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Unwrap The Greatest Gift of Yourself

I fried so many latkes this past week that I can’t get the smell of onions and olive oil out of my hair. Even worse, I still find sticky globs of pureed sweet potatoes and carrots that exploded in the blender when I made tzimmes soup for the first time.

As usual, this past Hanukkah was excessive in food and fun. In fact, I might wrap presents professionally to earn some extra spending money. Either that, or I’ll start a new jewelry trend that includes recycled lapel pins made of crinkled gold and silver foil from chocolate coins and stars.

So now that the holiday season is almost over and many of my friends are sunbathing in Mexico or snorkeling in the Caribbean, I have a chance to catch my breath and ask my exhausted and financially depleted self, “What gift means the most?” To me, it’s when I give of myself and show my children through my actions that helping others less fortunate is what makes us rich.

In Judaism, the mitzvah bikkur holim, which means to help or visit the sick, is a good place to start. Whether we makes meals for a neighbor who was just released from the hospital or we send care packages to soldiers in Iraq, we are obligated by Jewish law to fulfill the mitzvah of bikkur holim. It’s not about charity when we donate a supermarket gift card to an Adopt-A-Family program; it’s about the commandment to give of ourselves and share our abundance.

For me, a gift from the heart usually goes right to the stomach. That is, one of the best and easiest ways to comfort people is with food. Why do you think they call chicken soup Jewish penicillin? When it comes to providing a good meal to a crowd of hungry people, the opportunities are endless and available year round, not just during the holiday season. Here’s a sample:

1. Faith Beyond Walls. This interfaith-based nonprofit organization mobilizes 2,000-plus volunteers and resources to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the St. Louis region. Individuals, congregations, faith-based institutions, organizations and schools help people help themselves. If you would like to participate in the meals-on-wheels program or any of their other services, such as rehabbing apartment units for Hurricane Evacuees, painting murals, and designing playgrounds, call 314-531-4787.
2. Ronald McDonald House. This special place provides a “home away from home” for families of seriously ill children receiving treatment at St. Louis area hospitals. Many families have limited transportation and knowledge of the area, so area groups, organizations and individuals are always welcomes to prepare and serve home-cooked meals to the residents at two locations. To volunteer for the popular family dinner program, call 314-531-6601, ext. 202.
3. Jewish Community Center Covenant House. Make your next Shabbat meal something special by serving a hot, kosher meal to seniors in the dining room. Volunteers also can help with social activities, entertainment, informational programs, and parties. If you’re lucky, you might be invited to play bingo. For more information, call 314-442-3130.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com.