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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 1988
Continued from preceding page
with Midrash texts and interpretations
and a healthy dose of humor — sometimes
all at once — in underscoring the impor-
tance of doing good deeds.
He would read a few items from a book
he co-authored, The Unorthodox Book Of
Jewish Lists, a kind of Ginsburg Book of
World Records, to loosen up the audience,
then cite a passage from the Talmud or
Midrash about tzedakah. It may sound jar-
ring on paper, but seemed quite natural
with his audience as he moved about the
room, weaving through the crowd, solicit-
ing participation through questions and
He quoted a Talmudic passage that says
that when a person dies and approaches
Olam Habah, or Heaven, he will be asked
his occupation. ("Ghosts go up to Olam
Haboo," he punned.) Those who answer
that they fed the hungry or clothed the
naked will be invited through the Gates of
Righteousness, says the Talmud. "It's not
your job that defines your occupation in
this world," noted Siegel, "but what you do
for your fellow man.
"More important than being smart or
wealthy is being a mensch."
Siegel's mitzvah heroes include the
famous and the unknown, from singer Ken-
ny Rogers, who donates a portion of his
concert proceeds to feed the hungry, to
Sylvia Orzoff, a 76-year-old Los Angeles
woman who in 23 years of standing in front
of Canter's Deli on Fairfax Avenue with a
Jewish National Fund charity box has
raised $2 million.
Siegel told his Charleston audience that
he had spent the previous day in Colum-
bia, South Carolina, about two hours away
by car, meeting with John Fling, a 67-year-
old man who delivers auto parts for a liv-
ing and in his free time scours the area for
people in need: food, clothing, shopping,
toys, house painting — just about any-
thing. Siegel had read about Fling and seen
him featured on the NBC Nightly News.
He referred to him as "one of those good
people who do the right thing," and told
of how moved he was to see Fling in action.
Siegel then asked everyone in the audience
for a dollar donation to help supply a
microwave oven for a blind woman Fling
is helping. (Microwaves are considered far
safer for the blind to operate.) He walked
through the crowd and in about two
minutes had collected $177, just like that.
Over and over he stressed that ours is a
self-indulgent society whose children are
not even made aware of their responsibili-
ty to help improve the world. Don't leave
it for others to do and don't think it's so
difficult. Just do it, Siegel instructs both
old and young.
During the recent United Synagogue
Youth international convention, Siegel
spoke to more than a thousand high
school-age delegates, holding their atten-
tion as he issued a challenge of sorts to
each of them: You too can be a mitzvah per-
son and help change the world.
He spoke of Miriam Mendelow, founder
of Lifeline for the Old, and how she has
brought new meaning to life for many
elderly people in Jerusalem by encourag-
ing and selling their handiwork. He showed
them the hand-made gray sweater he wore,
a gift for him from the participants in the
Siegel spoke of Hadassah Levy and how
she started her efforts on behalf of children
with Down's Syndrome. About 12 years
ago she was a patient in an Israeli hospital
and noticed that some of the abandoned
infants with Down's were left near the win-
dow. She surmised that they were left there
with the thought that they may catch
pneumonia and die. She took several of
these children home with her and now
cares for 38 youngsters with Down's.
He spoke of Raanan Engelhart in Chi-
cago who decided that for his Bar Mitzvah
he would invite guests to bring an old coat
to be donated to the poor. Eighty guests
did so and today, at the age of 14, young
Engelhart is founder and chairman of his
synagogue's project to collect and
distribute overcoats to the poor. Similar
projects have begun in at least a half dozen
other communities around the country.
"Are these miracle workers?" Siegel
asked, referring to Mendelow, Levy and
Engelhart. "Are these extraordinary peo-
ple? Hardly. The point is that these are or-
dinary people who discovered something
wrong in this lousy world and decided to
do something to make it better.
"You can be an ordinary person as well
as a mitzvah worker-hero."
Siegel closed by telling his audience
about Trevor Ferrell of Philadelphia who
four years ago, at the age of 11, brought
a blanket to a homeless man. Every night
since then he has provided meals for the
homeless. With his group of volunteers,
now numbering in the hundreds, more than
180,000 meals have been distributed.
"I expect some of you to be able to do
this kind of mitzvah work, too, in the next
four years," said Seigel. "Why wait for the
adult community to do these works of
kindness? I hope that each of you is mov-
ing towards this, for all of us can be nor-
mal, everyday people who happen to work