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Jews, Muslims Volunteer on Christmas, Give Christians a Break

This year's Mitzvah Day is so popular that there is a wait list for volunteers.

Mitzvah Day is when hundreds of volunteers from metro Detroit pitch in to make Christmas a brighter day for their neighbors and community members.

Organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council, Mitzvah Day started about 20 years ago, said co-chair Micki Grossman, of Farmington Hills. 

She said it started with the idea of volunteering around the community every month at places like nursing homes and hospitals.

"Then someone came up with the idea that on Christmas Day, as Jewish people, we don't have anything to do," said Grossman, who has been co-chair of Mitzvah Day for six or seven years and before that a volunteer and site coordinator.

Mitzvah literally means commandment, so volunteers see this as a way to fulfill their obligation to the community.

"We can go out into the community and assist so that people who do practice Christmas can get a few hours off," she said.

Mitzvah Day started with 200 volunteers. This year's group is at 800 with a wait list of over 80 people, Grossman said.

"About three years ago we invited the Muslim community to participate, because they don't celebrate Christmas either," she said.

The Michigan Muslim Community Council, based in Royal Oak, and Zaman International, based in Dearborn, are partners in this.  Zaman International provided wrapped gifts that will be distributed to children on Christmas, and volunteers from Plymouth-Canton Educational Park's Muslim Student Association packed gifts in the weeks leading up to Mitzvah Day.

Mitzvah Day volunteers go all over southeast Michigan, from Detroit and Hamtramck to West Bloomfield and Plymouth Township.

Volunteers deliver toys to families, help package food with Gleaners Community Food Bank, serve food with Salvation Army, visit with senior citizens and much more.

Although all spots are filled this year, those interested can go to the Mitzvah Day website to sign up for a reminder of when registration will open for next year's Mitzvah Day.

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