Balls in Bergen County may be closed on Sundays, but once a year there is an exception: Barnert Temple’s Mitzvah Mall, sponsored by the congregation’s Social Action Committee. This year, the eighth annual Mitzvah Mall, which took place at the synagogue on Sunday, March 18, has taken in $’4,000 so far, said committee co-chair Lisa Margolis of Mahwah.
Religious schools students with their parents and other congregants, representing more than half the congregation, flocked to Barnert’s Franklin Lakes facility to learn about the 10 organizations the committee had selected after a lengthy research and review process.
At the booth for the NJ Sharing Network, Barnert religious school director Sara Losch of Wyckoff, second from left, is flanked by her parents, Lily and Rick Lanin of Queens. Rick Lanin had a liver transplant six months ago, and Dan Bonner, right, received his liver transplant two years ago.
Each year, Barnert identifies different social service agencies in need of support by examining their missions and how they spend their money. "We prefer those with little to no overhead," said Margolis. Committee member Ron Lynn, who has been involved for a number of years, spends "untold hours," said Margolis, reading news accounts and consulting with the Ziv Tzedakah Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides information on smaller, under-funded projects.
Variety is also a factor in the committee’s deliberations. Poverty, hunger, Holocaust studies or memory, domestic violence, the environment, the elderly, disease and disabilities, animal welfare, Israel, and world peace are all issues of concern, and the committee tries to pick a charity involved in each one. Once the voting is complete, agencies are invited to set up tables at the Mitzvah Mall with brochures and other educational material. Attendance is mandatory for Barnert’s religious school students. "We make a big deal of this," said Margolis, calling the Mitzvah Mall among the synagogue’s "top five annual events at which money is raised for outside causes." A luncheon follows, extending the morning’s educational value. Rabbi Joel Soffin, who is filling in for Rabbi Elyse Frischman while she is on sabbatical, spoke to a multi-generational crowd about the importance of social action.
Tikkun olam, repairing the world, has long been a hallmark of this activist Reform community, as it has of Soffin’s spiritual leadership. On April 16, Margolis and her co-chair, Marni Neuberger, a resident of Allendale, will accept the Irving J. Fain Social Action Award from the Union for Reform Judaism on behalf of the congregation at a movement-wide social action conference in Washington. They were selected, said Margolis, for raising $6′,000 last year during an educational and advocacy event at the synagogue called "Walk, Run, Ride, and Jump for Darfur." The temple rented treadmills and stationary bicycles, and people asked friends and relatives to sponsor their exercise time and distance. Children got in on the act, too, getting others to sponsor them jumping rope and hula-hooping. The congregation also hosted a survivor of the Darfur ethnic cleansing who spoke to small groups throughout the day about his experience; participants wrote hundreds of postcards to President Bush requesting that he stop the genocide; they created a giant poster, which they took to the rally for Darfur last April in D.C.; and they sold T-shirts to raise awareness of the plight of Darfuran refugees.
The money was donated to American Jewish World Service and to a Darfur rehabilitation project based in Newark.
Margolis said that contributions are still being accepted to the charities represented at this year’s Mitzvah Mall. To contribute, call the synagogue office, (’01) 848-1800, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations may be earmarked for one or more of the charities; a general contribution will be divided equally among the participating groups. (See box.)