It’s OK To Have Fun!


Anne Frank said “Give of yourself. You can always give something, even if it is only kindness. No one has ever become poor from giving.”

 
These words mean so much in so many different aspects of our world. Everything from cooking for the homeless to sharing your business skills to just saying hello to someone living on the street. Every little thing we do makes a difference. Whether you want to think of it as the domino effect or a ripple in the water; everything we do makes a difference.

Recently a volunteer at our Handmade for the Homeless project asked me if her knitting for others really counted as volunteering. She was concerned that if she was truly enjoying herself while knitting and schmoozing with the other knitters that maybe she wasn’t doing something so great.

I think having fun while doing for others makes your giving even more special. Growing up I was taught to give tzedakah. I always thought this just meant to give money. The literal definition of Tzedakah means justice or fairness; making things equal amongst the masses. Not only is what we do is tzedakah but is truly G’milut Chasadim, giving kindness, benevolence, giving of ourselves.  And in this, I think it only means more if we truly enjoy what we are doing.

Not only will the hats and scarves knitted and crocheted by our volunteers bring warmth to those living on the streets in the winter but hopefully they will be filled with the love and fun that the volunteer who made them put into it.

Have you volunteered lately? There are so many things you can do to make a difference in our world, in our city! Find something that you enjoy and put your heart into it.

Recognizing Current Issues this Yom Hashoah – Part II

(Read Part I: On Connection here.)

Part II: On Action

Young professionals and college students are taking a deep interest in connecting to our remaining Holocaust survivors.

For example, in New York City, hundreds of volunteers team up with the iVolunteer organization to visit often-lonely Holocaust survivors and become like family.

According to the 2009 Claims Conference, survivors are “more likely than other elderly to be socially isolated, and as a result, are more likely to live in poverty and be in poorer health.”

While health and financial needs plague today’s survivor population, the worst poverty is loneliness. These feelings are greatly alleviated through volunteer visits. But honestly, I feel like the volunteers get more out of these visits than they could ever give.

However, while Jews across the world remember the Shoah this week, there is a large number of people who are unaware of the critical need for basic safety net services for many of the frail and aging Holocaust survivors who live right here in our own community.

According to the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA), DC’s community safety net organization, there are hundreds of survivors in the DC-area in need of critical homecare and medical support services.  In fact, JSSA is reporting a dramatic increase this year in the number of survivors requesting care. As a result, JSSA is now facing critical shortfalls as the need is outpacing available funding.  (Learn more about the issue here.)

In light of all these issues, EntryPointDC partnered with JSSA to create an Inter-generational Passover Program with Silver Spring-area Holocaust survivors on Good Deeds Day. This was a memorable event not only for the Holocaust survivors, who were elated to have the opportunity to tell their personal stories and socialize with each other, but also for the young professionals who got to connect with them.

For one participant, it was his first time meeting a survivor, never having had the opportunity first hand. For a young woman, who is an Iraqi Jew , it was important to her to come because her own family had been persecuted in Iraq. Another came to connect with his Jewish heritage for the first time since the passing of his father.

Others came as proud representatives of their own survivor grandparents. After the event, one shared, “I just wanted to thank you for organizing this event; it really was so special.”

These connections are so important to our community. This June, we’re trying to make more of these inter-generational exchanges happen.

Service for SurvivorsWe want to connect survivors and young professionals with our Service For Survivors Trip – a Service Learning Trip to Miami Beach, Florida. Participants from EntryPointDC, GLOE, Community Services, and other partners will be joining us. Truly, we welcome anyone in their 20s & 30s to join us  in this mitzvah.

One of my favorite things about this project is the chance I’ll get to interact and connect with individual survivors, knowing that this is a population deeply in need, AND that there is something we can do about it. (The fact we’ll all be hanging out in Miami Beach doesn’t hurt either.)

As the last generational link, we are almost out of time to hear their stories.

And then, when the time comes, we’ll pass those stories on.

