Making the world a better place, one good deed at a time


Volunteers organize donated clothing at Temple Shir Shalom in Gainesville, as part of Mitzvah Day, a day of charity and good deeds, on Sunday.

Brett Le Blanc / Correspondent
Published: Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 7:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 7:41 p.m.

The fourth annual Mitzvah Day, a day locals come together to give back to their community, began Sunday with a pep talk of sorts.

“We're here to perform mitzvot, to heal the world and repair our community. We're also here to be together doing something,” Temple Shir Shalom Rabbi Michael Joseph said as he welcomed a community of Jewish volunteers to the temple.

Rabbi Berl Goldman explained to the 150 people gathered at brightly colored tables in the sunlit room at Temple Shir Shalom that the Hebrew word “mitzvah” means three things: a commandment, a good deed and a connection.

“How beautiful it is that through acts of loving kindness of any kind, it actually has a greater purpose which connects us to mankind, but also, and importantly, connects us to God,” Goldman said.

Then the Rabbi switched gears.

“It's not a time to sit here and talk a lot,” he said. “It's a time to roll up our sleeves and do some work.”

Volunteers who participated in the day of giving, which was organized by the Jewish Council of North Central Florida, picked from more than a dozen projects. They included bagging dog food for the St. Francis Pet Clinic, feeding the homeless at Bo Diddley Plaza, making cards for military personnel, assembling packages to help kids who have aged out of foster care and are starting out on their own and picking up trash on the west end of Eighth Avenue.

Nearly every room of Temple Shir Shalom was filled with a mass of donated goods and busy volunteers working briskly to complete their appointed projected in just a few hours.

Past president of Temple Shir Shalom Andy Hirshik, 66, and B'nai Israel member Dave Deeter, 67, wore neon orange traffic safety vests as they kept their eyes peeled for cigarette butts littering the grass on the side of Eighth Avenue.

Deeter, who recently decided to convert to Judaism, said he lived near the area so why not clean it up?

The two men showed off a foot-long piece of Styrofoam, the most substantial piece of trash they had collected so far that day.

“We were fighting to get to it!” Deeter joked.

The men were only two of a team who walked up and down the street on the brisk Sunday afternoon, picking up bits of litter with long metal clamps.

Rabbi Joseph said the idea of performing mitzvot comes from an ancient concept called Tikkun Olam. Joseph said many Jews believe that during creation, God deliberately left the world imperfect.

“What we would consider the imperfections in the world, or some of the pain in the world, are really things that were almost deliberately not quite completed because God left it for human beings to do that completing,” he said.

Joseph said that Jews are taught to believe that through mitzvah, the world will slowly become a qualitatively different place. Though that vision differs among groups, the idea is commonly held and fueled by faith that changing the world is possible, he said.

Joseph said the idea of a Mitzvah Day is somewhat artificial because mitzvahs are supposed to be enacted daily, but the power of it is that it brings people together.

“To do it together is a real source of strength,” he said.

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