From Hacky Sacks to Kippot: On the Importance of Always Thinking Mitzvahs

How did it happen that 50+ indigenous Mayan women in Guatemala are producing Fair Trade hundreds, thousands of colorful kippot (and some Tallitot and challah covers)?

I have traveled four times with Maya Works (mayaworks.org) to see them with my own eyes and to witness the reality behind the surreal idea of it.

The secret — though there is really no secret to it — has a brief and startling history. On one such Maya Works trip a few years before I joined them, a certain participant, Becky Berman, saw that the women were making hacky sacks, with an outer crocheted covering in
bright colors. It was a source of income for the families.

As I picture it, Becky said one sentence, “Maybe they can make kippot.” Once the women were taught how to make them — the rest is history. The women’s dignity and self-image in the family and community rose greatly, they fed their families so much better, and — this being a macho country where girls’ education past 6th grade was not important — they keep their daughters in school, and
consequently give them hope for a better future and more fulfilling life.

But the essence of my telling the story is that Becky’s words were an absolute Mitzvah tour de force. Connecting the dots from hacky sack to kippot is quite a stretch.

However, I believe that the “message” is obvious: If we only take time to “think ‘Mitzvahs’”, who knows what will be the result.

Here is a simple technique: In your mind, use hyphens more frequently, either before or after the word that comes to mind. Some examples:

(1) “Mitzvah-hotel” (Naomi Potash Berman’s Project Debby gets hotels to offer free rooms to victims of domestic violence if the
shelters are full) or “hotel-Mitzvahs” (Syd Mandelbaum’s Rock and Wrap it Up gets hotels to donate leftover food to shelters and soup kitchens).

(2) The easiest one with my audiences is “Mitzvah-dog”: guide dogs for blind people, dogs that pull wheelchairs, drug- and bombsniffing
dogs, rescue dogs, comfort dogs for people after a tornado or flood or other disaster, dogs that go with their owners to nursing homes and hospitals, dogs that warn people with epilepsy ahead of time so they can find a safe place to sit or lie down.

Just a few more: (3) “Mitzvah-telephone” — old deactivated cellphones still dial 911, for free. Donate to shelters for survivors of domestic violence;

(4) “Mitzvah-gently-used stuffed-animals” donate to police, fire houses and rescue squads, shelters where there are homeless children, and sadly, most recently for children refugee children in Texas (Rabbi
Claudio Kogan in McAllen distributes them),

(5) “Mitzvah-camera” — The distinguished photographer Bill Aron’s New Beginnings, The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors, will most certainly have a positive impact on individuals dealing with cancer, and even

(6) “Diddly-Mitzvahs” to teach that there is no such thing as a small
Mitzvah.

By the strict mathematical definition of “infinite”, the possibilities may not be infinite, but the number in the stream of ideas-turned-actions is a extremely high indeed.

In conclusion, I add a grammatical note. The terms “Bar Mitzvah” and “Bat Mitzvah” literally mean “Mitzvah-Person” (masculine and feminine). If that’s what we are transformed into at a young age, then “Mitzvah-thinking”, as so powerfully taught to us by the late Becky Berman, ought to move us in the right direction to more and more varied action. How many will benefit – I leave to researchers, poll-taking experts, and statisticians to calculate. But we can be certain beyond doubt that the number will be staggering, grand,
and good-and-warm for everyone’s soul.

About the Author
Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 500 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values, besides reading from his own poetry. He is the author of 29 1/2 books on such topics as Mitzvah heroism practical and personalized Tzedakah, and Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well. Siegel has been referred to as "The World's Greatest Expert on Microphilanthropy", "The Pied Piper of Tzedakah", "A Pioneer Of Tzedakah", and "The Most Famous Unknown Jewish Poet in America."
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