On Sunday November 3, I had the pleasure of visiting Mitzvah Day sites from northern Passaic across Bergen to northern Hudson counties, watching our community build bridges and caring for each other.

A 10-year-old boy from Temple Beth Tikvah pushes an 87-year-old woman’s wheelchair at Clifton’s Daughters of Miriam Center/ Gallen Institute’s carnival. They’re playing a game of mock bowling, and they both laugh loudly when the bowling ball knocks over every pin. “Good job” he says to her, with a soft pat on her hand, and they go over to the prize table together. Young and old are together here, and at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, at the Federation Apartments in Paterson, at the Lillian Booth Actor’s Home in Englewood, and at Buckingham@Norwood.

The shelves are bare at CUMAC, the Center of United Methodist Aid to the Community in Paterson. BBYO girls from Wayne arrive. “Let’s fill them up,” they say. Volunteers return to this food bank year after year on Mitzvah Day. Each year, they look around, and they remember. “We painted that bathroom…” “We organized the thrift shop…” “We make a difference every time we are here.”

Twelve-year-old Mollie wondered how she could make a difference. What can a kid do? Then she had an idea. “Let me collect books as a bat mitzvah project.” And there she was in the lobby of Temple Israel in Ridgewood with stacks of books all around her, her eyes shining with pride. “This is how I can make a difference.”

The gym at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center is humming. Women sit together, knitting colorful works of art created to warm others, people who feel alone, desperate, hopeless. These women understand that each one of us can do something, but together we can do everything.

“Do you think the soldiers would prefer the chocolate chip or cranberry granola bars?” “White socks or black?” Sorting, packing, labeling, collecting. I care … We care …We appreciate you. Boxes sent off to our soldiers overseas.

And across the room are members of the Pomegranate Guild, whose mission is to keep needlework traditions alive by sharing the knowledge and techniques needed to create handcrafted items intended for both Jewish ritual and cultural use. They are busy. Children make blankets and stuff bears for other children and the elderly, both here and in Israel. “Mom, Mom, did I stuff this bear good for the little kids?” The site is dedicated to Edythe Fried, a volunteer in our community, who will be missed. The trees we plant bear fruit even when we are gone. What a wonderful thing!

A moment of silence at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes. Remembering Kathie Williams, another special woman in our community who was lost too soon. Sorting, folding, and packing baby clothing to send to Israel; Yachad, the National Council for Disabilities is helping out.

Bonim Builders volunteers renovate, retrofit, landscape, or do fix-it jobs for frail seniors, the disabled, and the low-income populations of northern New Jersey. They painted and freshened up the walls of the Family Promise’s day center, where homeless families and their children find a place to call home, if only temporarily, finding kindness among chaos.

And Tomorrows Children’s Institute’s hallways are filled. Young people from the Orthodox youth group NCSY have partnered with us here for many years. Children battling cancer and their parents and siblings must live with it every day, but today is the Mitzvah Day carnival, filled with cotton candy, games and prizes, edible art, and hope. Hope. Everywhere there is hope. Especially on the small pale drawn faces. “Anyone want some pizza?” Hope.

I end my day in the kitchen at the County of Bergen Housing, Health, and Human Services Center in Hackensack. The line stretches out the door and into the cold night air. Congregation B’nai Israel of Emerson is serving food to the hungry and needy – hot meatballs and pasta, salad, fresh bread, dessert. People’s needs are great, but tonight we take comfort that their stomachs are full. We feel good about the work we have done but we are also overwhelmed and inspired by how much more there is still to do.

Mitzvah Day 2013: 16 years, 44 sites, 5 blood drives, 42 organizations (5 new this year) collecting items for 27 drives (6 new), 1000+ volunteers. Next year we will be back – Mitzvah Day 2014!