‘Tree of Kindness’ blooms at Mitzvah Day

‘Tree of Kindness’ blooms at Mitzvah Day

By Matthew Horwood

More than 400 community members of all ages gathered at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) and Hillel Lodge, February 3, for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s annual Mitzvah Day of doing good deeds.

On Mitzvah Day, the community gathers to volunteer time and energy in the spirit of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and to give a helping hand to those in need in Ottawa’s Jewish and broader communities.

At the opening ceremonies, which followed a free breakfast for all participants provided in part by the Friends of Mitzvah Day, Federation Vice-Chair Michael Polowin, who is also the Ottawa Jewish Community School board president, told participants he was amazed to see the number of children and adults who come to Mitzvah Day every year.

“The Federation is proud to host this event that brings together people from all parts of our community. It is a perfect example of the Jewish Superhighway we are all building together,” he said.

Federation President and CEO Andrea Freedman said the theme of this year’s Mitzvah Day was “making kindness bloom.” After the first mitzvah session, participants signed their names on paper ‘leaves’ which read, “I performed a Mitzvah today!” which were then placed on the Tree of Kindness at the end of the event to make it ‘bloom.’

After the second mitzvah session, participants could write what they felt made the day special on a ‘Future-self Mitzvah Day Postcard,’ which would be mailed back to them in a few weeks. Sarah Beutel, Federation vice-president of community building, said the cards were meant to “remind people of the activities they did and some of the Jewish values they took away from it.”

Before participants dispersed throughout the SJCC and over to Hillel Lodge to begin their mitzvahs, elected officials in attendance – including Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod, MPPs Joel Harden and John Fraser, and Deputy Mayor Laura Dudas – participated in a friendly competition to see who could braid the most challahs, which were then donated to the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank.

Also in attendance was former MPP and cabinet minister Yasir Naqvi and former deputy mayor Mark Taylor.

New Mitzvah Day activities this year included a cultural scavenger hunt, workshops to create fleece-tie blankets for CHEO and T-shirt tote bags for personal use, Shabbat story and craft, and ‘caring for animals and the environment’ with Little Ray Nature Centres.

Among the favourite returning Mitzvah Day activities were the singalong at Hillel Lodge, assembling soup kits for the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank and birthday party kits for families living in shelters.

Mitzvah Day Co-Chairs Naomi and Jonathan Mitchell thanked participants for their efforts at a wrap-up party at the end of the morning in the SJCC social hall.

“You brought smiles to many faces and comfort to people in need. Today has been an absolutely amazing day of volunteering, and you can continue to build on this experience by getting involved throughout the year,” Naomi said.

“There are many volunteer opportunities available, whether it’s once a week, once a month or offering your skills for a one-time project,” she said.