On Sunday, April 11, Hillel students from around the world participated in Good Deeds Day, a global day for volunteering and community service.
Good Deeds Day (GDD) started in Israel in 2007 and has since spread to over 100 countries with millions of volunteers each year. Hillel International joined the global effort in 2013, with participation coordinated by Hillel Israel.
This year, even with COVID-19 restrictions, 64 Hillels registered to participate, with many performing multiple projects on GDD itself or in the weeks surrounding the event. Below are highlights of just some of the amazing volunteer projects arranged and performed by Hillel students:
In partnership with Jewish Family Services of the Lehigh Valley, students at Muhlenberg College Hillel students created and arranged beautiful bouquets of tissue paper flowers,delivered to older adults in the Allentown area to bring color to Shabbat and other holiday gatherings. Students also met with residents at a local home for Jewish adults with intellectual disabilities to connect over conversation and board games.
Walk-a-thon for Water
To accommodate for COVID-19 restrictions and students living off-campus and at home, Hillel at the University of Washington used GDD to launch a walk-a-thon fundraiser for innovation: africa, an Israeli nonprofit working to bring water and solar technology to Africa. During the fundraiser, which continues through April 29, students track their miles and ask friends and family for donations for the distance walked. The kick-off event, which took place on GDD, included a group walk to a local lake and a picnic lunch, and doubled as a way to start off Hillel UW’s Israel week celebrations.
Good Deeds Month
Hillel students across Russia performed over a dozen acts of service in their “Good Deeds Month,” which stretched from April 4-24. Students visited animal shelters, participated in blood drives, and helped with cleaning at assisted living facilities. Other projects included cooking and serving lunch and dessert to community members, knitting blankets to donate to long-term care facilities, and cleaning local parks.
Giveret im Salim
In Jerusalem, Hillel students volunteered as giveret im salim (women with baskets) to help elderly individuals at the Mahane Yehuda open market carry heavy bags and baskets. The students, who had a stand set up at a street corner, asked those they helped for “payment” in the form of a piece of advice or a story.
For Rutgers Hillel students, GDD isn’t just once a year, but once a semester: For over eight semesters, Hillel has been partnering with the campus Catholic Center to do community service projects as part of their interfaith programming. This year, the students worked on two projects; making cards for patients in a local hospital and working with the city to do a street cleanup.
Noa Vitenson, an English major and soon-to-be grad student in elementary education, participated in Good Deeds Day in the fall as well as this month: “I was so excited to welcome more people this past semester than in the fall, as the pandemic has gotten better and more people are getting vaccinated,” she reflected. “It was so great to get together after a long year of the pandemic to safely help our community. I loved getting to know people and helping out the community when I participated in the fall and would love to keep being a part during my time at Rutgers.”
Students at USC Hillel observed GDD three weeks early on March 18 with a blood drive benefiting the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA). With a donation van parked outside the USC Hillel building, CHLA reported that it registered 25 donors and collected 48 units of blood, which have the potential to help save up to 144 lives.
Shabbat and Succulents
Connecticut College Hillel also celebrated Good Deeds Day early this year with two different events: a succulent planting party and a Gift of Life Shabbat. In mid-March, nearly 50 students came to the Hillel house for a twist on a Tu B’Shevat tradition, where they had the opportunity to plant their own succulent “plant friend.” While planting, students also had the chance to learn about the Jewish values of sustainability and gemilut chasadim (“deeds of loving-kindness”). A few weeks later, the Hillel hosted a Gift of Life Shabbat, where students were able to hear from an organization ambassador, get swabbed, and join the Gift of Life registry.
On a rainy Sunday, Syracuse students gathered in the Hillel dining hall to work on two projects: assembling care packages for individuals experiencing homelessness and making cards for children in local hospitals. Students assembled 50 care packages to be distributed in the community, and created dozens of cards with lovely pictures and encouraging words to be given to the hospital patients.
First-year student Eva Jotkowitz, who was frequently involved with community service in high school, was eager to do the same in college. She explained, “Being a part of Good Deeds Day meant making a difference in other people’s lives. While it was only a few hours out of my day, I know what I did made a big impact on those who received the sanitary bags and the cards. [Being a part of Good Deeds Day] was a great opportunity to meet new people and be able to help others in the process.”
Ashley Price, Syracuse Hillel’s vice president of tzedek, played a major role in bringing Good Deeds Day to campus. “With COVID-19, the need for community service is higher than before, but opportunities are difficult to find. So, when I learned about Good Deeds Day, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring students together to serve the greater Syracuse community.”
She shared about the challenges of organizing the day, saying “in addition to the normal logistics, we also had to account for COVID guidelines and the individual comfort levels of those participating. [That’s part of why] I made the decision to offer our projects both in-person and virtually, which added the challenge of coordinating contactless pick-ups and drop-offs for virtual participants.” Ultimately, it was all worth it, as “everyone who wanted to participate had the opportunity to do so.”
The success of this year’s Good Deeds Day—even with the challenges presented by the pandemic—stands as a true testament to the Hillel GDD slogan of “students doing good globally.” As Price explained, “The best part of being involved was bringing our community together for a common cause. The pandemic has been extremely isolating, so it was nice that we were able to finally gather in a safe manner.
“Many of us love volunteering and giving back to the community, so we’ve been itching for opportunities. Good Deeds Day connected us not only to each other and the greater [campus and area] community but to the Jewish community as a whole.”