Nine years after a small group of Jews and Muslims first gathered on Christmas Day to work side-by-side in community service, the annual interfaith effort returns in 2019 with a renewed focus on the popular program’s core mission: building strong community.
The joint project of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis and the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis (JCRC), through its Milford and Lee Bohm Social Justice Center, has grown into a Christmas staple that typically draws more than 1,000 volunteers at dozens of sites across the region. The event is open to all members of the public of any faith as well as to those with no religious affiliation.
This year, in response to participant feedback, organizers are emphasizing a smaller number of activities and service sites to better promote the close connections and shared experiences that are the hallmark of the Jewish and Muslim Day of Community Service.
“Our volunteers have told us that the small-group interactions, casual conversations and shared sense of purpose are among their most valuable moments at the Day of Community Service,” said event chair Sophie Malik, who is Muslim. “So we want to make sure that each activity and service site provide ample opportunities to learn from, and with our neighbors.”
Among the new activities: an open Ask Me Anything (AMA) discussion facilitated by leaders from the Muslim and Jewish communities; a knitting circle where experts and novices alike can make winter scarves for those in need; and a chance to observe afternoon prayers at the Dar ul-Islam Mosque, 517 Weidman Rd. in Ballwin, the main activity site and host of the communal breakfast that kicks off the day’s events.
“The rich tapestry of ethnic, cultural, racial and religious diversity in St. Louis is one worth celebrating,” said event chair Julia Williams, who is Jewish. “Coming together each Christmas as Muslims and Jews helps fortify the community bonds that tie us together as friends, neighbors, colleagues and co-workers.”
After breakfast, volunteers can either remain at the mosque to perform their service projects or sign up to work at one of a half-dozen sites across the region where they can deliver meals to seniors, interact with teens at the St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center or assemble and deliver care packages to police officers and firefighters who remain on-duty for Christmas.
At other locations, volunteers will assemble chemotherapy care bags for patients of Missouri Baptist Hospital, no-sew blankets for Crisis Nursery and menstrual hygiene products for the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies.
The cultural exchange continues at the Turkish American Society of Missouri, which once again hosts a potluck lunch where participants can learn about each other through food.
A complete listing of service sites can be found at www.jewishmuslimdayofservicestl.org.