The common perception is that a “mitzvah” is a good deed. “I did a mitzvah today” is an expression often heard following an act of kindness done by one person to another.

Mitzvah, however, means commandment, not good deed. Caring for the aged, providing shelter for the homeless, seeing to the needs of the poor, all are mitzvot, all are things Jews are obligated to do. The mitzvot make up the job description of the Jewish people.

On Sunday, November 3, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and its Jewish Community Relations Council will sponsor their annual Mitzvah Day. This year’s theme is “Building Bridges in Our Community,” and we are impressed and pleased at how many segments of our community are coming together for it. As its mission statement puts it, Mitzvah Day is an opportunity to put “Jewish values in action.”

Mitzvah Day affords us the opportunity to be “true to our faith and yet a blessing to others regardless of their faith,” as Lord Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s recently retired chief rabbi, recently said.

Every day is Mitzvah Day, or it should be, but our busy lives do not always allow us to focus on the many tasks that need doing. The annual JFNNJ event is an occasion to focus on those tasks and the Jewish mission, and to teach our children to do the same. We encourage parents to encourage their children to join them on Mitzvah Day, and to use the next three weeks to promote the notion that performing mitzvot is what being Jewish is all about.

For a better understanding of Judaism and its mission, we also encourage adults of all streams to sign up for the Hebrew University’s Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, which JFNNJ sponsors in our area.