Mitzvah Day in Sydney

December 3, 2012 by  
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“Something special took place, not just in the Emanuel Synagogue Hall, but Jews all over the world gathered in their different communities and synagogues to be part of Mitzvah Day.

This report from Donna Jacobs Sife

Preparing the cards

Little Big Help

For three hours, people ranging from 10 year olds to 85 year olds, gave their time and energy to create bags of essentials and a couple of luxury items just to bring a smile, for women seeking refuge from domestic violence.  These women often leave without time to gather the things they and their children need, and these bags would undoubtedly serve to lift their spirits.

The hall had at one end buckets full of soft toys, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, toothbrushes, lip gloss, soap, notebooks, sketchbooks, pens, pencils , little wooden hamsas.  Everything had been donated by the Emanuel community, and the overflowing buckets paid tribute to their generosity.  One person donated 100 hearts that she had hand-knitted with love, especially for the children.

“There are going to be a lot of clean women out there,” one volunteer remarked, contemplating the bucket filled to the brim with soap.

There was a sense of military precision along the rows of trestle tables, each with a task to fulfil. A table for cutting the calico. The cut material was sent to the row of humming sewing machines to sew the material together for the bags.    The bags were sent to the trestle that had fabric pens and glitter for decorating, and then thread with ribbon for the drawstring.   Next came the wrapping of the soft toys , the pens and notebooks – complete with ribbon, so that there was no mistake that these were gifts for them.  Then the table that put in the toiletries and other items.   A table to decorate those little wooden  hamsas.  There was a message included too,  that was handwritten and decorated. It told the women who would be receiving the bags, that we care, that we want to help, that we wish them strength.   Why not just use printed messages?   “Handwritten is so much more personal, don’t you think?”  one woman said, writing neatly as she spoke. It was sweet to see the few men, carefully decorating their messages with textas and glitter.

When asked why they decided to take part in Mitzvah Day, the responses were all different and yet said the same thing.

“ to be part of something bigger than myself”

“I support women, tomorrow would have been my mother’s 90th birthday, this is for her.”

“we are looking for more meaning, more community – this appeals to me, the whole family are here.”

“I work with women and domestic violence, but  this is very different. This is for the soul.”

“We were in the youth movement when we were young, and now in our 30’s there is a bit of a gap. This helps fill it.”

“Im doing my batmitzvah here, and I just wanted to help.”

Whatever reason people had for taking part in Mitzvah Day,  I was left with one overwhelming impression. Something that touched my heart more than anything else.  Yes, its wonderful to see our community coming together for the greater good. It is marvellous to see that people are yearning to do mitzvoth, to act in the face of injustice.  But the thing that struck me so deeply was the extraordinary focus on ensuring that this was not just a ‘throw things in the bag and hand them out’   kind of event.  On every level, the main concern was that these bags sent the message that we care. From the handmade bags, so lovingly decorated, to the hand written message, to the hand wrapped gifts with ribbon, to the decorated hamsas, to those beautiful little hand knitted hearts that each child received –      these bags were not just filled with essentials, they were filled with love, and I for one felt humbled by that unwavering intention.

One last thing.  At the back of the hall was Shula – geneticist and donor testing advocate.  She had set up a make shift clinic, as she so often does wherever she can,  to take blood from those willing to be tested for compatibility with those in our community in need of bone marrow transplants.  It  was a quiet opportunity, that brought another angle to the day.  She explained,

“In the community we have at the moment 3 children literally on deaths door. The overwhelming likelihood of finding a donor will be from the Jewish community.”

Maimonides teaches that the lowest form of tzedeka is to give grudgingly.  What I witnessed on Mizvah Day 2012, was joy and openheartedness.  A community working together, chatting, having tea, laughing, and lovingly preparing a gift for some unknown women who find themselves on hard times.

This is tikkun olam at its best, and its good for the soul.”

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