When Temple Israel of Hollywood held its first Mitzvah Day five years ago, it was just that: Temple Israel of Hollywood's Mitzvah Day. Over the years, however, as the annual "do-good" day has attracted the attention of other organizations throughout the Los Angeles area, Mitzvah Day has outgrown its name.
Renamed Big Sunday to represent the eclecticism of its volunteers, the fifth annual day of community service will take place this year on Sunday, May 4. Hosted by Temple Israel of Hollywood and sponsored in conjunction with more than 70 religious and secular organizations, the event, like in years past, is expected to attract a highly diverse crowd.
While the name of the event has been changed, the mission of Big Sunday remains the same -- to serve as a day of tikkun olam (heal the world) and community building, and ultimately, to spur continued involvement throughout the year.
David Levinson, who is serving his fifth term as event chairman, said, "It is unique because there are all kinds. There are Buddhist and Hindu temples, public and private schools, religious and secular schools from every neighborhood -- well-to-do communities and poorer communities."
Last year's event saw more than 2,000 volunteers from 56 organizations participating in over 80 different social-action activities.
Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood attributed the day's past success to the fact that it touches on values that are common throughout various communities.
"It's broad-based in every conceivable way," Rosove said of the strictly nondenominational event. "They're doing deeds of loving kindness and justice and passion in the community, which is something we share not only within our own Jewish community, but we share with other communities in L.A. as well."
With more than 53 community service projects to choose from this year, Big Sunday will once again offer something for everybody, whatever their interests may be.
Among the activities that volunteers can choose to participate in are beautification projects at Malibu Creek State Park and a recreational area in Highland Park, a makeover day for homeless and battered women at the Hawkes Transitional Residence and doing repairs at Figueroa Street School in South Central L.A. Other projects include cooking casseroles for AIDS patients at USC's AIDS clinic and celebrating Cinco de Mayo at the Boys and Girls Club in Hollywood, which serves more than 1,000 underprivileged children.
Participation is free. All that is required is time and talent.
"We have some very well-to-do groups, but we also have a group of women who used to be homeless," Levinson said, adding that each participant receives a free T-shirt. "I can't ask a formerly homeless woman to put out $25 for a T-shirt for her kids."
While May 4 is expected to be a success, the real purpose of Big Sunday is to serve as a catalyst for further involvement throughout the year.
"It's not a one-shot deal," Rosove said. "It's one way to galvanize involvement, but it's really to stimulate more activity on an ongoing basis."
For some participants, the event has helped to draw attention to the various volunteer opportunities available throughout the community. Others "realize that they can do much more than they thought they could," Levinson said.
Lawyer and Temple Israel member Jenny Skobel volunteered with her young son on Mitzvah Day three years ago to decorate cookies and deliver them to several locations. But it was dropping off cookies at a residence run by Hollygrove Children and Family Services, an organization that protects abused and neglected children, that really struck a chord with Skobel.
"I'm a mother, and I have a child," she said. "I wanted to do something for these children who really had gotten such a poor deal in life, especially on the part of their parents."
The experience led Skobel to join Hollygrove's volunteer program. Now she helps the children at Hollygrove with their homework or simply spends time with them once a week.
Skobel hopes that Big Sunday will lead others to do the same, saying, "The best thing that could come out of it [Big Sunday] is that it is a way for people to get exposed to these organizations, and from there, go on and get involved, because these organizations really need ongoing commitment."
Those interested in participating in Big Sunday on May 4 can register on the Internet at www.bigsunday.org or call Temple Israel of Hollywood, (323) 876-8330.