Recognizing Current Issues this Yom Hashoah – Part I

Part I: On Connection

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a time for commemoration and reflection about the Holocaust and the six million men, women, and children who lost their lives because they were Jewish.

Yom Hashoah, which falls on Thursday April 19th, is also a day to honor the survivors and listen to their stories. I love working at a place where we get to look at these stories in multiple ways, knowing that everyone connects to it in different ways – whether it’s through film (Nicky’s Family) or art (Traces of Memory: A Contemporary Look at the Jewish Past in Poland), or through conversations.

The important part is that the connection happens.

My own interest in Holocaust studies began in my eighth grade Holocaust course with my teacher Mrs. Silverman. Unlike other projects in the past, the research projects in her class did not feel like homework, but rather like an opportunity for meaningful exploration – not something that junior high students often get to experience.

That eighth-grade project on survivors impacted the rest of my life: I’ve been studying and teaching the Yom Shoah ever since in some way or another – the power of having an amazing teacher!

My goal is to help others have similarly resonant experiences with this survivor community.

In Jacksonville, Florida, I brought my public school students to a Yom Hashoah program at the Jewish Community Center there. The majority of them were Muslim Bosnians whose parents were subjected to ethnic cleansing in the 1990s. These students really responded to class lessons on the history of the Holocaust, and asked to volunteer at the ceremony.

At the program, they were in awe because for the first time, they were able to put a face with the  Shoah history, and could personally connect to another group that understood genocide, first-hand.

The Passover seder, which talks about freedom from oppression, is often used as a time for Holocaust reflection. In fact, many Haggadot include passages about the relationship between the Holocaust and Egypt. Some Haggadot even explain how victims observed the holiday in Nazi occupied Europe.

A few weeks ago, just before Passover, one of my best friends, a 27 year old young professional working in Finance, discovered her own family’s experience in the Holocaust. It had a huge impact on her and inspired her to lead the seder at her home for the first time, and to intertwine the two histories.

She wrote me:
‘After lighting the candles and saying a prayer, the first thing I said to initiate our Passover 2012 was: “These are the traditions our grandparents celebrated with their families before the war, and it is important to preserve these traditions and honor all of those we have lost.”

I then passed around a framed photograph (that came into my possession only a few days before), with a picture of my grandfather’s immediate family. Being able to see six individuals who did not survive enabled everyone else at our seder to truly feel the importance of this night.’

These are the vital connections we need to make with our survivors – teaching lessons to young people and within our own families – so that no future generation has to have first-hand experience with genocide again.


Read Part II: On Action Here

The Bread of Affliction

Passover has two critical teachings. The first is that in every generation, l’dor vador, we retell the story. But it’s not just enough to recite the words—we need to help the listener understand, reinventing and reimagining the story of the Exodus for this generation in a way that resonates. you have to tell it effectively. Like any good story, it has to have drama and meaning, heroes and heroines. The Haggadah has it all: Who could argue that the story isn’t dramatic? It also has meaning—after all, our identity as a people grows out of this experience. Moses and Miriam also emerge as leaders for the ages.

The Passover seder is filled with symbols of both oppression and freedom that help us tell this story—for instance, the parsley connotes springtime, the egg reminds us of the possibility of rebirth, and the maror (bitter herbs) give us a literal taste of the bitterness of slavery.

The second lesson lies in the ultimate symbol of the Passover seder, the matza. Sometimes referred to as the Bread of Affliction, it is a sobering reminder of our experiences as slaves. As we hold up the matza we say, “This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want, share the hope of Passover.” (URJ Haggadah)

The Haggadah’s statement “This is the bread of affliction,” Ha Lahma Anya, contains one of the most significant lessons of the Passover story. In my own childhood, we had seders of thirty-five or more people, and yet my mother always found room for anyone who found themselves in need of a seder. Here at the DCJCC, Passover is not the only time we think about Ha Lahma Anya. There are hungry people in our community every day. The drama and the lessons of Passover remind us to reach out and help those whose basic needs aren’t being met on a daily basis.

