Jews and Muslims Turn Christmas Into A Day Of Giving Back | St. Louis Public Radio

Jews and Muslims Turn Christmas Into A Day Of Giving Back

Dec 23, 2014

Members of a Jewish and Muslim Teen Dialogue Group packed bags at the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry last year.
Credit Provided by Gail Wechsler

Jews and Muslims in St. Louis are hoping to bring a little extra Christmas cheer to their Christian counterparts this year.

For the fourth year, the groups will be hosting a Jewish and Muslim Day of Community Service. The event has grown since it was implemented in 2010; more than 700 people are expected to show up to help.

Gail Wechsler, one of the Jewish co-chairs for the event, said that the day is all about helping St. Louisan who are in need of assistance.

“It’s really about coming together and helping others, and showing that there are really positive things happening in our region, where people are working across lines,” Wechsler said. 

There will be 22 service projects this year, as well as three walk-in sites for those who decide last minute to participate.

Many projects are designed so others can step in for Christian volunteers who wish to spend the day with their families. A few of these projects include visiting with nursing home residents and delivering food to the elderly.

“Little Projects, Little Hands” is a project that involves family friendly projects for people of all ages.
Credit Provided by Gail Wechsler

Other projects are geared toward providing gifts for underprivileged families and packing backpacks with school supplies for students at Normandy High School.

While the participants are primarily Jewish and Muslim, Wechsler said, some Christian families have come in the past to help out.

“Here’s an example of how people of all ages, and races, and religions are coming together in St. Louis,” Wechsler said. “We know how important it is to get to know each other and to work together.”

Sophie Malik, one of the Muslim co-chairs, said the event has allowed her to make many friendships that otherwise would not exist.

“There are so many people I would not have met if it wasn’t for this event, and every year I meet more and more people,” Malik said. “Within my own faith, I have met a lot of new people, but also, it’s not just Jewish and Muslim. We have people of all faiths who participate.”

Her favorite service project is the same one in which she participated since her first event two years ago. It is called “Little Hands, Little Projects” and focuses on engaging people of all ages — from 9 months to 70 years old.

This project includes writing letters to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, making blankets for nurseries and decorating delivery bags for Meals on Wheels.

Malik said the project is always popular and about 40 people showed up to help last year.

Stephanie Kurtzman and David Levy, members of Central Reform Congregation, have participated with their nearly 8-year-old son, Lathan, for the past four years.

Stephanie Kurtzman and David Levy have participated in the Jewish and Muslim Day of Service with their son, Lathann for the past four years.
Credit Rebecca Smith/St. Louis Public Radio

Kurtzman believes it is imperative for Lathan to participate, as it exposes him to people of other cultures and gives him the opportunity to serve the community.

“It is hard for Lathan to see why we are doing this when he just wants to hang out in his pajamas,” Kurtzman said. “It’s important any day for kids sometimes to be reminded that it is not always about what you want to do, it is about what other people need.”

She prefers taking him to sites that are in houses of worship that they do not attend. She hopes that as he gets older they can try their hand at other places, such as  nursing homes.