In a regular year, the students of The Moriah School spend Election Day skating with friends. This has become a favorite school tradition, with many of the students and parents taking advantage of a day off to enjoy spending time with friends while utilizing one of Englewood’s best attractions—Mackay Park.
This year, when the Moriah Association of Parents (MAP) realized that having a skating event at Mackay would not comply with the COVID-19 regulations and the “new normal,” MAP got to work and created an alternative—the first Moriah Mitzvah Day.
The day was the brainchild of parent volunteer Rachel Tkatch, and was structured as an event where all students had the opportunity to participate in chesed throughout the day. Given that the event coincided with Election Day, there was an educational component where students also learned about the shared American and Jewish values of community responsibility. All chesed activities and educational components were designed to be age appropriate for the students.
The day began with a Zoom lesson for early childhood on the importance of charity, and each student decorated a tzedakah box provided by MAP. Justin Pines, a parent volunteer, led the amazing online discussion by asking the children various questions so that they could understand the many communities that they are a part of (home, school, Jewish community, American community) and the responsibilities they have to maintain each community. The discussion was also facilitated by Divsha Tollinsky, head of early childhood. The program concluded with the students sharing their finished tzedaka boxes with their friends on Zoom. “This program allowed students to engage with each other outside of the classroom and outside of their pods, which is much more difficult these days given all of the COVID-19 restrictions.” said Pines.
The elementary aged children participated in the day with their class pods. Each class was hosted in the backyard of a fellow student which allowed the students to participate in person. “We are extremely fortunate for the incredible Moriah families who opened their homes to their children’s classmates. Without their support and willingness to host, we would not have been able to put on this program.” said Aliza Schwalbe, co-president of MAP. The host families also led an educational program focused on our responsibilities and obligations as American citizens, and members of the Jewish community—and how we cannot take our right to vote for granted. A major focal point was learning about the concept of performing deeds of justice through giving tzedaka. To emphasize the importance of tzedaka and taking care of the community, each student completed a chesed activity.
The first and second graders created appreciation bags for every police officer and firefighter in the town of Englewood. The bags were filled with different candies which represented the type of dedication these essential workers model for our community on a daily basis. The bag included caramel cubes for “helping people out of sticky situations,” mints for “keeping their cool on the job” and gum “for working hard to keep their units together.” Each bag was decorated with a poem that explained the bag contents and what each candy signified. MAP co-president Ayelet Rosen explained, “We organized this project to show appreciation to the Englewood Fire and Police Departments and the work these local heroes do to keep our community safe. We wanted the children to recognize how important it is to show gratitude to those who work so hard for us each day.”
The third through fifth graders also gathered in the backyard of a classmate, divided by pod and they put together Shabbat boxes for Chesed 24/7. The boxes will be delivered to Jewish patients at local hospitals on Erev Shabbat. These boxes included Shabbat candles, the bracha of welcoming in the Shabbat and even a small vase with a flower to brighten up the mood of a hospitalized patient. “It is the hope that the boxes put together by Moriah students will be donated to Englewood Hospital and will give hospital patients a little bit of joy and a feeling of home during their hospitalization,” commented Tkatch.
The middle school students did their chesed activities in the East Hill Synagogue parking lot running three different initiatives, divided by grade. The sixth graders sold pizza, with the proceeds benefiting the Center for Food Action (CFA). The seventh graders collected cans and dry pantry goods also for CFA. The eighth graders collected gently used jackets and coats which were delivered to The Woman’s Center to be donated to local residents over the next couple of months. The director of The Women’s Center could not believe how many bags of coats were brought in after just a one day collection and according to Lesley Greenblatt, case manager at The Women’s Center, “The coats are truly needed and we have had our first customers already.”*
From family sponsorships and pizza sales, MAP was able to donate over $1,500 to the Center for Food Action. Rabbi Alter, head of school at Moriah, commented “We were inspired to see so many of our students using their day off from school in a productive fashion, taking the lessons they have learned from their teachers and applying them to their own lives and working to make the world a better place.” The students thrived in their specific chesed activities and their understanding and thought-provoking participation relating to the lessons of American and Jewish citizenship permeated the actions central to the day.
As everyone tries to find silver linings to this pandemic, Moriah staff is delighted to say that they were able to organize a new, meaningful and educational Election Day activity that impacted students and the greater Englewood Community. They hope to be able to partake in doing both activities next year in health!
*For anyone in need of food supplements please visit the Center for Food Action website at www.cfanj.org. If you are in need of a winter coat please call WRIC for an appointment at 201-568-1166.