Monday, January 20, was a bitterly cold, blustery day, but that didn’t stop more than 5,000 volunteers from participating in service projects on more than 60 sites in the New York area as they pitched in on UJA’s MLK Day of Service to “Make Time for Good on MLK Day.” In Westchester, hundreds of volunteers mobilized forces in support of UJA-Federation of New York’s MLK Day of Service.
At The Harold and Elaine Shames JCC on the Hudson in Tarrytown, more than 230 volunteers assembled to decorate Blizzard Boxes, emergency kits containing non-perishable food for senior centers and food pantries. Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale was the site of more than 200 teen volunteers from J-Teen Leadership, who engaged in sorting and packing humanitarian and medical supplies collected through teen-run collection drives for victims of natural disasters. The JCC of Mid-Westchester saw more than 210 volunteers, plus at least 10 or more staff members, sorting children’s and adult books to be distributed to clients of various Westchester Jewish Community Services, UJA nonprofit partners. Volunteers, mostly from Southern Westchester, also decorated LED bookmarks for young readers and could be seen reading to young children on site.
Lisa Itzkowitz, assistant director, marketing and communications, Westchester, thinks that people were motivated to attend the event at the JCC of Mid-Westchester “because UJA’s MLK Day of Service gives people an opportunity to give back and be part of a major community-wide effort to address vital needs in our area.”
She continued, “The response to this initiative, as well as other volunteer projects that have taken place in the wake of emergencies and natural disasters, has shown that what connects us is stronger than what divides us—such an important message always—and of course now given the rise in anti-Semitism and hate crimes.”
MLK Day 2020 was the fourth annual MLK event. Starting with 2,000 people in 2017, this year saw the numbers balloon tremendously as people of all ages and stages heeded the message about UJA’s volunteer opportunities. Young families, looking to share their Jewish values with their children, attended these events and demonstrated their hands-on approach to “giving back to the community.”
Georgette Blau from New Rochelle, who was at the JCC of Mid-Westchester with her son, Benjamin, decided to volunteer “to show my son, Benjamin, who is 8 years old, how important it is to volunteer. I want to show (him) that it is so important to help others who are less fortunate than we are.”
Relating MLK Day to Jewish values, Chani Kovacs Zweiter, development executive for UJA-Federation of New York’s Westchester campaign, shared, “MLK was a person who spoke about the importance of banding together for a higher purpose, regardless of one’s background, and highlighted the ability to change the local community as well as the nation through service. These values align with Jewish values of caring for the greater community, believing that we are all made in the image of God, and the importance of chesed to make the world a better place.”
Shoshana Shmuel from Fleetwood attended the event with her children, Kalanit, age 11, and Hadas, age 6, students at Westchester Torah Academy. Shmuel explained that her children were given an assignment to do something positive in honor of MLK Day and, following up on the good time they had at last year’s MLK event at the JCC, decided to participate again.
Sydney and Jordan Solomon of Scarsdale, who attended Monday’s MLK Day with their son Cooper and nieces Dylan and Chloe, shared, “Coming together with others to do something to brighten someone else’s day is a fulfilling experience. We decided to volunteer because we believe in teaching kindness not just with our words but with our actions. We continually support the Jewish community through UJA and are thankful they continue to create opportunities for us to give back.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.” The Westchester community took those words to heart. UJA’s “Make Time for Good on MLK Day” event transformed Dr. King’s vision and inspiration into positive action.
By Yvette Finkelstein