Knitting kippot for Israeli soldiers, crocheting milk bags into sleeping mats for Haiti, doing shalom calling, helping Israeli students practise their English for IsraelConnect, being a volunteer driver for Jewish Family Services, and tutoring refugees, are just some of Merle Haltrecht-Matte volunteer activities.
Haltrecht-Matte will receive the Shem Tov Community Volunteer Award at the annual general meeting of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, Wednesday, June 15, 7 pm, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC). The award recognizes an outstanding volunteer whose many years of service have contributed to the enrichment of Jewish life in Ottawa.
Haltrecht-Matte, who retired from teaching in 2002, has worn many volunteer hats throughout her life.
“I remember Sunday afternoons as a teenager going with a Jewish group to play with children in a group home. I received a cup for doing it. My mother and grandmother did a lot of volunteering, so it’s in my DNA,” she said.
She has volunteered for the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank and, in 2008, initiated Temple Israel’s Baby Quilt Project, which has made more than 1,000 baby quilts that are sent to Israel. Her volunteer work with Temple Israel has also included co-ordinating the 40th anniversary weekend in 2006, chairing Temple’s Social Action Committee for several years, and serving on the congregation’s board of directors. She has even accompanied Temple Israel Religious School Grade 10 students on a trip to Israel.
In her letter in support of Haltrecht-Matte’s nomination for the Shem Tov Award, Sarah Gordon of IsraelConnect described her as “an incredibly competent and gifted leader who simply does not know the word ‘no’ when it comes to volunteering.”
“I think everybody should find something they really like doing,” said Haltrecht-Matte. “They might not know they like working with older people, or helping make quilts until they try it. You can volunteer as an individual or you can volunteer in a group, but it has to be rewarding to yourself.”
For example, she points to her volunteer service as an Alzheimer Society facilitator.
“I didn’t know I’d like that, but I took the training and I’ve been doing it for over 10 years. You find the right thing that works for you.”
If you’d asked her in 2008 if she wanted to make 1,000 baby quilts, Haltrecht-Matte says she would have said, “You’re crazy, that’s impossible. But I co-ordinated the large quilt for the Temple’s 40th anniversary and then we decided to make 60 quilts in a year for the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. And that turned into over 1,000.”
Her latest volunteer project was organizing the photo exhibit of Scottish Jewry currently at the SJCC (until June 10).
“What I like about this kind of volunteering is that they are for a limited time. Then I like to move on to another project. I have dreams about these events. They are on my mind when I go to sleep at night.”