Mitzvah Day

Mitzvah Day

Eli Holst, a third-grader at Community Day School, made it very clear last Sunday that his favorite color is yellow.

With a mound of yellow coloring utensils stacked to a tipping point by his side, Eli, as part of a Mitzvah Day project, prepared thank you notes for overseas soldiers.

Although Eli will likely never meet the soldiers his letters reach, Mitzvah Day, at least to this young 8-year-old boy, was about giving back to the community.

“I want to make the soldiers happy because they work so hard for us,” he said.

Holst’s father, Dr. Seth Holst, looked over his son’s shoulder proudly, adding that he and his son could have relaxed all day, just as so many others in the community were assuredly doing. But Holst, determined to set an example for his son, concluded, why not spend some time doing a mitzva.

The Holsts were not the only ones in the giving mood this day. With more than 500 volunteers from all over Allegheny County, the 11th annual Mitzvah Day provided many with the opportunity to give back during one of the most caring times of the year.

Judi Kanal, who chaired this year’s Mitzvah Day, said she could not be more proud of the volunteers.

“Everything we do for Mitzvah Day would not be possible without our incredible staff at federation,” Kanal said. “I just can’t sing their praises enough.”

Kanal centered her own Mitzvah Day efforts on the first annual “Letters to Soldiers” campaign. She said this particular activity was special because it called for an unlimited number of volunteers. The letters will be sent to Israeli soldiers who have made aliya to Israel from all over the world.

“We want to keep improving this event every year,” Kanal said. “These letters have been a great addition to the overall day.”

Despite a large crowd at the letter writing station, there were many other activities in which volunteers could have participated. They ranged from bingo games with nursing home residents, to preparing, serving and cleaning up after Christmas dinners at local shelters. In all, there were more than 30 different activities people could partake in, and Kanal said there were more than enough volunteers to step up to the plate.

“It is nice to hold Mitzvah Day on Christmas,” Kanal said. “Everyone is off work, and it gives us a chance to step in and give people a hand who may be short staffed.”

(Brandt Gelman can be reached at