Bite-size acts of kindness for first-ever Mitzvah Days of Summer

If you’ve been in the Ottawa Jewish community for a while, you know about the big Mitzvah Day usually held in February. With the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, that wasn’t possible this year — so the Jewish Federation of Ottawa has come up with a new version of the day to engage families.

It’s called the Mitzvah Days of Summer and it includes 18 “bite-size” acts of kindness that Sarah Beutel, Vice President, Community Building, says people can do on their own time and in their own homes, to make a difference.

“We hope that by doing this, we’ll have the sense that we’re taking part together without being together in the same room,” says Beutel. “But you can do each activity on its specific day, or you can just do it all on your own.”

Among the included activities are a birdfeeder building project, the start of a blessing bag and activities to mark Shabbat.

“Mitvzah isn’t just about kindness, it’s a Jewish commandment,” says Beutel. “Our Mitzvah Days include things that are uniquely Jewish. While we call it Mitzvah Days we are also including chesed, but the mitzvah is really reflected in the Shabbat, or in things like to give charity. Some of the activities are to do both.”

For Adam Peters and his family, participating in Mitzvah Days is a way to help the kids — eight of them, ranging in age from 2 to 13 — feel connected to the Ottawa Jewish community.

“Mitzvah literally means commandment. It could be anything from observing the Sabbath to keeping kosher, to giving to charity. We teach our kids the concept of a mitzvah,” says Peters. “Mitzvah Day itself is a way for the kids to do something to be part of the larger Ottawa Jewish community. We can give them that day, with a focus on the more charitable aspects of mitzvahs. It’s important for us for the kids to have that.”

Plus, Peters says, these days they’re always looking for something to do as a family — he hopes the activities in the kit can engage all the children, despite their wide age range.

Above all, the Peters family is trying to stay connected to the community, despite not being able to see everyone in person.

“For us, (doing a) mitzvah is a constant everyday thing, but it’s important for us to be part of the community as well,” says Peters.

There were 50 kits available and each Mitzvah Day kit has enough for two people to do the activity.

“We hope that people have not only an opportunity to participate in acts of kindness, but also that they feel connected to the community … that was the beautiful thing of Mitzvah Day, the coming together,” said Beutel. “We are trying to recapture that feeling despite the pandemic.”