ST LOUIS (US), Dec 19: Apart from the good food, time with family and watching children tear through wrapping paper, the holidays are also a season of volunteerism and charity. From the ringing of Salvation Army bells to delivering food for Meals on Wheels, many people take extra time during the season to do good in their communities.
GIFTS ... Wrapping presents are (from left) Abbas Ali, Hilary
Cedergreen. Eliza Cedergreen, Nasreen Bibi and Chloe Cedergreen.
One effort in St Louis has more than altruism as a goal. On Christmas
Day, a Jewish and Muslim Day of Service will use volunteerism to bring
people of different faiths and backgrounds together. These volunteers
will work at various agencies so that their Christian staffers can stay
home and celebrate Christmas with their families.
a beauty in seeing people from different backgrounds, cultures and
faiths working together," said Gail Wechsler, director of domestic
issues and social justice for the Jewish Community Relations Council of
St. Louis. "This is a great example of people coming together."
council, the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis and the St. Louis
section of the National Council of Jewish Women planned the event, but
22 other organizations are involved. Participating organizations include
local Jewish and Muslim congregations, the American Civil Liberties
Union of Eastern Missouri, Next Door St. Louis and the Young Muslim
"We agree to differ, we promise to love, and we join to serve," volunteer Khalid Shah said.
to Wechsler, about 300 volunteers from both faiths, of all ages, and
from around the area -- West County to downtown -- have registered.
People of any and all faiths are welcome to participate.
"We want to show St. Louis is not polarized," she said.
will work at the Five Star Senior Center, St. Louis Crisis Nursery,
Gateway 180: Homelessness Reversed, and several Delmar Gardens
locations, among other sites. They hope to send volunteers to 21
"We feel strongly about doing something with
Muslims because we want (people) to get the message that it isn't
Muslims that are the enemy," said Linda D'Grosa, a volunteer for the Day
of Service. "People are people, and we need to [send] that message."
and tithe are common values shared by most faiths, which Day of Service
volunteers hope to demonstrate. In Islam, charity, or "zakat," is one
of the Five Pillars, or basic tenets, of Islam. Jews use the word
"tzedakah" to describe living a spiritual life in part through altruism.
And in the Christian tradition, the classical Greek word "agape"
describes acting through God's love for all people.
"I think when
we talk from a faith perspective, there is much more strength in unity.
We have to be able to show that unity," said Shah, who participates in
local Jewish-Muslim dialogue groups.
"We're serving our
community," he added. "This is all our community." Shah will be
volunteering with several close Jewish friends.
The JCRC and the
Islamic Foundation hosted a similar event last year on Christmas Eve.
After its success, the idea was expanded to what it is today, with the
NCJW coming on board as a third co-sponsor.
"We definitely love
volunteering, and we especially love volunteering as a family," said
D'Grosa, who will be volunteering with her husband and four children.
"It's a great message to give our kids. It's really important to do what
we can to heal the world. So, we are doing this, and we have done other
projects as a family, and we just thought this was a great