My word: Doing good is going strong

Any day can be a Good Deeds Day and tikkun olam can begin at home, as a way of life.

GOOD DEEDS DAY gets colorful at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center. (photo credit: ELI DASSA)
GOOD DEEDS DAY gets colorful at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center.
(photo credit: ELI DASSA)
One good turn deserves another, so 1.1 million good deeds deserve at least a mention in a humble column, especially as similar selfless acts are spreading from Israel around the world.
More than a million Israelis marked Good Deeds Day on March 28. Doing good is a growth industry. International Good Deeds Day will be held on April 2, when volunteers will be thinking and acting positively in 93 countries.
Good Deeds Day is one of Israel’s best exports, right up there with Waze and the disk-on-key (flash drive). It is a modern adaptation of an ancient precept: “Derech eretz kadma latorah,” that behaving as a decent human being comes before everything else.
Creating a specific day dedicated to doing good was the idea of businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison, who launched the project 11 years ago via Ruach Tova (Good Spirit), her nonprofit, which is part of the Ted Arison Family Foundation.
“We have built an immense infrastructure of good deeds,” Arison said in a press statement ahead of this year’s events. “Each individual can do a good deed, but togetherness creates power. Together we can shift the pendulum to the positive side, tapping into a tremendous source of hope.”
It is easy to mock Arison’s feel-good approach – who doesn’t believe we, too, might have a happier attitude were we the country’s richest woman, heir to a family fortune, whose family business includes being the major stakeholder of a bank (Hapoalim, in the case of the ever-smiling Arison)?
But she seems to be on to something because the project gets bigger from year to year, and part of the attraction is its simplicity. It is much easier to commit to participating in a one-off project than to dedicating time and energy in ongoing voluntary and philanthropic works.
In the beginning, in 2006, some 7,000 people took part. But all that positive energy has created its own momentum and now nearly all municipalities in the country, representing all sectors of the Israeli population, and hundreds of schools, academic institutions, businesses, organizations and the IDF, offer their services as part of the project.
The activities were as varied as the participants and included volunteers painting houses and daycare facilities for the elderly; cleaning up beaches and parks; renovating daycare facilities for children at risk; planting and tending community gardens; packing and delivering food packages for the needy; and recycling projects.
Among my favorites are the hair stylists who volunteered their services cutting hair to be donated to make wigs for cancer sufferers. In a “pet cause” close to my heart, the members of the Jerusalem Municipal Veterinary Services carried out necessary renovations at the Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and veterinarians volunteered their time and surgical skills to neuter dogs and cats at the shelter to help keep the city’s stray animal population down. The JSPCA and other animal groups also used the day as a marketing tactic, the perfect date to adopt a four-legged friend for life.
The suggested good deeds on the Good Spirit website range from small to big, starting with a suggestion to smile at strangers, something that can be done anywhere, any time. The events in Ramat Gan showed the range of possibilities: Photos from a town square include a high-school student dressed as a panda offering free hugs. Among the stands promised by the organizers were a spot to write greetings cards; a “give and take” market to recycle household items (perfect ahead of Passover); free plant saplings; a story-telling area; information booths on different charities; a Magen David Adom bloodmobile for those who wanted to donate blood; and a place to sign up for an ADI (National Transplant and Organ Donation) card – talk about a good deed living on.
As Arison posits, we are all rich with potential, body and soul when it comes to doing something good and being a positive force.
IT’S NEVER too late to start, but obviously it’s easier to grab kids while they are young and make doing good a part of their lives.
The Israeli state education system considers fostering a spirit of volunteering an essential part of the curriculum. Students from 10th grade on have to participate in a 60-hours-a-year “personal commitment” program, volunteering in projects including helping in hospitals, health fund clinics and old-age homes; serving with the ambulance, police or fire services; packing food packages for the needy; repairing old computers for use by those unable to afford new ones; and helping children with illnesses and disabilities.
My curiosity piqued, I tossed the question among my Facebook friends to see if other countries have “mandatory volunteering” requirements. A friend in Hungary noted a relatively new compulsory 50-hours program for high-school students as a prerequisite to taking final exams in their last year. Canadian friends (and relatives) overwhelmingly responded that schools (at least in Ontario) require 40 hours a year of service.
Many of those who attended Jewish day schools, or whose children go to Jewish day schools, in the US and UK also answered affirmatively; others in the UK and Australia were encouraged to participate in projects like the Duke of Edinburgh’s youth achievement award project.
Then I realized it doesn’t stop after high school: Most Israeli teens are drafted into the IDF. Many others volunteer for a form of civilian service instead. It’s not rare to meet a young Israeli who did some kind of voluntary gap-year project before or after military service. And the peculiarly Israeli form of reserve military duty (miluim) means that many men (and some women) carry on giving for decades, even when the going gets very tough.
Israelis intuitively know, however, that hard times such as war and waves of terrorism bring us together and encourage people to be nicer. It’s our perversity in adversity, making us stronger the more our enemies attack us.
For the fourth year running, the annual World Happiness Report published on March 21 by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network ranked Israel as the 11th-happiest country in the world in 2017. Prepared by the network and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the report ranks 155 countries by happiness levels, using variables such as GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy, as well as social support, generosity, freedom to make life choices and perceived absence of corruption. This year’s top 10 countries are Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. If it weren’t for the perceived corruption clause, Israel could probably make it into the top 10. It’s something to aim for. The current ranking, no mean achievement, seems to stem from the longevity and social togetherness. Perfect strangers love to help in emergencies.
The Ted Arison Family Foundation presents its worldview as rooted in three Jewish values: charity, acts of loving-kindness and tikkun olam (repairing the world). But obviously you don’t have to be Jewish to share these values.
Any day can be a Good Deeds Day and tikkun olam can begin at home, as a way of life. My good deed for the day? Sharing the good news.
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