The Human Spirit: Good deeds day

Let’s do Passover shopping on March 5. We might find fellow shoppers a little more considerate.

Good Deeds Day logo 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Good Deeds Day logo 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 world.
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.
HERE IN 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 their employers.
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 were breaking.”
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 idea.
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 your sandwich.
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 resistance.
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 mental list.
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.
I didn’t 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.
The 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