Young philanthropists came to the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County in South River to participate in the local effort of J-Serve: A National Day of Jewish Youth Service — helping the homeless, sick children, and American soldiers.
However, this day was different from many other J-Serve programs around the country; this one included Jewish and Muslim teens.
“When people think of Muslims and Jews, they think we’re not able to get along,” said Dean Alamleh, 16, of Robbinsville. “We are trying to show that is not the case.”
Dean is cofounder of Eleven Points, a group of Muslim and Jewish teens dedicated to “doing good for the community.” The group, an offshoot of the Muslim youth group based at Princeton University, does most of its social service projects in collaboration with teens from Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick.
With two other Muslim cofounders, Zain Bhayat, 16, of South Brunswick and Amani Ahmed, 17, of Princeton, the group has volunteered at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and assisting the homeless in Mercer County through HomeFront.
“I grew up in an environment where community relations and giving were part of my upbringing,” said Amani. “I just figured we could do something for the community together to build bridges.”
They were among the more than 100 teens participating March 30 in rooms and offices throughout the federation building.
One group was busy making colorful placemats for sick children at Ronald McDonald House in New Brunswick.
Taking part in the program “makes you feel good about yourself,” said Zoe Rosen, 14, of Monroe, whose family belongs to Congregation Etz Chaim-Monroe Township Jewish Center.
Another group wrapped plastic tableware and napkins for Elijah’s Promise soup kitchen in New Brunswick.
“It’s a good thing to serve the community because I want to give back what was given to me,” said Sarah Paley, 15, of East Brunswick, whose family belongs to Young Israel of East Brunswick. “I live in a nice home, have a nice family, and feel lucky to live in such a great area.”
Other teens lined up in a long assembly line placing hard candy, lip balm, playing cards, baby wipes, and other items into bags to be shipped to a New Jersey unit serving in Afghanistan.
Randi Cairns of East Brunswick supervised the line-up. She is director of Home Front Hearts, the national organization she founded with the help of a Bronfman Youth Fellow Alumni grant to assist the families — particularly members of the National Guard or Reserves — left behind when a member of the military is deployed overseas. A mother of four, Cairns said her own husband, Ian, will leave on his fourth National Guard deployment in June.
“This really means a lot,” said her nine-year-old daughter, Sara, as she helped collect the bags. “It’s inspiring to see all these other kids helping out, and they seem to be having fun because they all have smiles on their faces.”
Shifra Malkin, a youth adviser at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, led teens in making upbeat posters to be hung at Middlesex County College, where students from James Monroe Elementary School in Edison — destroyed the week before in a fire — are attending class.
Under the direction of Anshe Emeth youth director Alyson Bazeley, other teens turned brightly colored pieces of felt into blankets to be used in the neonatal units of local hospitals; still others made calls soliciting donations for the federation.
The program was part of national J-Serve involving 10,000 Jewish teens. Michal Greenbaum, Middlesex federation’s community engagement coordinator, organized the local event, recruiting members from a host of Jewish youth groups, synagogues, and schools to take part in the day of service. “We strive to strengthen the Jewish community and inspire the next generation,” said Greenbaum. “After seeing 100 teens working together, the future is surely bright for the Jewish community in Middlesex County.”
The tally of the day was: 176 toiletry kits for Elijah’s Promise and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen; 185 care packages for soldiers; 547 tableware sets for Elijah’s Promise; 55 placemats for Ronald McDonald House; 104 letters and pictures for students at James Monroe Elementary School; and 10 quilts to be donated to babies in the neonatal intensive care units. Furthermore, 327 phone calls were made on behalf of federation.