At our Annual Meeting in June, I was asked to say a few words about volunteerism at Beth El, what I have done over the years, and what those experiences have meant to me. Without hesitation, my answer was “of course, I’ll say a few words.”
Now you might be thinking, why did he say yes? The answer is because volunteerism has been an important part of my life, both professionally, as well as personally since I was just a small boy, and this was a good opportunity to share my thoughts on the benefits of volunteerism to Beth El and to all of us as individuals.
For me, it started at Beth Jacob Congregation in Baltimore when I was about eight years old. I was asked to lead junior services, and I said yes. Then I was asked to become a member of the safety patrol and help my fellow Hebrew school students to cross the street safely following class dismissal. From there it was Boy Scouts, where I took seriously the scout motto “to do my duty to God and my country,” and “to help other people at all times.” What can I say? That philosophy and those early experiences as a young Jewish boy helped to shape my outlook on life.
Over the years, I have volunteered my time, experience, and physical energy to numerous non-profit organizations. I have coordinated nearly 25 days of caring for the United Way here in Pittsburgh. Last month, I donated blood, and, I am told, helped save at least three lives. Donating blood is something that I have done for more than 50 years. It’s a giving thing. I have learned that for me, giving is even better than receiving. It says that I have something of value to offer, and that gives me great satisfaction.
At Beth El, I have volunteered my time and effort for more than 30 years to help make our Bingo the largest single fund raiser for our congregation. I have chaired, co-chaired, and just plain helped on our Purim Mishloach Manot Gift Box Project since the program began around 10 years ago. For that project alone, I have had the opportunity to interact with more than 100 Beth El members each year. In addition, I serve on the steering committee for our annual Pancake Festival; I have served as co-president of our Men’s Club when it was reformed in the early 1990’s and chairman of the Men’s Club’s first Yom Hashoah Candle Project. In short, when Beth El needed my help, I made sure that I was there.
Last fall, I was honored to receive the Hoffman Family Distinguished Service Award. Frankly, I was floored. For all of my life, I just volunteered my time and energy, even when I was a single dad, raising two children on my own. Any of you who are parents know that between work, religious school, outside activities, and being a full-time parent, there is little time for anything else. But even then, I found the time to make Beth El a priority in my life. Whether I was serving as assistant financial secretary or as a member of the Board of Trustees, I found the time to help make Beth El better.
There have been occasions when I have asked myself why I spend so much time volunteering. What do I get out of it? It’s certainly not the pay. There is none. It’s not for the perks. There are few if any.
The answer for me is because it makes me feel good. Volunteering says that I have something to contribute, and with that contribution, I can help to make a difference. For whatever project I am working on, either as a leader or just a contributor, my time and my effort are worth more than money. And as a bonus, over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet so many nice, caring people through these volunteer efforts.
Volunteering has helped me to “pay it forward.” I have been able to return the favor. When my parents and my favorite aunt died, I came to shul for morning and evening minyan, as well as Shabbat services for an entire year. The people at those services, especially the morning and evening minyans, were volunteers. They didn’t have to be there, but they chose to give of their time, and with it enable me to say kaddish for my loved ones. I never forgot that support. And so, for close to a decade, I have been a regular at our morning minyan. I am there to support those who mourn for their loved ones.
What else does volunteering do for me? It gives me a feeling of accomplishment. At the end of the day, I have done something worthwhile. I also may have learned something new or been able to pass on my experience to someone else.
As volunteers, we become role models for our children and our grandchildren. What they see us do influences their lives.
For Beth El, the lifeblood of this congregation is its membership. Sure, there is a financial aspect to the operation of this congregation. But just as important, if not more, it is the volunteers of Beth El who make this congregation work.
As Jews, we are taught that it is our duty to help save the world. As individuals, that task is daunting. But, while I may not be able to save the world by myself, I can help to have a positive impact on a smaller scale – here at Beth El. When I volunteer, my status in life changes. I go from being just an observer to a doer, and I have found that being a doer, an active participant, has its own reward. It makes me feel good that I have been able to have a positive impact on whatever project I have volunteered to work on.
Over the years, I have learned that life is made up of a series of experiences, and volunteering just expands the number of experiences that you have. Those experiences provide value, for as you complete a task, you become more valuable to the group and to yourself.
I have learned that volunteering builds confidence. At the end of the day, I can look back and say with pride, “I did it.”
As I look around our synagogue community, I see the energy and dedication that makes Beth El better for everyone. President John F. Kennedy said at his inaugural address in January 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
I was moved by those words, and they have had a profound impact on my life. The same can be said for our congregation, and I ask you to ask yourself what you can do to make Beth El better for everyone. I believe we all have it in us. We just have to say yes when asked and become involved. All of the people who dedicate their time to Beth El are volunteers, even those who are paid professionals. They have all said yes when asked to volunteer.
Like them, volunteering is important to me. I ask that you make it important to you. Get involved in our congregation. It is never too late to become a volunteer. And, have I said it before, it will make you feel good.