As a non-Jewish person working at a Jewish Community Center I had to ask myself…Mitzvah…what the heck does that mean? As I’ve done so often since I began working at the OFJCC I turned to Google to find out the meaning of another Hebrew word I’m not familiar with. Simply put, Mitzvah means “a good deed,” which is exactly what Mitzvah Day at the OFJCC is all about.
Last year, I had my first opportunity to experience this “good deed” day firsthand. Not really understanding the scale of the event, I volunteered to chair the team that would cook dinner for about 100 homeless people in Menlo Park. Since I have a background in food service this seemed like a pretty easy task and something that I would enjoy. That being said, I immediately asked my mom if she would help me. I needed a good sous chef and I never turn down an opportunity to boss my mom around!
Even though I was a newbie to the whole Mitzvah Day thing I wasn’t a newbie at organizing a group of people to cook a large meal. I expected that to be the easy part; I have been volunteering for years so this seemed like a piece of cake. But organizing a group of people who may or may not have cooking experience can be a challenge, especially if that group includes children ranging in age from four to eleven.
I knew that my favorite part of the entire experience would be working with the children. I love to watch children have new experiences. Over course of the day I had the privilege of watching them come to life. Knowing that they were doing something for someone who wasn’t as fortunate as they was a true gift. The excitement in their eyes when I told them “Yes, you can use a sharp knife to cut those carrots,” and “Yes, of course you can taste the frosting. We have to make sure it’s good,” was priceless. Seeing the children really dig in and put their heart and soul into preparing this meal for people they didn’t even know was touching—not to mention quite messy.
Another aspect of this process that amazed me was how willing the adults were to help guide the children—their own and those they had just met—and each other. This was truly a community project that proved that when you bring people together for a common purpose they get the job done. People enjoy helping people and this was never so evident for me as on Mitzvah Day.
The lesson I took away from entire experience is that Mitzvah isn’t a Jewish thing; it’s a human thing. It’s important to come together to help those in our community and our world who have a hard time helping themselves. No matter how large or small the gesture, even the smallest thing, like a beautiful mess of a cupcake frosted by a 10-year-old, is meaningful. I am so very proud of the meal that we prepared for the homeless shelter and am looking forward to doing all over again this year!