Jewish, Muslim volunteers come together to help others
by Roberta Gutwein and Zubaida Ibrahim
Shortly before Christmas 2010, a small group of Jewish and Muslim families made plans to work together to help the needy on Christmas Day. Through a collaboration of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, the group arranged to deliver holiday baskets for clients of Bi-Lingual International Assistant Services. Snow was falling heavily the morning of the volunteer project, yet everyone showed up to deliver food and blankets to seniors and new immigrants. In the words of Benjamin Cedergreen, an 11-year-old volunteer, “It felt really good to help people and they were so happy when we showed up.”
Both communities realized something wonderful had happened that morning, and the seeds for the Jewish and Muslim Day of Service were planted. Through the work of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis and JCRC, the event now attracts over 600 volunteers every year and for these volunteers, Christmas has become a day of doing good deeds in our community and making meaningful connections with new friends.
This Dec. 25 marks the 3rd annual Jewish and Muslim Day of Service. The day starts with a welcome breakfast at the Jewish Community Center, where clergy from the Muslim and Jewish community offer words of inspiration for the day. As Jews, Muslims and other interested members of the community gather, there is a feeling of warmth and excitement. People, who might not ordinarily get to know each other meet to share a bagel and then head out to help the community.
After breakfast, volunteers go to over 20 sites from downtown St. Louis to St. Charles County to serve in a variety of ways. Some volunteers sign up to cook and deliver hot meals for the housebound, to make soup mix packets for food pantries, or to make toiletry packets for the Ronald McDonald house. Others deliver gift bags to families in need, take cookies to police and fire stations, make dog collars for the pets of those living with AIDS, or visit residents of nursing homes and the City Juvenile Detention Center. There are volunteer opportunities for all ages.
One of the hallmarks of the Day of Service is the positive impact it has on volunteers. Jennifer Bernstein, who participated last year with her 4-year-old son, and will be doing so again this year, said, “This is an amazing event that helps to teach our son what is really important — helping others. Last year, after the Sandy Hook massacre, my son told me he wanted the world to be happy. Through this event, he hopefully played a small role in doing just that.”
Azra Ahmed, another repeat volunteer, commented that, “It is such a privilege to serve the St. Louis community with my Muslim and Jewish friends. Working together to help others has become a family tradition on Christmas Day.”
Through the good work that is done, the volunteers come to recognize the shared values of their faiths. Aftab Chaudhry from the Islamic Foundation, who volunteered at United Hebrew Congregation last year packing toiletries, said that helping “comes from my faith, which teaches me to be nice to the neighborhood as well as the community in general without discrimination against any religion. That’s what I’m doing as part of my religious obligation.” Similarly, one of the pillars of Judaism is Gemelut Chasadim, which means deeds of loving kindness.
A volunteer from 2011 summed up what makes this event so special. After delivering a gift to a woman who did not speak English, she noted that her “face lit up, she broke into a huge smile and then she hugged me and kissed me on each cheek. That was our unexpected Christmas gift.”
If you would like to volunteer, go to www.stljewishmuslimdayofservice.org to learn more. We welcome all in the St. Louis region to participate in this meaningful day of service.
Roberta Gutwein is co-chair of the Jewish and Muslim Day of Service on behalf of the Jewish Community Relations Council. Zubaida Ibrahim is co-chair of the Jewish and Muslim Day of Service on behalf of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis.
Original post: Jewish, Muslim volunteers come together to help others