Sallyjo Levine believes voluntarism is an essential Jewish value.
Sallyjo Levine believes voluntarism is an essential Jewish value.

When she was a little girl, Sallyjo Levine’s mother told her she was born with her fist raised in the air.

“It seems as if I was born to have my hand up to help,” said Levine, 69, of West Bloomfield.

During her life, Levine said she has been a teacher and a businesswoman, but her greatest satisfaction and contributions have come through volunteering and social action.

Now Social Action Committee chair of Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, Levine believes that a lifetime of helping others is beneficial to one’s wellbeing. From organizing meal preparation for the poor, and now accompanying her grandchildren to help at Yad Ezra, Levine believes voluntarism is an essential Jewish value that must be taught early and practiced throughout one’s lifetime.

For the past 18 months, Levine and her small army of Shir Shalom volunteers — 60 and growing — have been preparing to run the temple’s first one-week homeless hospitality program. Through Dec. 18, 30 homeless men, women and children from Southfield’s South Oakland Shelter (SOS) will be hosted by the temple at the Corners in West Bloomfield. The guests will be provided breakfast and dinner. They will sleep at the Corners and each morning will head out to their jobs or go to school.

Levine began organizing hospitality stays for SOS several years ago, when she was a member at Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield. When Shir Shalom congregants brought up the idea to host their own hospitality week, Levine knew it was no small task, but she knew how to mobilize.

“I cautioned people just how monumental an undertaking it was, but people of all ages and abilities came out in droves to help,” she said.

Students worked to gather toiletries and create care packages. Other congregants will take turns cooking and serving meals, and others still will stay overnight with the guests.

In other volunteering activities, Levine coordinated efforts for congregants to prepare and deliver dinner to I Am My Brother’s Keeper Ministry in Detroit. She organized volunteers for monthly food deliveries to the Dr. Gary Burnstein Community Health Clinic in Pontiac through Forgotten Harvest, and started a game night program for children at the Coleman A. Young Elementary School in Detroit.

Levine grew up in Northwest Detroit and attended Congregation Shaarey Zedek. Everyone in the neighborhood back then was Jewish, she says. From an extremely early age, her parents taught her that because her family was blessed with everything they needed, they had an obligation to do good for others. Her earliest memories include being pulled in a wagon, going door to door with a jar to collect money for March of Dimes.

Though times and the neighborhood have changed, Levine believes that being part of the Jewish community means she and others have many talents to offer to improve the lives of others.

“The kids attending the schools I used to go to in Detroit don’t look like me anymore, but they deserve the exact education I received when I was a kid,” she said. “Just as Abraham ran out from his tent to greet and help strangers, this is what we as Jews need to do: Jump in and help.”

By Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer