By Jaclyn Turner
Seven years ago, Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist, Shari Arison thought of a day about giving back to the community and working to do good. Arison, with the help of NGO Ruach Tova, created Good Deeds Day, based on the simple idea that anyone can do something positive for his or her community. Over 30 countries participate on this day of giving back.
Maryland Hilllel is one of the communities participating on Sunday, April 6. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington will also join in the giving.
“I’m excited to have an opportunity for Jews at Maryland to come and participate in this worldwide event. It’s so easy to get involved and be able to also give on this day,” said sophomore sociology and Jewish Studies double major Liat Hotz.
This year, the students will engage in and learn about issues such as hunger in America, homelessness in D.C., immigration, affordable housing, and people with physical and developmental disabilities.
Maryland Hillel has participated in Good Deeds Day on various levels for many years, according to Amy Weiss, the Repair the World Director of Service Learning Initiatives at Maryland Hillel. “We want to get as many people involved but our service sites are places Hillel works with throughout the year.”
This year Weiss hopes that 150 students participate in the event. After spring break, over 90 students already signed up.
“Good Deeds Day is community wide day of service and learning about local social justice issues that affect our neighborhood,” said senior special education and Jewish studies major Michal Swerdlow.
Swerdlow is involved with a social justice fellowship on campus called Tzedek, which initiates fellows to connect Jewish students with local service opportunities. She worked with 20 other committee members to plan Good Deeds Day.
Involved members are promoting the day of good on Facebook and via email. Committee members also sat outside the Hillel cafeteria and visited North Campus to encourage members to sign up for the day. “We are also trying to engage people who went on Alternative Breaks, Birthright, freshmen, and Greek groups,” Swerdlow said.
For students who want to get involved in Good Deeds Day, there are numerous ways they can participate, but first, they must register. The link can be found on the Facebook event, Good Deeds Day #neighborhoodwatch. Then, they can choose whether they want to stay on-campus for social justice learning or off-campus for direct service.
Students can volunteer with Yachad, which refurbishes affordable homes, by helping to paint a home in Tacoma Park. Students can also visit a Jewish Group Home to bake and clean for the residents. If students choose to participate with Keen, they will play sports with children with developmental and physical disabilities in Virginia. Finally, students can go on an Outreach Run with the National Coalition for the Homeless to deliver supplies and stand in solidarity with the D.C. homeless population. Transportation will be provided.
“Throughout the year, we do these outreach runs on a monthly basis, have Shabbat dinner with the group homes, and we have students involved on a regular basis with Keen,” said Weiss, who took pride in the fact that Good Deeds Day will highlight organizations Hillel is already actively engaged with.
For students interested in learning about social justice, there are several opportunities for that too. CASA DE Maryland is sponsoring an immigrant to talk about her experience. The Juvenile Justice program Free Mind will discuss what can be done to improve the criminal justice system. Hunger in America, a major issue plaguing the country will host a discussion with the organization Mazon and Bread For America. Finally, there will be a Faces of the Homeless Panel from current and former homeless individuals followed by the outreach run with the National Coalition for the Homeless.
“I intern with the Free Minds Organization. I recruited them and got them involved with the event,” said junior sociology major Shayna Frankel. “I’m excited for the event because it’s an opportunity to share the juvenile justice system to the whole community and other issues that my Tzedek fellows are involved in.”
Do Good Deed Days is what Swerdlow considers as a Neighborhood Watch. “It is our responsibility to protect the neighborhood and be aware of issues going on around us and in our local communities,” she said.
“We’re hoping that people will learn about different social justice issues that affect our neighborhood and learn that social justice is a big part of Maryland Hillel,” Swerdlow added. “We hope that people will get inspired to get more involved.”