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Washington Heights Congregations Lend a Hand on Mitzvah Day

By Nigel Chiwaya | January 15, 2013 2:49pm

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — They came, they crocheted, they conquered.

Dozens of volunteers from three Washington Heights synagogues and from around the neighborhood gathered Sunday to perform community service for the area's first annual Mitzvah Day.

More than 50 volunteers from Beth Am the People's Temple, the Fort Tryon Jewish Center and the Hebrew Tabernacle of Washington Heights crocheted hats and scarves for the homeless, prepared get well cards for sick children at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, packed bag lunches for the hungry and drafted social-action letters.

In Judaism, Mitzvah days are concerted efforts to bring congregations together through community outreach and service, and participants relished the opportunity to help out.

"It's nice to get together with neighbors and do something for people who need help," said Jessica Wolk-Stanley, who crocheted mittens that would be donated to the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth.

"I'm really glad that we're doing this," said Mike Kassin, who helped pack bag lunches for Inwood's Love Kitchen with his 10-year-old twins, Jack and Lena. Kassin, who lives on nearby Pinehurst Avenue, added that his children chose to stay longer than expected.

"I said we'd only have to go for an hour," Kassin said. "An hour came and went, and they said, 'Dad, we want to stay and do more.'"

While organizers weren't sure how many people would show up, they were pleased by the participation level and plan to hold another event next year.

"To be honest, I didn't know what to expect," said Elizabeth Lorris Ritter, the head of Beth Am and one of the organizers. "But this feels like a great turnout."

"We're all from different churches and faiths," added Hebrew Tabernacle Rabbi Jeffery Gale. "But when we're working together for the same cause, it's a win-win."