Religions Ringing To Help

By Amelia Cochin
Published: April 2010

A person usually identifies with a certain religion because he or she feels connected with that religion’s beliefs. Most religious groups participate in volunteer activities or service. Even religions with   views may share a common tie with community service.

Many are commanded to do good deeds by their holy books or scriptures. In Judaism, the Torah preaches mitzvot: community service. My temple fulfills that commandment in many different ways.

When I was younger I attended Hebrew school at Temple Ohabei Shalom. The school always collected boxes of graham crackers and cans of tuna fish, although I never understood why. When my mom gave me boxes or cans, I always put it on the table with the other non-perishables and didn’t ask questions.

A couple years ago, my Hebrew school organized a trip to show kids where all the donated food went. My mother volunteered to go with my brother and I, and we spent the day at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Waltham. We volunteered at the food pantry, compiling food into bags of groceries for families who could not afford it.

After we prepared the packages, we delivered them to elderly men and women who were unable to go grocery shopping for themselves. When we arrived at their apartments, the first man to whom we delivered food was unspeakably grateful. He gave my brother a huge hug and kiss and even gave him a piece of chocolate.

After seeing the huge impact this food made in someone’s life, I wanted to get more involved.

This year, Ohabei Shalom started its first post-confirmation class for juniors and seniors who were interested in doing more community service. We are currently studying the TELEM curriculum, which focuses on community service. There are several different “tracks that a class can choose, including hunger and homelessness, connecting generations, literacy, and special needs. My class is participating in the “connecting generations track. As part of our community service project, we went to the Goddard House in Brookline every other Monday and led group discussions with the residents there.

We spent the time teaching them about different Jewish traditions. They really enjoyed learning about our various experiences and customs. We also discussed my temple’s recent congregational trip to Israel. The residents liked hearing about the trip and the fun activities we did. Although those discussions are now finished, I enjoyed my time there. I will never forget the people I met and the experiences I had at the Goddard House.

The residents also loved learning about our time at the Jaffa Institute.  The Jaffa Institute is an after school program for children living in a very poor and at-risk neighborhoods. Most of the children have parents who are immigrants and don’t have any family members who have gone to college.

The program has been successful in turning around the lives of many children. A few kids even came back to work for the program after graduating high school. Helping these kids, who sometimes only ate one meal a day and worked because their parents couldn’t support them, was inspiring. We made a difference in those children’s lives and how they viewed their futures.

There are so many religions in the world that value community service. Countless people want to change the world, and an infinite number of things can be done in everyday life to make a difference in other people’s lives.

In my case, my religious affiliation with my temple involved me in my community, and it even led me to extend my service to somewhere as far away as Israel. No matter what your religion is, it can likely connect you with the world and help improve your community.

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