Mitzvah Day provides opportunity to give back to community

PHOTOGRAPHER: ERIC JENKS
Abby Brown and Alexandra Krudanski, members at Congregation Gates of Heaven, make pet beds for a local animal shelter during Mitzvah Day on Sunday.PHOTOGRAPHER: ERIC JENKS Abby Brown and Alexandra Krudanski, members at Congregation Gates of Heaven, make pet beds for a local animal shelter during Mitzvah Day on Sunday.

By Brett Samuels

— A few hundred people dispersed into the Capital Region on Sunday to donate their time and provide community service as part of Mitzvah Day.

The Congregation Gates of Heaven synagogue in Schenectady hosted its 18th iteration of Mitzvah Day, which is an annual event intended to get congregation members into the community. Between 200 and 300 people gathered at the temple early Sunday afternoon before heading off to various charitable agencies in Schenectady, Albany, Clifton Park and elsewhere.

“It’s partly to introduce members to the concept of social action, and to forge relationships in the community,” said Rabbi Matt Cutler.

Mitzvah Day isn’t considered a holy day, but is a way to take community action based on faith and the roots of Judaism, Cutler said.

Volunteers, donning blue shirts with the synagogue’s name printed on them, went to several different organizations in the area. Those included Safe Inc., Habitat for Humanity and the Bethesda House in Schenectady, and the Ronald McDonald House in Albany, among other spots.

The congregation consists of about 500 families, but not all of them are from Schenectady, Cutler said. That’s why on Mitzvah Day, they spread the community service efforts to areas in Albany, Clifton Park and other towns.

Different congregations hold Mitzvah Day at different times of the year, Cutler said. The day of community service offers a chance to practice what is often preached, he said, and it has drawn a steadily increasing number of volunteers over the years.

Many families took part in Sunday’s event at Congregation Gates of Heaven, which is located on Ashmore Avenue near Central Park in Schenectady.

“Parents can model for and with their kids the importance of giving to the community,” Cutler said. “We preach this stuff from the pulpit, but on days like today we can go out and show the impact of it.”

Reach Gazette reporter Brett Samuels at 395-3113, bsamuels@dailygazette.net or@Brett_Samuels27 on Twitter.