The community of Congregation B'nai Israel gathered on Sunday morning for the annual day of service, this year titled got mitzvah?.
The ultimate goal of the event was for people to engage in acts of Tikkun Olam and do Tzedakah, or charitible and philanthropic acts, which are important components of living a spiritual life.
As part of the day of service, the Blanche Bayar Religious School of Congregation B'nai Israel raised money for the Justin Charity Bear Fund. I was privileged to be the coordinator of this project at the event, and found Justin to be an impressive young man with a fantastic story.
Justin was just 5-1/2 years old when he realized that not all children were lucky to have a teddy bear like his. So he told his father that he wanted to make bears and give them to needy children, to "share the importance of giving and sharing," he says.
Justin and his father established The Justin Charity Bear Fund, a registered nonprofit. Justin is nine today, and he's already made 4,600 bears. Thanks to the over $437.56 donated Sunday through the fundraising done by the religious school Tzedakah Club (with some help from Justin and his family), he will be able to build at least 22 new bears for children in need...plus the many new bears that were stuffed/given to Justin at the event.
He's set his goal to have 1,000 new bears by the end of this year. To make a donation, visit Justin's website.
The morning began with the 'Got music?' program led by Cantor Lorna Wallach, Mayor Sandra Haimoff, Rabbi Steven Bayar, and President Jonathan Engel.
CBI is involved with an ongoing project in McRoberts, Kentucky, a needy rural community that the congregation visits each year to help enrich the community and the township. CBI has embarked in many collections for McRoberts this year, and at the event, families donated marble composition notebooks, sorted school materials and stuffed backpacks for 70 children in rural Appalachia.
The Seeing Eye, the world's oldest existing seeing eye dog school was represented at 'got mitzvah?'. They discussed the dogs' impact on blind people, and even brought in one of the dogs, to the delight of many preschool and religious school students. Families donated old towels and small dog biscuits for the puppies.
The Interfaith Hospitality Network was at the event, publicizing its congregational shelter program. CBI plans to become a host congregation next year, to help families in crisis. Families assembled "bedtime bags" for children in network's shelter program.
Dunk your Kicks was also there collecting sneakers. Congregants learned about supporting pediatric cancer research through the Max Cure Foundation and their Roar Beyond Barriers campaign.
The Valerie Fund educated congregants about helping children with cancer and blood disorders, in preparation for their walk on June 9th.
bookBgone was represented as well. bookBgone is a free-of-charge, media-removal service that is dedicated to recycling, reusing and donating unwanted books. They collected books, CDs, and DVDs in any condition. Families helped sort the books and media.
A collection for Ronald McDonald House was there, for families of sick children. People helped fill a water jug with soda tabs, donated cereal, paper towels, and mac n' cheese boxes.
Millburn USY, the synagogue's youth group for high school students, advertised their Tikkun Olam initiative. The teens explained how their Tzedakot support charities, both locally and in Israel.
Students made friendship bracelets supporting various organizations.
Representatives from Sar El showed attendees how to assist Israeli soldiers.
The local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation highlighted taught how their work educates and empowers individuals to promote wellness.
Survivor (and congregant) Michael Weinstein, representing the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCan), publicized the PurpleStride initiative.
Second Chance Toys was collecting (and cleaning) plastic toys for donations.
All morning, a Blood Mobile was in the CBI parking lot, open to all interested in donating blood.
The congregation also held Tzedakah opportunities off-site for families who are interested in helping different charities and organizations outside of the synagogue.
At 1 p.m. at the Cora Hartshorn Arboretum, families were invited to come participate in a cleanup. Also at 1 p.m., children, ages 6 and up, were invited to the Community Food Bank in Hillside to sort food.
Chairing the event were Tracy Ferdinand, Marilyn Berney, Lori Katzman and Andrea Good.
Those involved said got mitzvah? was a fun day for everyone.