At Miami’s Jewish Volunteer Center, all are welcome to do good deeds

Marcella McCarthy
·4 min read

On a rainy Friday morning, when many people were holed up in their homes due to the pandemic, Elise Lipoff Mayer was speeding around the parking lot of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation packing peoples’ car trunks with free kosher food for their Sabbath dinner.

“You know, you don’t want to look back at this time — or anytime in your life — and think, ‘I didn’t do anything,’ ” said Mayer, a volunteer with the Jewish Volunteer Center and other groups around South Florida. Even her full-time job at the Mount Sinai Medical Center Foundation is one of service.

The JVC is a branch of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation that “serves as a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities,” said JVC director Lori Tabachnikoff.

Lori Tabachnikoff, director of the Jewish Volunteer Center, carries frozen chickens during a kosher food distribution event at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation parking lot in response to widespread economic hardship and food insecurity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, in Miami, Florida Friday, October 16, 2020.
Lori Tabachnikoff, director of the Jewish Volunteer Center, carries frozen chickens during a kosher food distribution event at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation parking lot in response to widespread economic hardship and food insecurity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, in Miami, Florida Friday, October 16, 2020.

The JVC creates opportunities to “mobilize human and financial resources,” added Jacob Solomon, who has been president of the Jewish Federation for nearly three decades.

While the kosher food distribution was geared toward the Jewish community, most of JVC’s charitable and philanthropic work is not. In fact, part of the purpose of the JVC is to offer Jews a way to engage with the entire community.

While the JVC is a Jewish organization, volunteering is not limited to those of the Jewish faith and all are welcome.

“You know, it’s our responsibility — we have to help each other,” Mayer added.

Mayer, along with many of the other volunteers there that Friday, were living the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, the Hebrew phrase that means “A duty to repair the world” or “A duty to perfect the world.”

Leticia Kalb, volunteers preparing bags of food during a kosher food distribution event at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation parking lot in response to widespread economic hardship and food insecurity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, in Miami, Florida Friday, October 16, 2020.
Leticia Kalb, volunteers preparing bags of food during a kosher food distribution event at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation parking lot in response to widespread economic hardship and food insecurity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, in Miami, Florida Friday, October 16, 2020.

If you’ve ever wondered why so many buildings or hospitals are named after Jewish philanthropists, it’s because of tikkun olam.

For Mayer, giving back is part of who she is and how she was raised.

“It’s in my blood. I was brought up in a family that believes in tikkun olam,” she said. And she’s passed it on to her children too, a concept in Hebrew known as l’dor v’dor, which translates to “From generation to generation.”

But doing acts of service isn’t a one-way street. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are health benefits to volunteering.

Volunteering lowers the risk for depression, gives people a greater sense of purpose in life, helps them stay physically and mentally active, reduces stress, allows for friendships and relationships to form. It can even help you live longer.

“We believe very strongly that the person who is performing the volunteer service is benefited as well,” Solomon said.

“There is nothing worse than sitting at home on Zoom calls and Zoom challah bread-making — volunteering allows for human connection,” Mayer said.

Volunteers load the trunk of an SUV with bags of food during a kosher food distribution event at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation parking lot in response to widespread economic hardship and food insecurity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, in Miami, Florida Friday, October 16, 2020.
Volunteers load the trunk of an SUV with bags of food during a kosher food distribution event at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation parking lot in response to widespread economic hardship and food insecurity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, in Miami, Florida Friday, October 16, 2020.

To volunteer with the JVC, you just have to give the organization a call and they’ll pair you up with a group in need. The focus is on the need in the community, rather than on the type of work a volunteer is interested in doing.

“Every year [for Thanksgiving] I call all our partners and ask them what they need,” Tabachnikoff said. “This year many have said they need individual pies and turkey sandwiches so they can feed those that don’t take shelter with them.”

The need for individual pies and sandwiches is a result of COVID-19 restrictions, which are preventing people from gathering together for holiday meals.

Some of the local organizations that will benefit from the JVC’s work this year surrounding Thanksgiving are Miami Rescue Mission, Camillus House and Seeking Shelter. For these three organizations combined, JVC volunteers will be making 500 individual pies and 1,000 bagged lunches.

And because not everyone eats meat, the JVC offers alternatives, Tabachnikoff said. “We’re very inclusive. We also offer a vegetarian option.”

Some of JVC’s biggest charitable events include:

Everything but the Turkey, where volunteers prepare and provide all the side dishes for a Thanksgiving meal

The Seasons of Giving Toy Drive

J-Serve Miami, designed for kids from grades 6-12 who gather to volunteer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

But if you’d rather volunteer on a regular basis, the JVC offers monthly food distributions on Thursdays or Fridays, along with many other opportunities.

“The value of doing a good deed, Tabachnikoff said, “is what’s important.”

How to get involved

Phone: If you’d like to volunteer, call the JVC at 305-576-4000

Website: If you’re interested in donating to the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, visit: www.jewishmiami.org