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Caring for the world, one deed at a time

All ages of Congregation Schaarai Zedek got into the spirit of its fifth annual Mitzvah Day with projects and volunteering.

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 3, 2002

Jonathan Katz, 7, made sure the green bench was straight. With dirty hands, he grabbed a tape measure, more delighted with the tools than the task.

Under the hot morning sun, Jonathan watched as his dad, Scott, 38, and friend Mark Fischer, 44, dug a 5-foot trench, buried posts and poured a concrete foundation. Scott shifted the metal bench a little to the left and a little forward, making his son smile.

"It's fun," said Jonathan of Congregation Schaarai Zedek's fifth annual Mitzvah Day.

From 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday more than 550 volunteers from the South Tampa Jewish temple painted, planted, weeded and performed odd jobs at 20 locations.

Volunteers cleaned the Ronald McDonald House on Davis Islands. They swept fallen leaves at the Ybor City State Museum. They did odd jobs at South Tampa's Alpha House.

At the Mary Walker Apartments and Jewish Towers, they just spent time socializing with elderly residents.

"It's comforting to help people out," said volunteer Sarah Horton, 12.

Volunteers even fashioned a garden, complete with green benches, at the entrance to the temple's own Amy Gail Buchman Preschool.

"The beauty of this project is that we are working side by side with children," said organizer Erica Mandelbaum, noting that parents are encouraged to bring children to teach social service. The event is sponsored by the temple's social action committee.

"A concept in Judaism is that we are co-partners with God in the ongoing work of creation," said Rabbi Richard Birnholz, explaining mitzvah is a Hebrew word meaning "commandment.'

"God gave us raw materials, and it's our job to make them useful.'

He uses the following parable to help his congregation grasp the importance of social service:

A lunatic set a house afire one night while the people were asleep. The fire spread rapidly to other houses. Each family ran frantically about attempting to save individual possessions.

A wise bystander remarked, "You are silly people. Instead of each one trying to save his or her own possessions, why don't you all get together and put out the fire so it will not spread any further?"

"The moral of the story is that if we were all only interested in our own personal welfare the world could not exist," explained Birnholz.

In addition to the annual Mitzvah Day, this year the social action committee is performing one small-scale Mitzvah of the Month.

"It's our duty to help repair the world," said Birnholz of his congregation.

He noted a satisfying result of good deeds: watching "parents and children interact as they learn to give."

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