"I felt really bad for [the woman] because no one was coming to her," said Shields. "So Jessica and I went over to her. For the first half an hour we didn't know she didn't speak. So I gave her the sleeve of my sweater and said 'Feel this, it's soft' and she seemed to like that."
These students from Temple Solael were just a couple of the thousands of Valley residents taking part in the annual Mitzvah Day last weekend.
Bleak skies and an early morning downpour failed to put a damper on this year's Mitzvah Day, which attracted more than 3,500 volunteers working on 100 different projects from Lancaster to Thousand Oaks.
In Tarzana, some 200 volunteers, including members of Temple Judea, nearby Temple Ner Maarav, the Valley Outreach Synagogue and other organizations like Women's American ORT gathered at Judea to turn in signatures and gear up for the 10-kilometer Crop Walk. Co-sponsored by the Valley Interfaith Council and the Church World Service/CROP, the walk raises money to help the homeless and hungry both locally and overseas. After a rousing speech by Ner Maarav's Rabbi Aaron Kriegel, participants marched over to a nearby Presbyterian church to join in the ecumenical event.
This year's Mitzvah Day Co-Chair Cindy Tooredman, who from 1995 to 1997 organized the event in the Conejo Valley area, said she remembered when she was "the only Jewish walker" on the Crop Walk in Conejo.
"Now we're going to have hundreds," she said.
The annual Mitzvah Day event is sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance to benefit senior citizens, the homeless, the disabled and children and families in need as well as the environment. "The Federation is bringing together virtually every synagogue and organization in the five valleys to benefit the entire community," said Scott Svonkin, chair of the Valley JCRC. "Hopefully, this will spur people on to not only participate in Mitzvah Day as an annual event, but also to make doing mitzvot a regular part of their lives." Although most of the day's activities directly benefit the poor or needy, this year's Mitzvah Day also included a Chabad-led "kosher tour" of the upscale Bristol Farms market in Westlake Village.
Tooredman said the tour simply represented the diversity of the Valley's Jewish community.
"We have groups planting trees together and groups learning to keep kosher together," Tooredman said. "Whether it's physical or ethical mitzvot, there's something for everybody."
At a tree planting in Balboa Park, the Goldsmiths -- mom Barbara, dad Bill, daughters Erin, 14, and Danielle, 12, and twin sons Stephen and Michael, 10 -- along with Barbara's sister Shari Epstein planted a Sycamore, Cedar and Oak tree on the northeast side of the lake. Barbara said the family chose the activity to encourage Danielle's interest in the environment.
"We think it's good that the kids learn how to give back to the community," said Barbara.
That sentiment was borne out by the Temple Solael students spending their day with the residents at the nursing home.
"It was hard being here," said 9-year-old Scott Heyma, "but it was really nice"