First Mitzvah Day aimed at uniting community

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Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

Mitzvah means “a precept or commandment; a good deed done from religious duty.” In Jewish tradition, there are not 10 commandments – as in the Christian Bible – but 613 mitzvot (Hebrew plural of mitzvah) derived from the Hebrew Bible. 

With this foundation in mind, the Macon County Interfaith Coalition hosts its First Annual Mitzvah Day: Day of Caring and Sharing, Saturday, June 1. The Coalition, established last year with a goal of bringing various faiths and denominations together to discuss differences and commonalities, invites the public to gather at 9:30 a.m. at Big Bear Park, 15 NE Main Street near the Greenway, and receive a free t-shirt as well as instructions on how to spread out into the community and do good deeds. According to organizer Joel Edelson, team captains will lead groups and groups will disperse with team leaders to multiple sites. 

Edelson said Mountain Synagogue, of which he is president, has been meeting for 40 years at All Saints Episcopal Church – St. Cyprian’s Chapel, which is under the parent church of All Saints Episcopal Church – St. Agnes Chapel. He explained how the Interfaith Coalition was founded. 

“Father Jonathan Stepp, with St. Agnes Chapel, is the new pastor there and we have always had a good relationship with that church. We invite each other to our respective services each year anyway. And one time we talked about how we could expand this into the whole community; that was the beginning of the Interfaith Coalition.”

The Coalition has a core group of six churches – Mountain Synagogue, All Saints Episcopal, First Presbyterian Church, The Baha’i Faith, The Spiritual Light Center, and The Unitarian Universalists. 

“We have had other groups check us out and we’re open to other organizations joining us in what we do,” said Edelson. “We’ve had community-wide potluck dinners and discussion groups to share common values … to talk about what makes us the same and to understand that we’re not that different.”

He said 100 people attended the first potluck. Last Thanksgiving, the group hosted an event and donated collected non-perishable foods to the food pantry of Highlands.  

“In Judaism there is a saying, ‘tikkun olam,’ which means repairing the world,” explained Edelson. “Mitzvah Day is an action behind us repairing the world in some little way. It is a concerted effort, on a single day, to bring the entire community together to spend one day volunteering with social justice projects/activities in the community. Volunteers choose from a variety of projects that cater to diverse interests, capabilities, and ages.”

After reaching out to Habitat for Humanity, Friends of the Greenway, Appalachian Animal Rescue, REACH, KIDS Place, and The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center, the Coalition learned that all those organizations required assistance with miscellaneous projects. At the June 1 event, participants will have a chance to volunteer at one of the different sites and lend a hand where needed. 

“We have almost 50 people registered so far to participate. People are encouraged to register at https://tinyurl.com/mitzvahdaymaconco, or they can just show up on the day of the event,” said Edelson.  The site also informs participants of some of the project details, as well as what to wear and bring. 

Based on the historic Mitzvah Day International, the local upcoming event is “to encourage people to give their time, rather than their money, to worthwhile local causes, whilst also creating deeper linkages within communities and supporting charities,” said Edelson.

Added Stepp, “This event is a wonderful opportunity for us to live out our faith by serving others and, just as importantly, to build friendships with people from other faith traditions. I think it’s a blessing for our community to be able to see different faith traditions work together in peace.”

Edelson said several organizations and companies are sponsoring the first annual Mitzvah event to help cover the cost of t-shirts and snacks. 

“Our goal is to have this every year,” he said. “We just want to give back and help where we can, and we want other denominations and religions to join us.”

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