OTTAWA – The Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s 10th annual Mitzvah Day was bigger and better than ever as a wide variety of individuals and organizations participated both on site at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre and at various locations throughout the city.
Volunteer chair Tamara Scarowsky and her team worked for months on the Feb. 7 event, recruiting schools, synagogues and various organizations to come up with ideas for mitzvot that could be performed on the day. They also partnered with several new organizations this year, including Hair Donation Ottawa, a local non-profit organization that makes wigs out of donated hair for children suffering from medical hair loss.
Eli Cohen was one of four volunteer hairdressers who cut the hair to be donated.
“I did this last year at Hillel Lodge [seniors’ residence] and wanted to help out again,” he said. Nine people donated their hair, including one who made a spontaneous decision on the spot.
Some of the other activities available to volunteers that day were making sandwiches for the Ottawa Mission; braiding challahs to donate to the kosher food bank; putting together therapy kids to donate to Crossroads Children’s Centre, which helps children facing mental health issues; making gift baskets for women living in shelters; and collecting new or gently used work-appropriate handbags and jewelry for Dress for Success, an organization that helps women enter or re-enter the workforce.
“New activities this year emphasized Torah values, bringing the Jewish aspect into the day,” Scarowsky said.
“We had activities which highlighted honouring parents and also the radiance of Shabbat.”
Josh Engel, a partner in the accounting firm Ginsberg, Gluzman, Fage and Levitz, noted that his firm has been lead sponsor of Mitzvah Day for seven years.
“The notion of giving back to the community – and, in particular, the Jewish community – was started by our founding partners and continues today. It’s not just about putting our name on it, but it’s about taking part. We have 13 staff members participating in mitzvahs today,” he said at the event.
Federation president and CEO Andrea Freedman estimated that approximately 500 people volunteered.
“The day brings out an inspiring cross-section of community members of different generations,” she said. “We are teaching kids the value of making a difference in the world at a very young age, and hopefully that will stay with them.”
Several local city councillors attended, along with Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, the community safety and correctional services minister, who brought along his young son to teach him the value of helping others.
Naqvi, who has been attending Mitzvah Day for several years, helped with the hair cutting.
“I also wrote a letter to welcome our new Syrian friends and neighbours, and our message was ‘Welcome to one of the best countries in the world. Now it is your turn to give back,’” he said.
The day ended with festivities such as a draw for several sets of tickets to Ottawa Senators hockey games and ice cream for all.