Mitzvah Day activities inspire at Temple B'nai Torah in Wantagh


At Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh, congregants of all ages came together to take part in a day of caring and service, Mitzvah Day, on May 19.

Mitzvah means a good deed done as part of one’s religious duty, and throughout the day, temple members were busy with activities that benefited those in need. Several stations were set up at the temple to address different needs in the community, from homelessness to hunger.

“This is extraordinary, what we do,” Cantor Rica Timman said.It’s an amazing, wonderful thing that involves every age.”

At one station, congregants created no-sew fleece blankets for residents of Bethany House, which offers emergency shelter and transitional services to women and children in need.

“We’re working with bigger organizations so we can have as big of an impact as possible,” Rabbi Daniel Bar-Nahum said.

According to Bar-Nahum, Mitzvah Day was scheduled at the end of the school year to remind children in the temple to make the world better. The idea, he explained, is to kick off a summer in which children remember values that are most important to them, which includes helping those in need.

“Every group in our community finds a way to target something special and specific,” Bar-Nahum said.

 Activities were designed and supervised by several groups in the congregation, such as the Social Action/Social Justice Committee, which focuses on helping those in the community who are struggling. According to the committee’s Co-chair Rona Kauffman, its members organize collections, educational presentations and other activities that stress civic engagement all year long. For Kauffman, Mitzvah Day is a culmination of all that work.

“We’ve got a lot going on,” she said with a laugh. “It’s kind of a celebration of everything we do all year.”

Grocery sorting was another activity, and congregants boxed donated nonperishable food. The boxes are picked up by Island Harvest, a food bank in Melville.

At another station, children decorated and packed snack bags for young clients of the Interfaith Nutrition Network, a nonprofit in Freeport that provides essential services to those challenged by hunger, poverty and homelessness.

“There’s a lot of kids who come in who are very food insecure, on the brink of homelessness, or maybe they’re in a shelter,” Kauffman said, “so this gives them a little something to feel better about.”

When children are in crisis and taken out of their homes, she said, sometimes they leave with their belongings in a plastic bag. To help them transition to foster care, the temple set up a station to fill backpacks with items such as blankets, stuffed animals, and journals.

The temple’s day of good deeds even extended to its Hebrew school, where second-grade teacher Colette Brancaccio cut her hair for a good cause. She was assisted by her students, who lined up to cut off a lock, and the hair was donated to Maggie’s Wigs for Kids, a nonprofit in Michigan that provides wigs and support services to children and young adults who experience hair loss due to cancer and other disorders.

“This was a great opportunity for me to motivate them to do good deeds while also doing good deeds myself at the end of the school year,” Brancaccio said. She was also doing it to celebrate her sister, Gabrielle, who has been cancer-free for 15 years.

Brancaccio’s mother, Dana, also participated, with Colette cutting her hair. Dana said that her daughter is an inspiration to her, and she wasn’t surprised that she wanted to get her students involved in her hair donation. Dana added that Colette gives her all when she’s with her students.

“It just made me proud of the teacher she is and the person she is,” Dana said.

Other temple congregants made greeting cards and filled bags with self-care items for seniors; collected prom clothes for students who can’t afford them; and organized dignity bags, personal care items for homeless women, to be delivered to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless.

For Timman, Mitzvah Day is an extraordinary effort by the temple to help those who are struggling, and she said she hoped it inspires kids to do good deeds of their own.

“It’s really involving the community in a beautiful way,” Timman said, “and this is the message that we want to send our children.”