Mitzvah Month Events Encourage Good Deeds for the Holidays


With a new name comes big changes at the Macks Jewish Connection Network, formerly known as the Macks Center for Jewish Connections. One of those key changes comes just in time for the holiday season, as the organization has expanded its annual Mitzvah Day into a full Mitzvah Month.

Volunteers create care packages at a past Mitzvah Month event (Steve Ruark)

For the past 17 years, Mitzvah Day took place on Christmas and saw members of the Baltimore Jewish community creating winter care packages to be sent to nonprofit organizations, with the aim of giving them to those in need during the holidays. While there is still an opportunity for prospective volunteers to partake in a packing party on Christmas Day, packing events have also been taking place throughout the month of December to accommodate greater interest.

“Our new goals as the Jewish Connection Network are all about bringing people together, giving them an opportunity to get to know each other and connect through shared Jewish values,” said Alli Berger, the Jewish Connection Network’s senior associate of volunteer experience. “This more intimate model enables us to meet that need.”

She also noted that many of the nonprofit organizations they work with to distribute care packages, which include Meals on Wheels, Paul’s Place, Manna House and 14 others, have requested donations and volunteer contributions before Christmas so they can distribute them as Christmas presents.

As it was in past years, the Jewish Connection Network’s goal is to produce 2,200 care packages, but they are accomplishing that goal over nine separate sessions rather than in one day.

“We want people to feel good about what they are doing, so we are giving them the opportunity to make new friends and connect. But we are also having representatives from our nonprofit partners who receive those bags attend, so they can share a bit about their organization, the clients they serve and how these bags make a difference to them,” said Arielle Insel, The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s marketing manager. She also manages the Jewish Connection Network’s marketing.

In addition to three general packing parties meant for all audiences, many of them are specialized for specific audiences so people from all walks of life can have the opportunity to volunteer. Packing parties for Russian-speaking Jews, Hebrew speakers and Israel lovers, and people with disabilities have already been held, with parties for Associated Women, Jews of color and one for younger volunteers with PJ Library upcoming in December.

Berger said that the goal of these smaller, more concentrated sessions, in addition to producing more care packages, is to create spaces where individuals from similar backgrounds can connect over their shared experiences.

“We have goals around making sure that everyone feels comfortable,” she said.

All of these packing parties are based around the core Jewish value of a holy community, or kehilla. In addition to exploring the idea of holiness and what it means, the packing parties are meant to connect back to the Jewish Connection Network’s mission to create connections in the Jewish community.

“Previously, we would have up to 1,000 people at a time coming in to do volunteer work,” Insel added. “But they would leave without making any meaningful connections along the way. We really want to use our events and experiences as a platform for people to meet. others who might be at a similar life stage, who might be in a similar neighborhood, so that they can feel good and in coming to events … We’re very focused on making these connections but also adding in the aspect of Judaism.”

Berger noted that they want people participating to not only feel connected to each other, but also the causes they are volunteering for and the people representing them.

“The service component is why they’re all there,” she said. “We want them to feel like they’re contributing to the greater Baltimore community and making a difference in someone’s life.”

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