Mitzvah Mania was a life-changing experience for Carol,* one of many who reaped the benefits of the Nov. 2 day of social action sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. "I was overwhelmed — by the sheer number of people who came through my front door, by the length of the to-do list and, at the end of the day, by how my house and my idea of community was transformed," commented Carol, whose home was one of 10 refurbished by Jewish community volunteers.
Mitzvah Mania co-chairs Peggy and Joe Carver, Beth and Jerry Frezel and Marjorie and Jeffrey Honickman agreed that the event brought the Jewish community together for projects that make a tangible impact in addressing food insecurity and helping seniors live in safety and dignity in their homes.
More than 5,000 volunteers painted a beautiful mural, assembled thousands of food packages for families and seniors in need, spruced up Poquessing Park and the Wellness Garden at the JCCs Klein Branch, made warm blankets for homebound seniors, shared an intergenerational lunch and renovated 10 homes of at-risk families and seniors.
"And with synagogues in the five-county area sponsoring social-action projects, Mitzvah Mania was a true community-wide event," stated Len Barrack, Federation President.
Barrack added, "our community demonstrated that with chesed — acts of loving-kindness — and tzedakah — justice — together we can repair the world one mitzvah, one day at a time."
Mitzvah Mania projects brought young and old, affluent and poor, individuals and youth groups face to face, and made a difference to those being served, as well as to the volunteers. Nicole Rosen, a freshman and Drexel University Hillel member, and Mera Lebovitz, a grad intern at Drexel Hillel, painted, cleaned, and hung pictures in a home that was part of the Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP) project.
A Connection to the Community
"Volunteering for Mitzvah Mania let me step back from my own life and feel connected to others in the community," noted Rosen. "It just feels good to know you are making a difference, and makes me appreciate my blessings," Rosen added.
Mitchell Zelmanovich and Shawn Levin, Drexel Hillel and Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity members, assembled new furniture and removed wallpaper, under the guidance of RTP volunteers. "When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, who lived in this area of Philadelphia," noted Zelmanovich, "and it is good that I can now help other Jews who live here."
Lauren Sara and Jan Weiss, Mitzvah Mania volunteer co-chairs, who helped refurbish a home, agreed that the day of volunteering affected "not only the people we helped, but us as well. I became fully invested in the project, so that I really wanted to do my best to make the homeowner happy. In a short period of time, a relationship developed, and I went from seeing the homeowner as more than a recipient — as a real person, almost a friend, someone I cared about."
"After my husband died," related Betty Sandos, "my son encouraged me to get out and get involved. I took his advice and, for the past 18 years I've volunteered with the Cook for a Friend project at JCCs Klein Branch, packing food for delivery to those in need. It helped me to help people." Sandos takes paratransit to the JCC at 6:30 a.m. two mornings a week for her volunteer responsibilities.
During Mitzvah Mania, roles were reversed, as volunteers lent a hand to Sandos. They installed a handrail for her basement steps and a grab bar in the bathtub, checked the condition of the heating system, painted the bathroom and gave her home a thorough cleaning. "Mitzvah Mania volunteers did repairs that I needed, but couldn't afford to hire someone to do. The volunteers were all wonderful, and I love the beautiful new mezuzah that was hung on my door! Every time I come in or out of my home, I'll think of our wonderful community."
Jewish Federation provided a mezuzah for each home that was part of the RTP project.
Helping Seniors Feel Safer
The Rhawnhurst NORC Winterization project addressed a Federation strategic priority of helping seniors live safely and with dignity in their homes. "My husband, Harold, and I don't have the energy to do yard work or maintain the garden that I love," commented Rose Polin. She proclaimed that Mitzvah Mania volunteers were "godsends."
Members of Cub Scout Pack 160 raked and prepared the Polin's garden for winter.
"This is our retirement home, and Mitzvah Mania's theme of helping people live comfortably in their own home is wonderful," said Polin.
Joy Kunin and her 11-year-old son Zachary participated in the Grocery Shopping with Seniors project.
"This mitzvah had a greater impact on us because we saw and felt the effect of our actions. We saw firsthand the reaction of the senior we took shopping — her appreciation for what we did. It's a hardship for her to travel by bus, carrying heavy packages, and she has no relatives in the Philadelphia area. And after spending time together at Mitzvah Mania, I plan to take her shopping twice a month," remarked Kunin.
Mitzvah Mania also gave the youngest members of the community an opportunity to lend their hands. "It's great that so many projects this year were kid-friendly," said Robin Weiss, whose daughter Ashley, age 8, and her alef class at Ohev Shalom of Bucks County traveled to the JCCs Klein Branch to make no-sew blankets for the elderly.
Cindy Reisner, and her children Anna, 5, Lindsay, 4, and William, a year-and a-half, prepared "ready-to-grow" gifts — flower pots planted with bulbs — for delivery to homebound elderly. "My children got to be part of a larger process — of a roomful of people working together to help others," commented Reisner.
"The children decorated pots and drew cards that they knew were going to grandparents in the community who may be poor or lonely. They were happy that others would see their art work and had fun doing a mitzvah together." Added Reisner, "We all look forward to being part of future Mitzvah Manias!"
*Carol is a pseudonym. Her name was changed to protect confidentiality.