Mitzvah Magic, a program that provides baskets of Jewish holiday goods and everyday basics three times a year for local Jewish families in need, is a win-win, says longtime volunteer Iris Posin, who is co-chairing the program this year with Andra Karnofsky. Not only do families receive items that are hand-picked just for them — with an emphasis on children’s needs in families with kids — but volunteers get a chance to meet other Jewish women while giving back to the community in a tangible way.
Now in its 10th year, Mitzvah Magic, a program of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Women’s Philanthropy and Jewish Family & Children’s Services, brings together teams of volunteers (called “circles”), which are paired with families selected by JFCS. The families remain anonymous — the circles receive information about the number of people in a family and the ages of any children, along with a checklist outlining the family’s specific needs.
The circles assemble baskets for Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah and Passover, with the Rosh Hashanah basket also emphasizing back-to-school needs for families with children. Grocery store gift cards are a basket staple. Volunteers typically contribute $100 each for the year.
Karnofsky says she learned about the program by reading about its debut in the Arizona Jewish Post.
“I thought what a wonderful idea, what a wonderful entrance into local philanthropy,” she says.
“It was perfect for me, too,” says Posin. “I’m not a real meeting person, and I wasn’t doing anything in the community. I thought this was a perfect thing, that it was really hands-on, it was our community, not just giving money. And selfishly, I thought that I could meet people, which I have, and I love that.”
For both women, it is also a manageable commitment that fits into their work schedules. Karnofsky is a school psychologist in the Tucson Unified School District and has a baking business, Heavenly Hallah, which is busiest at Rosh Hashanah; Posin is co-owner of a business that imports drugs from Canadian pharmacies.
Karnofsky says Mitzvah Magic, which started in 2009 with 150 women assisting 15 families and hit its high point five years later with 276 women and 26 families, is seeking to add new circles for the 2018-19 year. This year’s Rosh Hashanah baskets are due to JFCS on Aug. 27.
The format of circles varies, with some groups meeting for a happy hour to do their planning, says Posin, who this year is also co-captain of her circle. She looks forward to these meetings as a chance to reconnect with some of the women she rarely sees outside Mitzvah Magic.
Providing traditional holiday items such as honey and candles at Rosh Hashanah helps recipient families increase their enjoyment and appreciation of the Jewish holidays and promotes Jewish continuity across generations, says Karnofsky, who adds that the program is now asking families if they have grandchildren for whom they’d like to receive gifts.
“We have received wonderful letters of appreciation that really do demonstrate that we make a difference in people’s lives, and so I’d really like to encourage more people to join us,” says Karnofsky.
One such letter reads, in part, “Your kindness and generosity has been a blessing in our lives.” Another says “Todah Rabah” (Hebrew for “Thank you very much”) for a Rosh Hashanah basket that included a special gift: a suit for a boy’s upcoming bar mitzvah. Another note, acknowledging that families often don’t expect to find themselves in straitened circumstances, says, “As the High Holy Days approach we cannot help but think of those other than ourselves who are in need also at this time. … We do hope in the future, we will be able to return similar kindnesses to those experiencing a ‘challenge’ as we are now.”
To find out about joining or starting a Mitzvah Magic circle, contact Women’s Philanthropy Director Susannah Castro at 647-8469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, contact Debbie Crowder, JFCS Jewish Emergency Financial Assistance manager, at 795-0300.