Mitzvah Mania’s Getting Geared Up to Warm Hearts — and Hearths


Labor Day has come and gone, and soon, summer will be just a pleasant memory. In the meantime, Mitzvah Mania coordinators are busily engaged in recruiting volunteers for two community-service projects designed to make the winter warmer for area older adults.

Eleven Jewish community organizations have already committed to participate in the Mitzvah Mania Souper Bowl. They will prepare and freeze pints of soup in kosher kitchens, and take the soup to the Klein JCC in Northeast Philadelphia on or before Nov. 1 — the date of the third annual day of tzedakah and tikkun olam sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. The soup will then be delivered to area older adults and others facing food insecurity.

According to Lisa Coben, Federation consultant for the 2009 event, the goal for this Mitzvah Mania project is 1,800 pints of soup. There is a special incentive for those participants to pledge and produce soup in high volume. One of the chefs from the popular Old City Philadelphia Middle Eastern restaurant Zahav will come and cook with those volunteers who register their group online ( by Oct. 15 and promise to prepare the most soup.

Coben said she has confidence that the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, and the Robert Saligman Middle School of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School will be strong contest contenders, based on the enthusiasm for the project conveyed by the representatives of these institutions.

Isabel deKoninck, project director of Hillel's Service Learning initiative, has pledged the Penn Hillel kitchen as a Souper Bowl site. She anticipates that the Hillels at Temple, Drexel and other Philadelphia-area colleges and universities will also sign on for this project. DeKoninck expressed excitement at this opportunity for "students to have hands-on exposure to the great work that Federation performs on behalf of the community."

She conveyed optimism that students will "enjoy the experience so much that they become more involved in Federation after they graduate and establish roots in the Jewish community."

Rabbi Shawn Simon from Saligman — part of the Perelman day-school system — is also enthusiastic about engaging his students in this social-action exercise. Coben said that the middle-schoolers are the youngest group to participate in this Mitzvah Mania project.

To date, nine synagogues have also committed to cook soup. They are: Adath Israel in Merion Station; Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park; Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley; Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewood; Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen; Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City; Congregation Ner Zedek-Ezrath Israel-Beth Uziel in Northeast Philadelphia; Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington and Tifereth Israel of Lower Bucks County in Bensalem. To join in the effort, log on or call the Mitzvah Mania hotline at 215-832-0564.

Federation also is looking for men, women and young people ages 14 and older to help low-income older-adult homeowners enjoy a warmer, more energy-efficient season. As such, Federation is partnering with the Energy Coordinating Agency to help winterize 48 homes in South Philadelphia, the Northeast, West Oak Lane, City Avenue and Roxborough.

"You don't have to be handy; you just have to enjoy talking with seniors," said Coben, adding that "ECA will provide the weatherization kits and train people in their correct use."

Under the supervision of a house captain, volunteers will caulk, install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, seal holes in basement cracks and perform other simple tasks that make a significant difference in reducing heating bills and making homeowners more comfortable as the weather chills.

After they complete their tasks, volunteers will leave homeowners with information in both English and Russian, prepared by ECA, to help them continue to save on fuel costs all winter long. Volunteers will also help affix hand-made sun-catcher mezuzahs on doorposts and recite the appropriate blessings.

One house captain and four to five volunteers are needed for each of the 48 homes.

To volunteer for this Mitzvah Mania opportunity — an ideal family project — e-mail Lisa Coben at: [email protected]