W ith the approach of Good Deeds Day – March 5 in Israel, March 10 abroad – I’ve
been thinking about this growing global project to pump up the good in the
The first Good Deeds Day originated in Israel in 2007. Most of the
Good Deeds activity is still focused here, but activities have spread to a few
dozen other coun- tries. Unlike most campaigns, the pledges solicited on the
website aren’t for money.
Instead, you commit to a good deed – even a
minimally invasive one. There’s a list of suggestions, ranging from the near- ly
effortless “give a LIKE to a cause on Facebook,” to the slightly harder “hold
the door open for a stranger” or “allow a stranger in a rush to go ahead in
line,” to the more challenging acts of adopting a pet from a shelter or
volunteering for a charity walk.
I’ve logged on to the Good Deeds site
many times, and it’s always flooded with new pledges. For instance: Jacqueline
Melzer of Madera, California, has pledged to take items to a local food pantry.
Vale- ria Blancket of Torreon, Mexico, says she’ll make someone laugh. Glen
Pearson of Rainy River, Ontario, promises he’ll carry a reusable bag for
shopping. Karen Edwards of Boonville, Indiana, will donate blood, and Abhay
Singh Yadav of Kurokshetra, India will be courteous on the road.
Israel, most of the pledges have come from companies or groups, although there
are individual commit- ments, too. My friend Racheli will cut her long hair on
March 5 and donate it for a wig for cancer patients. But most of the more than
370,000 men and women who have signed up for good deeds will be joining more
than 5,000 projects, often taking time off from work with the encouragement of
President Shimon Peres and his office will lead the
effort by bringing fun, such as games and arts and crafts, to the men- tally and
physically challenged children of Shalva, a therapeutic center in Jerusalem. In
Migdal Ha’emek, Ethiopian newcomers and veteran Israelis will join in mutual
cooking lessons, sharing trade secrets for ethnic dishes. The kibbutzniks at
Netiv Ha’asara near the Gaza border are replanting a garden for the soldiers who
guard them. Kibbutz kids will decorate the protective wall with mosaics. Arab
and Jewish teens in Lod’s tough Rakevet neighborhood will spruce up the public
areas around the railroad tracks. The funds for paint, brushes and buckets will
come from Shari Arison, the Israeli busi- nesswoman and philanthropist who
initi- ated Good Deeds Day.
Doing good deeds is heralded in Judaism.
Although the phrase “to do a mitzva” derives from the language of fol- lowing a
Divine commandment, it’s the volunteer aspect of the good deed that feels so
good. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. The late Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, author
of Alei Shor , and a major modern exponent of the character-building sys- tem
called mussar , explains that when you do something nice for others, it pleas-
es them, but it also generates an uncom- fortable feeling of obligation. You
should go out of your way to make sure the recip- ient doesn’t feel beholden –
not to the point of prevarication – but to spin.
For instance (to the
charity book shop): “Thank you for taking these books off my hands – my shelves
Or: “I’m so glad to help put up your succa; my gym
membership ran out and I don’t get the exercise I need.”
You get the
The smaller the commitment, the more likely you are to fulfill it.
Hence, the web- site’s limited suggestions (you are free to create your own) are
not to be scorned.
Some of the examples of good deeds on the site have to
do with changing habits, like smiling and eating. Following Rabbi Wolbe’s lead,
I would recommend that those who pledge not commit “to eat healthy” or “smile
all day long.” To make changes, start very small. Smile at a stranger three
times on Good Deeds Day.
Choose whole wheat-bread instead of white for
One should be doing good deeds all the time, of course,
but sometimes we’re too busy or too annoyed to step aside and let someone else
get ahead of us in the line on parent-teacher conference night at the local
school. We might get the little extra incentive needed for the task, like bring-
ing last decade’s winter coat to a shelter, if it’s part of a greater effort.
I’m all for any- thing external that will goad me into overcoming my
The annual event is scheduled to fall two weeks before
Passover, in keeping with the holiday’s national energy of fix- ing and
cleaning, as well as the celebra- tion of freedom. True freedom means being your
best possible self.
HERE’S AN example of a small good deed that had a
positive effect on me recently.
I knew I was risking a hyperactive
supermarket experience last Thursday, when pre-Purim shoppers met pre- Shabbat
shoppers in the lines in one of Jerusalem’s supermarkets for the reli- giously
inclined. It was the perfect storm. There wasn’t a shopping cart left, so I
carried my purchases in the recyclable (yes, Glen Pearson – also here in
Jerusalem) shoulder bags I’d brought. By the time I got in one of the many long
lines of piled-high shopping carts, my own shoulder bags were heavy. I put them
down with a sigh.
Two tots were fooling around, running from line to
line, and knocked the con- tents out. Their father didn’t apologize or refill
them. I wasn’t pleased, despite the booming music about the Hebrew month of Adar
being the month of joy.
Then two teenaged English-speaking girls pulled
up behind me with their cart, filled with ingredients to make pretty Purim food
gifts, mishloah manot presents for the families that were hosting them this
year. I overheard them talking about it. They’d rejected the ready-made stuff in
favor of putting together their personal- ized presents. In their wagon was a
bottle of wine – exactly the kind I’d forgotten to buy, although it was on my
There was no way I was going to relin- quish my place in
line, or leave my bags unattended. Wine is kept in the very back of this huge,
congested store. We had a long time to wait.
“I forgot to get that wine,”
I said to one of the girls. Without missing a beat, she asked how many I wanted.
She was off in a dash to get me two bottles. Her good deed changed the entire
experience for me. I didn’t mind waiting. I liked the music.
get her name, but learned that she’s a student from Brooklyn, on a one- year
program at a seminary called P’ninim. I checked out the website and saw that
the goal of this school is self-development, called “Person’s Training,” and
that it aims to inspire students to appreciate anew what they have always
learned from parents and teachers (kudos!). For me, the ideas dovetailed with
Good Deeds Day.
I have a feeling that every day is a Good Deeds Day for
this lovely girl. Nonetheless, most of us can use a boost.
So here’s a
recommendation. Let’s do Passover shopping on March 5. We might find fellow
shoppers a little more considerate. Or even better, we might find our- selves
offering that harried Mom with the crying baby our turn in line.
author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern
Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns
are her own