While many Christians will celebrate Christmas with church, presents and a family dinner there are thousands of people in the metro Detroit area that will get the day off, but have little to celebrate.
It’s why for several decades people of the Jewish faith have taken advantage of the day to step up volunteer efforts during what’s now called “Mitzvah Day.” They have also joined together with those of Muslim faith to give back.
“It’s a day we’re proud of,” said David Kurzmann, a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council and AJC. “It’s a day that, for decades now, has become a family tradition.”
Nearly 1,000 Jewish and Muslim volunteers spread themselves across Detroit on Christmas to take part in ‘mitzvahs’ — good deeds — helping Detroit area social service agencies in 51 different communities.
“We can enable the Christian employees here to take some time to be with their families and take the place of some regular volunteers from the Christian community that would regularly be here,” said Kurzmann.
One of the areas they helped on Sunday was Christ Church. It was the staging area for hundreds of meals that needed to handed out for Meals on Wheels Detroit.
Rosemary Hogan, a Christian who has been working with Meals on Wheels for years, said she was grateful to see the extra help.
“I’ve come to know quite of few of the volunteers over the past few years,” said Hogan.
Hogan said Christmas is a wonderful day to give back, though it’s also a tough reality to see how much help is needed.
“People have to depend on this meal, this one meal,” said Hogan. “Some people will make this meal last a couple days, even three days.”
Hogan said it’s why she’s glad there’s a little extra help from the volunteers taking part in Mitzvah Day.
According to the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC, many grandparents, parents and children will volunteer together as families.
In addition to helping out with Meals on Wheels, there was also scheduled events at nursing care facilities, toy deliveries, while other volunteers may actually roll up their sleeves and cook meals that will be served to those in need.
For the Jewish volunteers, this is an extra special Mitzvah Day. While Chanukah moves around on the calendar, this year it fell on the calendar in such a way that Christmas also marks the first full day of Chanukah.
Kurzmann said that makes the work more special because their religion calls on giving back.
“It’s part of Jewish tradition,” said Kurzmann, “with today being Mitzvah Day, it’s special. A mitzvah is a commandment. A positive good deed. So we’re obligated by our tradition to give back, and an eight day festival of Chanukah gives us many opportunities to celebrate.”