Students of the Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach presented their mitzvahs, or good deeds, to family and the public during the third annual Mitzvah Day celebration at the Bella Terra shopping center last week.
Classes from kindergarten to fifth grade shared projects that ranged from donating books to baking brownies for the homeless and making care packages for the elderly.
Chaya Kaplan, 9, described a mitzvah as "something that somebody does that probably warms up another person's heart."
Judaic Vice Principal Rabbi Avrohom Popack said the day was about the children "expressing their experiences."
"One of our goals for doing this is that it should be a part of who they are, not something that is imposed upon on them," he said. "It's a process that they are involved in, that they enjoy, that becomes somewhat of an expectation in their lives that they want to be good people."
Chaya's fourth-grade class made 150 brownies for Mary's Kitchen, an Orange-based service that provides food for the homeless.
"It made me feel proud that I was helping people that don't actually have any food," Chaya said.
Each class shared its experiences with a song and a few words about what the students did and how their deeds made them feel.
The first-grade class donated toys to the Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach. They sang, "If you see someone falling down, you can lend a hand and help them up," to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus."
The kindergartners are learning to read, so they collected books for the charity BookEnds, a nonprofit that recycles children's books to supply schools and youth organizations that need them.
"Reading makes us happy. Reading makes us smile. Books are our best friends," the youngsters sang to the audience when it was their turn.
The fifth-graders wrote letters of encouragement to soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces. The letters were written in Hebrew and English, and 10-year-old Adam Wechsler said the class also sent candy.
"They're out there standing there watching the borders and all of sudden somebody gives them a note, and they find out they're being thought of all the way from California," said fifth-grader Odelia Isti, 10.
Popack said Mitzvah Day is held in a public space to teach the children "that part of community service is getting out of your comfort zone."
"The message is that the good deeds that we do are very inspiring," he added. "When people walk by and they hear about it, they are touched and they themselves will go home and it will carry on. They'll pay it forward."
Popack said mitzvah has a dual meaning.
"It also means an attachment or a connection, and by doing this we become godly people," he said.
The day and the message are part of the curriculum at Hebrew Academy, which teaches 40% Judaic studies and 60% standard educational lessons for preschool through 12th grade.
Mitzvah Day is a celebration for the younger students in order to teach them to make good deeds a part of their lives, Popack said. The middle and high school students at the Hebrew Academy are expected to perform good deeds beyond fifth grade.