. Mindy Zlotogura sat at one table knitting children’s hats. She and other volunteers made these hats and scarves to be distributed at the Children’s Waiting Room, run by the YMCA in the Rockland County Family Court. Anne Zbar and a team of volunteers sorted through hundreds of donated toiletries, packing them into individual gift bags for women and children at the Center for Safety and Change (formerly the Rockland Family Shelter). A small contingent traveled to the Hi Tor Animal Care Center in Pomona to help with cleaning and other chores. Marlene Gittlitz led a group to Jawonio’s Salmon House to play games and make Thanksgiving themed art projects with the residents and their staff.
Even the youngest members of the congregation got involved. Rabbi Ami Hersh, the Family Life Coordinator, directed the children as they painted a mural to beautify the OJC playground. The evening before, Youth Director Sharon Rappaport and a group of USY teens held a Monster Mini Golf benefit to raise money for Jawonio. Other congregants participated in a Feed the Homeless Breakfast Run or donated blood throughout the day long blood drive. Still others remained on site to repair prayer books or help clean and organize the congregation’s library. The synagogue also collected food and unwrapped gifts to be donated to People to People.
This year’s events were organized by Lorraine Brown and Carolyn Wodar. “It takes a lot of people to make this happen,” says Brown, “but it’s so worth the effort when we see what positive results we can achieve for all of our Rockland community.”