Three years ago, 1,500 people turned out to do their part for Good Deeds Day, a volunteer event run by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington in which volunteers make food, design cards, clean up parks, recycle and donate blood to help others less fortunate.
The fourth annual Good Deeds Day is expected to draw some 9,000 volunteers on March 15 who will participate in 90 different projects. While many of the volunteers come by themselves or with friends to lend a hand, 72 organizations – synagogues, men’s and women’s clubs, Jewish day schools and other non-profits — have signed up their groups.
The editorial staff of Washington Jewish Week will be lending its hands at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville from 1 to 3 p.m. to make soup, create art for Israeli soldiers and assemble sandwiches.
Good Deeds Day is now a permanent annual event, thanks to a $500,000 gift from Dr. Stuart and Ellen Lessans of Rockville in memory of his parents. The Sara and Samuel J. Lessans Good Deeds Day will feature a host of projects to benefit those in need, but it also will include an educational component geared to teaching people of all ages about Israel, the scene of the first Good Deeds Day in 2007, and the benefits of helping others.
Stuart Lessans, a retired opthamologist, sees this as a perfect way to honor his
father, who was a lawyer deeply involved in social work, and his mother, who always took an extra step to help others.
Lessans remembers as a youngster seeing his “mom go out in the dark one evening and place a large bag of groceries on our recently unemployed neighbor’s back porch. When she returned I asked her why she didn’t ring the front doorbell and just give the bag to him.”
His mother explained that she didn’t want to hurt the person’s self-esteem, he recalled, noting it was a lesson he still holds close to his heart.
Lessans’ mother was always looking out for someone, he said. She frequented his office, handing out cookies, making coffee and tea and reading and then giving books to his younger patients.
Lessans grew up in Baltimore, attended Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Pikesville, and learned the importance of not just giving, but giving Jewishly. He wonders why so many Jews “with more money” than he has, donate large sums to the Kennedy Center and other arts-related organizations “but who don’t give to a Jewish cause.”
The values 72-year-old Lessans learned from his parents need to be passed on not only to his 14-year-old twins Faye and Matthew – eighth graders at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School – but also to future generations, Lessans said during a recent interview in the Federation office.
“My fervent prayer is that they will grow up to continue their grandparents’ tradition and share the sacred responsibility to repair the world – tikkun olam,” he said. Good Deeds Day “resonates so well for what my parents stood for.”
The Federation’s United Jewish Endowment Fund will use the interest made from the Lessans’ gift to cover the costs of supplies and advertising needed for Good Deeds Day. Generally, it costs $20,000 to $25,000 to fund Good Deeds Day.
To participate, go to www.shalomdc.org/good-deeds-day/