International Good Deeds Day, a day of community service, actively involves more than 1 million people worldwide in 15,000 projects that take place in more than 70 countries. It was started in 2007 when Shari Arison, one of Israel’s wealthiest women, decided to encourage people globally to unite and give back to their communities. This year, the event was held on Sunday.
While the event is not explicitly Jewish, a number of community organizations have embraced it and incorporated it into their programming, particularly since the idea was conceived by an Israeli woman. The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore has been participating since 2013, and this was the second year for the Jewish Federation of Howard County.
Good Deeds Day is one of four annual days of service put on by Jewish Volunteer Connection, an Associated agency that give participants the opportunity to connect with people both in the community and around the world. According to Ashley Pressman, executive director of JVC, this year’s event engaged approximately 500 people, as well as students at five religious schools — Beth El Congregation, Temple Oheb Shalom, Beth Israel Congregation, Har Sinai Congregation and Beth Am Synagogue — that partnered with the JVC to make the event into a mitzvah project.
“We reached out to religious schools in the winter and invited them to participate. It was a great opportunity to build on that partnership,” said Pressman. “What is important is that people get the chance to participate, to see the good they are doing, to work outside of their comfort zones and to see and interact with a community that they aren’t involved with. We hope people will have a great time and want to get involved with other ways of giving back to the community.”
Pressman also credited Abigail Malis, senior associate for community partnerships at the JVC, for helping community organizations work service into their programming.
“We know that people really commit to the things that align with their values, and we feel that it is a win for the whole community to offer service through synagogues and help people be more committed and engaged with these organizations that share their values,” Pressman said.
Alexandra Ade, JVC’s community outreach and volunteer associate, said she was excited to see so many different parts of the community come out.
“We tried to have opportunities that would appeal to all ages and all interests,” she said. “I am thrilled we had such a great response and hope to see people volunteer year round with us.”
The Jewish Federation of Howard County’s Good Deeds Day saw approximately 350 community members come out to participate in seven different projects throughout Howard County.
These projects included landscaping at the Howard Community College arboretum, which was led by Vicki Harvey, a blood drive at Temple Isaiah and fence building for the new nature playground at the Lubavitch Center of Howard County. Members of the community helped charity closet “Success in Style” sort and label clothes that were donated. At Howard County Library’s branch in Savage, BBYO teens helped older community members learn how to use their electronic devices. PJ Library and Project Linus also collaborated at Temple Isaiah to make blankets and get-well cards for children at local hospitals.
“Part of our mission as a federation is to engage in core Jewish values, including tikkun olam,” said Hanni Werner, marketing and communications associate for the Federation. “This is a great opportunity to do that in the broader community — not all of these organizations are Jewish. The point is to help and reach out. For many people, it is about sharing these values with their children. A lot of these events are for people to bring their kids and engage their children in giving back and to teach them through that experience.”
One of the guiding principles for Good Deeds Day was to have something for all ages that would allow people to make a difference in the community, putting into practice the idea that every individual can make an effort to do good and to improve the lives of others. Enacting a positive change in the world has been the driving goal of this event since the idea was first conceived.
“We are really eager to have this become an annual community event,” said Werner. “We want to reach more and more people every year, and we are excited that other people are excited. We are looking forward to putting that energy to good use.”