BY LEAH LEVY / AJT//
The Katherine and Jacob Greenfield Hebrew Academy celebrated Mitzvah Day on Jan. 18. As a tribute to the late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., GHA middle school students devoted a whole day to community service and many different forms of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
Mitzvah Day was organized by GHA middle school teacher Jennifer Klein. Eight different activities were offered to ensure that every student could find a project that was a perfect fit.
“We didn’t want our students to see their Mitzvah Day project as boring, or as ordinary work,” Klein said. “We wanted them to discover the joy in helping out by working on something they felt passionate about.”
Students interested in caring for the elderly visited the Breman Home, a trip for which they prepared by baking homemade challahs. The group then led everyone in singing Shabbat songs at a joint Oneg Shabbat.
Sixth grader Zoe Sokol chose this trip for the cooking opportunity.
“I love to bake challah,” she said.
Fifth grader Arielle Wallenstein added, “We got to make people feel happy; that’s a great mitzvah!”
Another group of students visited a Ronald McDonald House and brought baked treats for the families currently in residence. The students learned about the purpose and history of Ronald McDonald Houses, which were set up to house families traveling to distant hospitals for treatment for their sick children; the facilities allow families to focus completely on getting their young patients well without worrying about the expenses and arrangements of traveling, meals and lodging.
Meanwhile, Books for Africa was a popular destination among the literary-inclined. There, they learned about the “book famine” in Africa and the importance of literacy throughout the world. Groups then sorted, organized, and packed crates full of books to be shipped to Africa.
Those with Israel on their mind made their way to the Consulate General of Israel for the Southeast U.S., conveniently located in Atlanta. The students toured the facility, met a pilot who helped to evacuate Ethiopian Jews during Operation Moses, learned to knit and now are tasked with using their new skill in making warm hats for Israeli soldiers.
“It was interesting learning about the planes the U.S. is sending to Israel,” Eliana Horwitz, a fifth grader, said. “But the most exciting part is that the hats we’re making will be going all the way to Israel, to the soldiers who are doing so much to keep everyone safe.”
Animal lovers chose PAWS Atlanta, where they learned about the problem of animal abuse. They helped clean, organize and landscape the quarters – and then, after all their hard work, socialized with the animals living at the shelter.
The environmentally-conscious traveled to the Dunwoody Nature Center, where they learned about the dangers of invasive wildlife. They enjoyed beautiful outdoor weather as they cleared invasive plants and watched for rare birds.
“I wanted to go to the nature center because I really enjoyed our fifth grade trip to Jekyll Island last year,” explained Datiel Dayani. “[At the Dunwoody Nature Center], we pulled out ivy and other invasives, and we used binoculars to spot birds.”
Still other GHA students chose to stay at school and make dinner for the Shearith Israel Women’s Shelter. Over the course of the week, they planned a menu, paying special attention to the needs of the residents. They made shopping list and cooked the dinner on Friday.
This group also met with the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework (Peach State Stitchers chapter), a group that uses their considerable needlework talents to preserve Jewish traditions through their work with textiles. The members of the Guild helped the middle-schoolers to make flannel blankets to be donated to chemotherapy patients.
“I thought cooking and making blankets sounded like fun, but I also felt that this was the most important thing I could do,” student Natan Friedman said. “Homeless people don’t have anything, and I wanted to make food for people who are hungry.”
Last, but certainly not least, the GHA Mitzvah Clowns continued their ongoing mission of bringing smiles and cheer to young and old. After learning some new balloon animal techniques and donning face paint and costumes, the troupe went to entertain the JCC Preschool, where the young audience was very appreciative and drew a book of adorable impressionist renderings of the Mitzvah Clowns’ performance by way of a thank you.
Rabbi Lee Buckman, GHA Head of School, was proud of all of the students’ enthusiasm and hard work on Mitzvah Day.
“Mitzvah Day is especially significant for us in honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said Rabbi Buckman, “[MLK was] a man who used our shared values to stop injustice and sinnat chinam, ‘baseless hatred.’ I feel strongly that the most important thing we teach at GHA is that it is our responsibility as Jews to make the world a better place than we found it.”
Leah Levy is a paraprofessional at GHA and the author of “The Waiting Wall,” a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for 2010.