Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mitzvah Sunday Doesn't Cut It

Both my synagogue and my son's Jewish day school hold an annual event called "Mitzvah Sunday." A mitzvah, in this situation, is essentially a good deed. Some type of volunteer work done for the sake of doing it, and not for payment. It's a community service day, for lack of a better phrase. (There is, as in anything in Judaism, a longer explanation, and if you are interested you can look here.)

Judaism is a very pro-social-justice kind of religion, and promotes doing mitzvot, good deeds, as well as giving tzedakah, charity. However, you are supposed to do these activities ALL THE TIME, not just one Sunday a year.

But...people are busy, and I'm sure both the school and the temple figure that it's better to get everyone together to do something good once a year, than to expect them to do things on their own throughout the year. Okay, I see their point.

But somehow, Mitzvah Day leaves me feeling vaguely unsatisfied. Okay, I came to the school (or temple) and we had a big "rah, rah, we're great for doing this" rally, and then we go off to our rooms and pot plants/sew dolls/make scrapbooks/write letters/bake cookies for old people/poor people/people with Alzheimer's disease/kids in hospitals/soldiers/etc. A few brave souls actually leave the building and go work on community farms, clean animal cages at shelters, bowl with kids with disabilities, or put on a concert at a nursing home. And then we leave and go back to our privileged lives, and are supposed to feel good about what we've done for a few hours?

I just don't buy it.

I'm not sure what it would take for me to feel like I'm REALLY making a difference, but this isn't it.


nyjlm said...

our Sunday school collects tzedakah every week. At the end of the year, each class (right now we have three age groups) gets to vote on what organization they'd like to send the money to.

The Social Action Committee announces different drives every month and people bring the requested items to services. They've done collections for Senior Orphans, the food bank, toy drive for the Dec holidays, Nothing but Nets. This is new this year, so I don't know how the folks on the committee feel about it yet (and there are probably only 2-3 people on the committee, we're very small ~55 families/membership units), but it seems that there's always donations in the boxes. And it can go on all year long.

I am eager to get my kids into some sort of family volunteer activity. I was thinking of contacting a nursing home and seeing if we could visit once or twice a month. My kids know that I volunteer a lot of my time to help bf mamas, and at Sunday school and regular school. I've done bf work for so long now it surely just seems normal to them that you help other people- kwim? Sam was one when I started doing that, so they've grown up with it.

Errr, hope this is at least intersting rambling! I hope that you find some easy ways to fit tikkun olam into the regular rhythm of life.

nachtwache said...

I guess the idea is to teach the kids to care for others, to help the less fortunate. It's something you can do in your every day life, in many different ways. If you don't have much time, gazillions of organizations are happy to take your money. You can sponsor a child, even have contact through letters. There's a group that helps poor Jewish seniors in Russia.
In every day life situations we have the opportunity to be kind, even if it's just a friendly smile, letting someone go ahead of you, lending an ear or a shoulder, holding the door open etc.
Mainly children learn by seeing us do it.