Jewish Federation families give back on Christmas Day

For The Baltimore Sun
"Eat Chinese food, open presents, watch a movie and save the world." That's the motto for Mitzvah Day.

“Eat Chinese food, open presents, watch a movie and save the world.”

That’s the motto behind “Mitzvah Day,” a unique series of volunteer opportunities organized by the Jewish Federation of Howard County on Christmas Day.

“The reason we do this is that on Dec. 25 there’s nothing for our families to do that day, and it provides an activity that’s good for everyone,” says Meghann Schwartz, senior associate of campaign and community engagement for the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

Last year more than 250 people volunteered during the day in two-hour time slots through activities held at different sites around the county.

This December the organization has paired up with Lorien Columbia senior community on Cedar Lane, Bet Yeladim preschool, Food on the 15th and Days End Farm Horse Rescue, among others, offering a little bit of everything for volunteers to take part in and encouraging the art of giving back. 

“We are partnering with the Jewish Federation for Mitzvah Day because we want to provide a rewarding experience for children of any age and their parents,” says Julie Rosenthal, founder and director of Food on the 15th.

The organization provides a food pantry, sponsored by the Asian Studies Program at the University  of Maryland, Baltimore County, where Rosenthal works as a program management specialist, for low-income Asian seniors.

“Helping to deliver food to a low-income senior citizen building in Howard County brightens the day of not only the residents living at the building that is receiving the delivery, but also the students, parents and families doing the delivery,” says Rosenthal. 

This December marks the second year that Bet Yeladim preschool in Columbia has partnered with the Jewish Federation for the event. Last year families packed lunches for Grassroots homeless shelters and made cards for soldiers in Afghanistan. 

“We had a great turnout that day, and everyone left feeling good about what they did,” says Alisha Rovner, president of Bet Yeladim’s board of directors. “My hope for the event is that families find a meaningful way to spend the day by doing something good for others.  Giving back to the community is such an important lesson to teach children, and they are never too young to learn it.” 

For Clarksville resident Andrea Levinson and her family, Mitzvah Day is about passing on the importance of volunteering to the next generation. 

“I hope that my kids can see how extending kindness to others can really make a difference in the lives of those we help, but also in our own lives,” says Levinson, who volunteered with her husband and two children during the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s Mitzvah Day last year by singing Christmas carols and greeting seniors at Harmony Hall Assisted Living Facility. 

She says her family plans on making it a yearly event. 

“I hope my kids will learn that it feels good to make other people feel good and that they will incorporate volunteering into their lives as adults,” she says.  

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