Love thy neighbor
Yavneh program focuses on volunteer efforts
by Deborah Silverthorn
Special to DJW
Practice what you teach could be the motto at Yavneh Academy of Dallas.
"Lilmod al manat ma'asot, to learn in order to do," said the school's head rabbi, Michael Cytrin, "is an important part of what we hope to impart to our students. The notion that the Torah shouldn't just be a book to study, but one that teaches practical methods by which to live. That is the key to using the Torah in life and this exhibit of the Chesed Fair is an exact demonstration of that."
Cyrtrin was referring to a Yavneh program last week that brought students in grades nine-12 together for six presentations led by representatives from local volunteer organizations. The Chesed Fair, the school's first, was designed to introduce the students to ways they can serve their community while following the mitzvot they learn about in class.
The March 4 program "expressed the spirit and values of our school," said senior David Hoffman. "Everything we learn was supported and it makes you want to participate."
The event also demonstrated the practical aspects of Jewish Thought and Law, a course that students take through all four grades.
Amy Korenvaes participates in the mitzvah of bikur cholim, visiting the sick, in a less than conventional way.
For the past 15 years she has been a one-woman "clown in search of a unit," visiting hospitals with her backpack of puppets, stickers, bubbles and music.
"It's been proven that laughter helps healing and it's wonderful to see the patients smile. In addition, many of the nurses and doctors on the floors I visit find themselves laughing as well and it brightens the atmosphere," she said. "I've never had a child scream or be upset, and bringing joy into rooms where there sometimes isn't too much is a great feeling."
Junior Ben Kogutt plans do his own bikur cholim this summer, as a volunteer at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital.
"Lots of us already volunteer but a day like today inspires us to do more," said Kogutt, a volunteer religious school tutor, who also is involved in Students Against Terrorism.
Information alone, he said, "doesn't teach how to apply the mitzvot to our lives and these people are genuine examples of that."
Representing the Dallas Free Loan Society, Paul Chafetz pointed out that "the Torah says you shouldn't charge interest, as you should treat other Jews as your family and not make a profit on their distress."
The DFLS, a nonprofit organization funded entirely by private donations, has been offering interest-free loans to members of the Jewish community since 1935. Loans range from $250 to $15,000, and repayment arrangements vary.
Following a discussion of nonfinancial loans, such as equipment or material items, popular in many cities, a group of students suggested creating a baby-items loan association.
Jewish Family Service's coordinator of volunteer services Janine Pullman told the students that it's important to think through the volunteering opportunities available so that what they choose is meaningful. "There are hundreds of ways to help and there are many creative components of what doing a mitzvah is. Volunteering is teamwork as you work with an agency, the clients and other volunteers."
From adoption and Big Pal mentor programs to career and employment services, as well as kosher Meals on Wheels and financial planning and numerous support groups, JFS fills many needs, she said, reminding students that "Judaism isn't a self-centered religion."
"We are taught from the time we are young to do for others," Pullman said.
JFS publishes a "Mitzvah Central" booklet that provides opportunities for members of the community of all ages to participate in helping one another.
Sylvia Moskovitz, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas' director of planning and allocations, gave the teens an overview of the federation, explaining the process by which the organization's umbrella organization shares donations throughout the community and worldwide.
She also promised to follow up on the suggestion made that perhaps a student might be able to serve on the planning and allocations committee.
Patty Goldschmiedt, meanwhile, told students about the 2,000-year-old tradition of chevra kadisha, burial societies whose primary function is the preparation and burial of a deceased person in accordance with Jewish law.
Taking part in such a society is considered one of Judaism's greatest mitzvot - because the participants can never be repaid for their efforts, this mitzvah is called chesed shel emet or the ultimate good deed.
"This mitzvah is so close to my heart," said Goldschmiedt, who serves one of Dallas' chevra kadisha and showed students a film on the process. "It is very difficult, both emotionally and physically, but it is so meaningful and uplifting."
Rabbi Elliot Fischer, Yavneh's community service and activities coordinator, hopes the program will help the students "find new avenues through which to get involved in the community and to understand that 'love thy neighbor' really is an easy commandment to follow."
This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Thursday, March 13, 2003