Coming together for the common good

Volunteers impact thousands with Adath Emanu-El Sisterhood MLK Day of Service


Repairing the world.

That is what hundreds of volunteers spent their time doing at Adath Emanu-El on Jan. 20. From making sandwiches for the homeless to writing letters to veterans, baking biscuits for adoptable pets to crafting bracelets for children grieving the loss of loved ones, members of the synagogue and the community beyond came together to help those in need on the MLK Day of Service.

“In Hebrew it’s called a day of Tikkun Olam,” Caryn Shaw said, “which means repairing the world.”

Shaw, of Moorestown, and Mt. Laurel resident Karen Federman are co-chairs of Adath Emanu-El Sisterhood MLK Day of Service, which the pair started in 2013. The concept of Tikkun Olam was repeated throughout the morning, as volunteers of all ages supported more than a dozen different service projects. 

“I think it’s really important, especially at a young age, to introduce kids to giving back,” Shaw said. “I think people really want to give back, but they just don’t know how to or where to. Having so many different service projects, there’s something for everyone here.”

“It’s a great way to bring people together to do good things,” Federman added. “I love hands-on projects. It makes people happier, makes their lives a little bit brighter.

“It’s a great coming together of the community for the common good.”

In the Adath Emanu-El kitchen, friends Helen Grimm and Judy Marcus once again led the charge on the dog biscuit baking, which they have done since the MLK day’s inception. Over the past six years, the Burlington County Animal Shelter has received thousands of treats from the event. While the duo volunteers with the synagogue in all sorts of ways, they especially love giving back with the annual baking project.

“We love dogs,” Marcus said, while Grimm added, “And we’re kitchen people. We love to cook!”

Outside the kitchen, dozens of volunteers — parents and small children, Girl Scouts and others — made the biscuit dough, rolling it out and using cookie cutters to turn it into a variety of shapes. 

At the next table, 100 lunches were being packed for Joseph’s House, a homeless facility in Camden. The project was led by the Adath Emanu-El Social Action Committee, which supports the Sisterhood’s Day of Service every year. 

“It’s a great mitzvah,” Fran Green said, “which is a blessing.”

Green, of Delran, is the committee chairperson. The Day of Service project perfectly aligned with the group’s mission, and Green echoed others in calling the event a day of Tikkun Olam. She further explained the philosophy behind the concept.

“It comes from the idea, if you save one life, you save the world,” she explained. “That’s the mission.”

There were several new projects this year. Volunteers crafted green bracelets for Moorestown Visiting Nurse Association’s Camp Firefly, an annual respite for children who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Others assembled craft bags to entertain children staying at Virtua facilities. Another new project benefited the NFL’s Salute to Service military appreciation campaign.

“I got the idea when trying to get younger people involved,” Jonathan Foster said. 

Inspired by the NFL’s program — and thinking it would appeal to temple youth — Foster organized a letter-writing campaign. Volunteers wrote letters and drew pictures that would then be sent to veterans, current military members and families whose service member was lost.

“There was nothing to support the veterans,” Foster explained. “Things like this shows everyone around (the military members) cares about what they do and appreciate it. It goes a long way.”

As the morning went on, Adath Emanu-El Rabbi Benjamin David visited with volunteers, chatting about the Day of Service and checking out the variety of projects underway.

“It’s an incredibly important day for us as a synagogue and a wonderful opportunity to bring the community together to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King,” Rabbi David said. “I do think, especially these days, we need to remember that we can make a difference and we all have it in us to make a difference.

“I think it shows the legacy of Martin Luther King is alive and people are eager to give back and bring a greater level of fairness and justice to our broken world.”