Goodwill to All

Casey Toth

Mitzvah Day celebrates giving 

by Katherine Poole

More than 500 Triangle residents will gather Dec. 25 to give gifts, but not the bought and wrapped kind. They’ll be tying fleece into no-sew blankets for Blanket Durham, playing bingo with residents at Hillcrest Convalescent Home, delivering desserts to on-duty police officers, and serving meals to families at the Ronald McDonald House in Chapel Hill. It’s all in observance of the 12th annual Mitzvah Day: a time of volunteerism, activism, unity, and fellowship organized by the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill.

Mitzvah means good deed, and Mitzvah Day is about service more than religion. Christmas Day, a nationally observed holiday, finds many nonprofits and local agencies understaffed and in need of volunteers. This area-wide outreach event creates opportunities for Jewish community members to meet the need by turning a day off into a day on.

The Jewish Federation partners with local synagogues and organizations like the Levin Jewish Community Center of Durham to organize service projects. Levin JCC’s director of engagement Madeline Seltman says many local families yearn to give back in a meaningful way, but busy schedules make it difficult to find time. On Mitzvah Day, more than 30 different projects suit volunteers of every age, skill level, interest, and availability. Each year Mitzvah Day expands its reach further in an effort to fully reflect the diverse Triangle. This year, new projects include helping the Accessible Icon Project spray-paint accessibility markers on city parking spaces and organizing furniture at the LGBTQ Center of Durham. 

While serving the community, volunteers build one, too. Mitzvah Day kicks off with a group breakfast before participants depart for their various service projects. Everyone reconvenes at 5:30 p.m. for a Chinese dinner, movie, and fellowship. Seltman says there has been a “ripple effect in the community”: volunteers often continue working with the nonprofits they connect with Dec. 25. 

For more information about Mitzvah Day, including specific volunteer opportunities: