A small army of volunteers descended on , all to help celebrate their first ever Mitzvah Day Sunday.
A mitzvah is commonly thought of as a commandment that is found in the Holy Scriptures. But the congregation seeks to change that conception. For them a “mitzvah” refers to an act of human kindness or a moral deed performed as a religious duty.
“There are a lot of things that we can do to make the world a better place,” said Rabbi Scott B. Weiner during the prayer service that preceded the day’s events.
The Rabbi also emphasized the need to carry on good deeds beyond just one day and to make them integral into your daily routine.
The congregation organized several opportunities for volunteering which included cleaning up the Colonial Greenway Trail, visiting the sick and elderly, preparing food preparation and donating money or items for earthquake relief in Japan.
“We’ve done a lot of individual projects but nothing on this scale,” said Marjory Karlin, president of the Board of Trustees at Temple Israel of New Rochelle.
For Karlin and many others at the temple, it was their first experience at such a large-scale Mitzvah Day.
For Irene Pastarnack, a congregant for over 72 years, the day was a breath of fresh air.
“It used to be just the religious, but the Jewish religion asks us to do good and make the community better. I hope that it gets bigger and bigger,” said Pastarnack, who did her part by bringing gardening tools and moving tomato cages for the community garden.
The seeds for today’s event were planted in November when they had a few individual events that had an unexpectedly high showing. Slowly the members of the temple began to get behind the idea of a full fledge day of events.
At one of these smaller events last year, Richard Grayson and a small group of people dug up a small patch of ground and planted the seeds of what is now known as the Community Organic Garden.
“Note it’s not called the Temple Israel Garden, but it’s to benefit the community, not just us’” said Grayson.
The garden usually grows sweet tomatoes and green beans that are donated to Hope Soup Kitchen run by Hope Community Services on Washington Avenue. The 15-foot-long patch of soil yielded 315 pounds of vegetables last year. This was as big a surprise to Grayson as it was to the soup kitchen.
“Not bad for a place that was used twice a year for overflow parking,” he said after he’d finished tilling the soil. With the help of a large crew they had finished repairs to the fence ahead of schedule.
But vegetables aren’t the only things that Hope Soup Kitchen will get from Temple Israel. During Mitzvah Day, a small group of people got together to prepare a chicken stew for donation to the community group.
“We have enough to feed 100 people. We also had enough to prepare 50 meals that will be used for the Temple Cares group,” said Murray Massover. He was part of the small event in November and was astonished at the turnout to the Sunday's event.
“It says a lot about the people and the congregation,” Massover noted.
Even the children got involved writing letters to the sick and to troops overseas.
“Making the cards let the younger kids experience a bit of what the older kids working on the garden or in the nursing home felt like,” said Janie Tarnopao, a teacher’s assistant.
But Tarnopao also stressed that Sunday was all about community and that it’s best to start the kids with small steps that can inspire others to do a good deed.
“It’s about civil awareness. We just don’t live in our homes or practice in our temple. We live in New Rochelle and we need to take an active role in our community,” said Cantor Erik Contzius.