Malay children get books from Isaiahs congregants

This is the third year that families from the Contra Costa County synagogue have donated items such as old books, clothes, typewriters and toys to these islanders.

On Sunday, 35 members from Isaiah once again packed and decorated boxes for their friends in Jolo and other parts of the Philippines, assisting Books for the Barrios, which distributes items to some of the most impoverished, remote islands in the Philippines.

This was just one of 25 projects that took place during Isaiah's third annual Mitzvah Day, an event in which 700 people participated.

Nancy Harrington, president of the nonprofit Books for the Barrios, said her hope this year was to receive more children's books on Judaism for the Malay youth.

While some Isaiah congregants might consider their donations and efforts a relatively small gesture, the youngsters on the receiving end have called it "manna from heaven," said Harrington.

"Muslim children need to learn about the Jewish religion and Jewish people, because all too often, people don't have an opportunity to read or learn about other cultures."

By a standard set by the Philippine education department, all books sent out by Harrington are printed in English. Although English is spoken throughout the island, Tausog is the principal dialect used by the Malays.

"This is my contribution to world peace," said Harrington.

Harrington said her organization is a popular choice on Mitzvah Day because its 4,000 square-foot warehouse in Concord provides an appropriate setting for families that have gathered to express compassion by donating old items.

"They soon realize what they are sharing will help develop a decent quality education for people 10,000 miles away," Harrington said.

The link between Isaiah and Books for the Barrios was established three years ago, after Dr. Susan Adler-Bressler, a congregant, discovered that her son's elementary school in Alamo was involved with the organization.

"The great thing about Mitzvah Day is spreading the word about nonprofit organizations in our area that need our help," Adler-Bressler said.

Other Mitzvah Day projects included working with homeless people at the Cambridge Community Center; building homes for Habitat for Humanity; cleaning a Jewish cemetery, a zoo, parks, reservoirs and a butterfly habitat; and visiting retirement homes and medical centers.

"The thing I like best about Mitzvah Day," said Isaiah Rabbi Judy Shanks, "is that it allows members of all ages to put Jewish values into action."