My mother’s example helps me guide the mission of the Center, as we continue to go into our community and take notice and action on behalf of those in need.  As you celebrate Passover, take a look around and reach a hand out to those in your community and beyond.

Carole R. Zawatsky is the CEO of the Washington DCJCC

Painting with a Purpose

February seems to be a busy birthday month! How do you celebrate your birthday when you hit a milestone? This month Lloyd turned 60 and Josh turned 40, and on two separate occasions we coordinated Behrend Builders projects for them.
It just so happens that Lloyd is a fabulous photographer and has artist friends. With the help of his friend Judy Beth they drew an amazing mural on one of the walls at Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV). With images of its founder Mitch Snyder and other community members surrounded by a colorful tapestry, there was so much to paint that Lloyd’s 50 birthday party guests didn’t get the mural finished. Though the mural is still a work in progress, all 50 guests had a great time and felt like they really made a difference for the residents. The mural fills one of the residential hallways, and the inhabitants that came in and out throughout the day were thrilled to see the bright colors as opposed to the usual white wall.

Bright colors weren’t the request at Transitional Housing Corporation’s (THC) Partner Arms I. This amazing facility is one of THC’s many apartment buildings focused on helping the homeless become self-sufficient. THC asked for a clean coat of crisp white paint through the apartment building, and that’s what Josh and his party guests gave them. We provided supplies, connections and support for the project while Josh and his wife brought their friends, pizza and a cake to celebrate his birthday.

Both parties were a great way to not only celebrate milestone birthdays but a way to give back to the community. While Lloyd and his partner Ruth made a donation to help support the costs of the project, Josh asked his friends, in lieu of gifts, to please make a donation to Behrend Builders. It was a win-win for everyone!

Keep Behrend Builders and the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service in your mind for celebrations. We can custom make a project to your wants and needs. It’s a great way to give back to the community, celebrate your birthday, bat mitzvah, retirement and have fun all at the same time. For more information contact Erica Steen at ericas@washingtondcjcc.org.

The Big Waste

It was one of those nights where I found myself at home lying on the couch flipping channels. The Food Network is usually the last channel I go to to find something to watch. Don’t get me wrong, I love their shows, but for some reason whenever I watch I end up eating when I’m not hungry.  It is The Food Network!

Well this night was different, the show that night was The Big Waste, and it made me think a bit more than usual (and not about food).

The Big Waste: First class chefs Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Anne Burrell and Alex Guarnaschelli tackle one of the most massive problems in food today – waste! Divided into two teams, with only 48 hours on the clock, they are challenged to create a multi course gourmet banquet worthy of their great reputations, but with a big twist; they can only use food that is on its way to the trash.

To an extent, we do this for Hunger Action (we accept donations and most of the shopping is done at the Capital Area Food Bank), but Bobby, Michael, Anne and Alex took things to a new level. Maybe the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service should try some of their recipes!

Or maybe we should be all be freegans. Freeganism is the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded.  On The Big Waste, Anne spends the evening with a freegan dumpster diving and checking out garbage bags of food being tossed out by restaurants.

The group also went to local bakeries and farms and took waste from there: eggs that weren’t a uniform size, chickens with broken wings, fruits or vegetables with a few brown spots.  All perfectly good to eat but not something most would pick from a store shelf.

Do you have a contact at a restaurant, a bakery or a local farm? Do you buy the non-perfect fruits and vegetables at the grocery? If we all pitch in and collect food that might be thrown out, think of the difference we could make.  Donate it to Hunger Action, DC Central Kitchen or give it someone living on the street.

One-third of the world’s food is wasted. What are you going to do?

One More Look at December 25th

We just had to share some more of the amazing photos taken by Lloyd Wolf of our 2011 December 25th Volunteer Project. Looking through the photos really brings home just how important and moving this experience is for those who volunteer and for those who benefit from their service. This is Lloyd’s 20th year photographing the project and we’re displaying a small number of the stand-outs from that enormous collection in our Community Hall and Distrikt Bistro for the next few weeks. You can read all about it in the current issue of the Washington Jewish Week.

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