On Christmas, when those who celebrate the holiday want to be with family, the hungry are still hungry, the disabled still need help, shelter dogs still need to be fed, and the elderly still need companionship. It’s been an annual tradition for Jewish Detroiters to gather for Mitzvah (good deed) Day each Christmas to relieve Christian staff and volunteers at hospitals, food pantries, homeless shelters and assisted-living centers.
Six years ago, Jewish, Muslim and Interfaith leaders came together looking for something on which they could work together. Out of that meeting came the idea of involving the Muslim community in Mitzvah Day.
Their thought, says Robert Cohen, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, was that “it should be the kind of thing that was relatively unassailable to critics in both of our communities who don’t want to see us working together.”
“We know that we still need to get along productively with our neighbors,” says Cohen. “It’s important to find people we can work with on things we can work with that have absolutely nothing to do with the things that divide us.”
Not only was the Mitzvah Day effort successful in its goal of bringing Muslims and Jews together to do something for the community, but it got a lot of media coverage. Cohen says that they even got a phone call from a Jewish Community in New Zealand asking for particulars. “It’s the kind of thing that really does have some legs,” said Cohen.
Looking to build on that success, the group conceived an interfaith health fair. The first year, it was held at Detroit’s Muslim Center. A group of Muslim and Jewish doctors, nurses and social workers saw over 120 people, mostly African American Christians.
In addition to giving clients access to potentially life-saving information and referrals for their health care, it was a great opportunity for participating health care professionals to get to know their colleagues in each other’s faith community.
This year’s Interfaith Health Fair is this coming Sunday, May 31, from 1 – 5 pm at People’s Community Services, 8625 Joseph Campau, in Hamtramck. It will provide free medical screenings for residents of Detroit.
The program especially targets the working poor and homeless populations. Multilingual posters advertise the event around the community.
The clinic will feature education stations with informational literature, and social workers will be on hand to assist with referrals to direct service agencies. Cohen says that because this population doesn’t always have access to phones or computers to register, it’s very hard to know how many people will come. But they have made contingency plans with health care providers to see anyone who does not get seen at the event.
Cohen says that he hopes to see the program grow and expects this year to provide the basis to get the necessary funding to do it on an on-going basis. So far, the JCRC has donated staff to coordinate the fair, but going forward, there needs to be funding to staff the effort.
The Interfaith Health Fair is a joint project of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Interfaith Leadership Council. And sponsors include the Henry Ford Health System, Huda Clinic, Detroit Medical Center, Covenant Community Care, Matrix Human Services, Detroit Wayne County Health Authority, Jewish Family Services, the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, Zaman International and ACCESS International.
For more information, contact the Jewish Community Relations Council 248-642-2656 or firstname.lastname@example.org.