Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Shalom Families kicks off Chanukah with mitzvah event

Nearly 50 moms, dads and children began their Chanukah celebration Dec. 6 by joining Shalom Families for the first-ever Family Mitzvah Day at Build-A-Bear in Altamonte Mall.

Shalom Families, a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando (JFGO), organized Family Mitzvah Day as a way of encouraging Jewish youth to get involved in acts of kindness for the Chanukah season.

There were smiles, laughter and love all around as children created 24 stuffed bears, puppies and bunnies to be donated to young patients at Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando. 

"In addition to making bears, we had a special program with stories and songs about teddy bears, friendship and acts of kindness," said Shalom Families coordinator Jennifer Cohen, JFGO's director of outreach and engagement. "The children, ranging in age from pre-school through elementary school, were so wonderful. They snuggled with their bears for about 20 minutes before they sent them off with their special wishes and a lot of love to cheer up a child at Nemours."

Making the event even more meaningful was the participation of Rabbi Rick Sherwin of Congregation Beth Am. Shalom Families regularly invites a Central Florida rabbi to their young family programs. Rabbi Rick, who also serves as a chaplain at Nemours, spoke with the children at Family Mitzvah Day about what children go through when they are sick and in the hospital. He assured the Shalom Families kids that their act of kindness will cheer up the children who receive the bears. He added that the bears would undoubtedly bring smiles to the patients' parents as well.

Once the bear-building was complete, children decorated cards with special messages, and then finished up the program in the mall's food court by making a kosher cookie menorah for the first night of Chanukah.

Fiona Anavi, Shalom Families' volunteer chair, said the event demonstrated "just how far one person's love can reach."

"Being able to be so concrete about what a mitzvah really is was wonderful," Anavi said. "Family Mitzvah Day was very heartwarming and Jewish. Jewish pride is about giving freely from the heart... A child making a teddy bear to put a smile on another sick child's face is love turned into the power to heal. If we teach our children to give rather than to get, our legacy will be something to be proud of indeed."

The next Shalom Families event is a Tu B'Shevat celebration at Oak Haven Farms on Jan. 24. More information is available at the Federation's website, http://www.jfgo.org.


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