The Union of Jewish Women South Africa (UJW SA), a national NGO with branches across the country, celebrated Mitzvah Day in November 2022, as it has done for many years.
Mitzvah Day is an international event that brings together over 40,000 people around the world – Jewish and non-Jewish – who come together to give their time rather than their money to make a difference to people and the planet.
An important theme of Mitzvah Day 2022 in South Africa was “Be the Sunshine for Those around You”, and all the branches were involved. To quote what it means to the UJW: “Doing a mitzvah is more than just a kind thought, it is the ACT of empathy and kindness. It is doing a good deed, (the word ‘deed’ is a palindrome, it can be spelt backwards and forwards and means the same thing). This is important to remember… doing a good deed is beneficial to both the recipient and the doer. You are spreading your love and kindness and in doing so both of your hearts are filled with an overwhelming feeling of warmth and kindness. Be the sunshine and warm hearts today and every day!”
Among the many projects undertaken, one of the branches arranged for an ice-cream truck to visit a local home for impoverished elderly people. They were delighted and most appreciative when they each received a soft serve ice-cream – they seldom get something so unusual, and their happiness was reflected in their smiles.
Children from the Judaica Centre of a small Jewish Day School were each encouraged to donate a bar of chocolate, and in return they were each given an ice lolly. The chocolates were then donated to residents of the Jewish Beth Shalom Home, Jewel House, and the Masada workshops; and in this way the children participated in Mitzvah Day and learned the value of giving to those who had less.
“Mama Flo” is a UJW branch that provides sanitary towels, sexual education and love and caring to girls and women in some of the very needy townships across South Africa. The young volunteers of Mama Flo arranged a 5 km walk designed to raise awareness around period poverty nationally. It was a huge success with many people joining the 5 km walk, making donations and listening to the inspiring Mama Flo ambassadors.
In another Mitzvah Day project, UJW volunteers prepared hundreds of packs of toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap which they delivered to every child at a local primary school. Many of the children come from deprived backgrounds, so this was a huge treat for them. UJW volunteers also visit the same school regularly to read to the children and assist them with their studies.
Mitzvah Day was also celebrated at another children’s home which houses 89 abandoned children and 40 carers. The children were given sweets and other goodies, and the general feeling among volunteers was that it was so rewarding to treat them to something other than the meals they regularly received. Volunteers also supplied girls in a local school with 240 packets of sanitary towels, without which many of them would miss school because of period poverty. This is an international problem which affects girls around the world; and the UJW SA is mindful of this and tries to alleviate the issue where and when it can across the country.
Volunteers packed and delivered lovely party packs to abandoned and orphaned children at yet another children’s home. Their excitement knew no bounds, for they seldom if ever receive anything exciting for themselves other than a meal and shelter. Other homes receiving Mitzvah Day gifts were a home for the aged and an Open Air School Hostel for physically impaired children.
One of the most fulfilling UJW projects is called “Bags for New Beginnings”. These bags are filled with a host of products for newborn babies, many of whose mothers would otherwise leave the hospitals with almost nothing for their babies; and while this project continues throughout the year, a special Mitzvah Day delivery undertaken at hospitals across the country brought with it an outpouring of joy and appreciation from the mothers.
These are but a sampling of the projects undertaken by the very valued volunteers of the UJW SA on Mitzvah Day. Throughout the year babies, children, mothers, the elderly and infirm, the destitute and the disadvantaged, are given hope and assistance by the UJW; they are educated and empowered; their voices are heard through the volunteers. But on Mitzvah Day and Mandela Day (July 18), they get more than their urgent needs: they get something that brings them excitement and thrills, makes them smile, and creates much needed light and sunshine in their otherwise difficult lives.