On Mitzvah Day, held annually Dec. 25, Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) Baltimore organizes volunteer projects all over the community.
Mitzvah Day is magical to Deborah Harburger, 38. This is Deborah’s fourth year on the Board of JVC and her first year as chair of JVC’s Mitzvah Day. She believes Mitzvah Day “represents the best of Judaism: caring for our neighbors, welcoming strangers, being responsible for each other, challenging injustices, and reflecting on our own role in actualizing change.”
Harburger is a faculty member at the Institute for Innovation and Implementation at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
She also serves as a yoetzet (member of the camper care team) at Capital Camps, and is on the Mt. Washington School Family Council. She and her husband Noah and their two children live in Mt. Washington. They are members of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
“I hope that people will understand that volunteering can fit into your life,” Harburger says. “It does not matter if it is a weekly activity or only once or twice a year — what matters is that people prioritize others and take the time to do something about an issue that matters to them.”
What is the expected reach of Mitzvah Day this year?
This is JVC’s 14th annual Mitzvah Day. This year, we anticipate engaging more than 1,000 volunteers over two days [Dec. 24 and 25] at more than 35 volunteer projects across the community. We also pack over 2,000 winter care packages that go to 12 different non-profit partner organizations in the community, including Meals on Wheels, The Baltimore Station, Jewish Community Services, and others.
What responsibilities do you have as chair of Mitzvah day?
I work closely with the JVC Baltimore staff person, Alex Ade, to coordinate all aspects of Mitzvah Day. Committee members have been hard at work in between meetings to solicit donations of materials, knit hats and scarves for donation, and identify volunteers and new partnership opportunities.
Engaging children — all children — in giving back to the community is important
to you. How do you accommodate children with sensory challenges in
programs like Mitzvah Day?
I’m constantly thinking about how we can engage youth to give back to their communities.
All children want to feel helpful and productive, and volunteering is a way to capitalize on that interest. We make sure that volunteering is part of life from a young age. It’s an accessible way to introduce children to problems facing our communities and the inequities that exist, and what we can do.
We recognize that Mitzvah Day is a fast-paced, high-energy day, which may be overwhelming to some. This year, we reached out to our partners in the community and at the JCC and Center for Jewish Education. They are assisting us with creating sensory-friendly rooms at our events. The rooms will be quiet and have materials that can be used for self-calming if people are overstimulated. We will also have some of the projects from the Mitzvah Room in the sensory friendly room, such as coloring cards, so that people utilizing the room do not feel left out.
We will also have kits from the CJE available for checkout when people check-in at registration; these kits will have headphones and fidget toys that can be borrowed by families to help children to have an enjoyable experience at Mitzvah Day.