Sunday, April 9, 2017

Doing Good is Going Strong

By Liat Collins   March 30th 2017

Any day can be a Good Deeds Day and tikkun olam (repairing the world) can begin at home, as a way of life.

 One good turn deserves another, so 1.1 million good deeds deserve at least a mention in a humble column, especially as similar selfless acts are spreading from Israel around the world.

More than a million Israelis marked Good Deeds Day on March 28. Doing good is a growth industry. International Good Deeds Day will be held on April 2, when volunteers will be thinking and acting positively in 93 countries.

Good Deeds Day is one of Israel’s best exports, right up there with Waze and the disk-on-key (flash drive). It is a modern adaptation of an ancient precept: - that behaving as a decent human being comes before everything else.

Creating a specific day dedicated to doing good was the idea of businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison, who launched the project 11 years ago via Ruach Tova (Good Spirit), her nonprofit, which is part of the Ted Arison Family Foundation.

We have built an immense infrastructure of good deeds,” Arison said in a press statement ahead of this year’s events. “Each individual can do a good deed, but togetherness creates power. Together we can shift the pendulum to the positive side, tapping into a tremendous source of hope.”

It is easy to mock Arison’s feel-good approach – who doesn’t believe we, too, might have a happier attitude were we the country’s richest woman, heir to a family fortune, whose family business includes being the major stakeholder of a bank (Hapoalim, in the case of the ever-smiling Arison)?

But she seems to be on to something because the project gets bigger from year to year, and part of the attraction is its simplicity. It is much easier to commit to participating in a one-off project than to dedicating time and energy in ongoing voluntary and philanthropic works.

In the beginning, in 2006, some 7,000 people took part. But all that positive energy has created its own momentum and now nearly all municipalities in the country, representing all sectors of the Israeli population, and hundreds of schools, academic institutions, businesses, organizations and the IDF, offer their services as part of the project.

The activities were as varied as the participants and included volunteers painting houses and daycare facilities for the elderly; cleaning up beaches and parks; renovating daycare facilities for children at risk; planting and tending community gardens; packing and delivering food packages for the needy; and recycling projects.

Among my favorites are the hair stylists who volunteered their services cutting hair to be donated to make wigs for cancer sufferers. In a “pet cause” close to my heart, the members of the Jerusalem Municipal Veterinary Services carried out necessary renovations at the Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and veterinarians volunteered their time and surgical skills to neuter dogs and cats at the shelter to help keep the city’s stray animal population down. The JSPCA and other animal groups also used the day as a marketing tactic, the perfect date to adopt a four-legged friend for life.

As Arison posits, we are all rich with potential, body and soul when it comes to doingsomething good and being a positive force. It’s never too late to start, but obviously it’s easier to grab kids while they are young and make doing good a part of their lives.

The Israeli state education system considers fostering a spirit of volunteering an essential part of the curriculum. Students from 10th grade on have to participate in a 60-hours-a-year “personal commitment” program, volunteering in projects including helping in hospitals, health fund clinics and old-age homes; serving with the ambulance, police or fire services; packing food packages for the needy; repairing old computers for use by those unable to afford new ones; and helping children with illnesses and disabilities.

The Ted Arison Family Foundation presents its worldview as rooted in three Jewish values: charity, acts of loving-kindness and tikkun olam (repairing the world). But obviously you don’t have to be Jewish to share these values.

Any day can be a Good Deeds Day and tikkun olam can begin at home, as a way of life.

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