Pop-up goes the mitzvah
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Pop-up goes the mitzvah

Federation encourages bringing the mitzvah madness home

Federation volunteers pack backpacks for supplies for success program.
Federation volunteers pack backpacks for supplies for success program.

The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey is looking for would-be mitzvah entrepreneurs.

The requirements: A desire to help people. And the ability to organize a group to donate and pack supplies for people in need.

The Paramus-based philanthropy used to run such kit-packing programs in its own offices. Now, it’s spreading the do-goodery throughout pop-up programs in northern New Jersey’s homes and institutions.

The federation is signing up these mitzvah entrepreneurs as part of a three-pronged “March Mitzvah Madness” that begins with its Super Sunday phoneathon on March 3 and wraps up with a food drive sort-and-pack operation on March 31.

The federation has prepared colorful instructions on how to organize a pop-up mitzvah program. The goal is to donate and package supplies for one of three kits — or all three at once.

One kit consists of a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss in a clear zipper bag, to be distributed to shelters. The second are snack packs for children. And the third are packages of activity books for hospital patients and seniors.

“I decided to take all three of the pop-up options,” Michal Levison of Franklin Lakes said.

Ms. Levison is co-chair of the federation’s Supplies for Success program, in which volunteers gather at its Paramus office to pack backpacks with school supplies for needy kids. Now, she’s going to bring the same spirit of mitzvah goodness home, as she hosts a Sunday brunch next month. There, she and her family and friends hope to pack hundreds of the bags.

To gather the supplies, Ms. Levison set up an Amazon gift list so people can order the supplies to be sent to her house. “I found activity books and sodoku puzzles and colored pencils and other things to keep patients occupied,” she said.

She’s been spreading word of her packing brunch on Facebook and through email and phone calls. She has a bin on her porch “to collect the stuff if anyone wants to drop it off.” And with the Amazon list, “it’s as easy as clicking through and checking out.”

She’s excited that the pop-up mitzvah program “lets people do it in a more local fashion within their community, as opposed to having to gather in one central location. Hopefully they’ll want to come over and enjoy some food while also doing good.”

As an organizer, “You can find sponsors who can donate the products. Or setting up the Amazon buying list is very simple. You pick the items you want to be on the list, then people can buy off the list.”

Her daughters are in second and fifth grade at the Academies at Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland. “They asked all of their classmates to participate,” she said.

For Ilana Picker of Teaneck, the pop-up mitzvah project will serve as the capstone of a year-long program she’s been running at Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck called Bridging the Gap, which brings together teens and seniors for discussion and dinner.

For the last meeting in the program, in March, “we’re going to let the teens and seniors work together to pack snack bags for kids,” Ms. Picker said.

The monthly meetings, which began in the fall, start with joint Torah study. And then the teens interview the seniors. “I thought it would be extraordinary for our teens to learn from our seniors,” Ms. Picker said. “Some have survived Kristallnacht. Some survived the Depression living in the Bronx.

“The idea is to bring together the two cohorts and form relationships,” she continued. “The teens get to hear the seniors’ stories and learn from them, and the seniors really get to know our teens. The whole idea is to have the older and younger generations who are part of the same community form a relationship.

“We’re so focused on our own little cohort. The seniors feel intimidated by the teens, the teens feel intimidated by the seniors. We’re breaking that down. We can learn from each other, share meals together, do mitzvot together.

“Doing a mitzvah crosses ages,” she said. “I’m so grateful that for our final project we can do this mitzvah together.”


What: Super Sunday Phone-a-thon

When: Sunday, March 3, 10 a.m.

Where: Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, 50 Eisenhower Drive, Paramus

To register: jfnnj.org/mmm-supersunday/

What: Pop-Up Mitzvah Drives

When: All of March

Where: Wherever you want

More info: jfnnj.org/marchmitzvahmadness/

What: Mega Food Drive

When: Throughout March, culminating Sunday, March 31, 1 p.m.

Where: Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, 50 Eisenhower Drive, Paramus

More info: jfnnj.org/marchmitzvahmadness/

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