December 6, 2010; Source: Anchorage Daily News | This year instead of going to the shopping mall to pick out holiday gifts, Anchorage residents made their way to the Beth Sholom synagogue where they chose specialty items meant to do good for people less fortunate than themselves.

The range of offerings at tables set up at the third annual Mitzah Mall included warm blankets for a family left homeless by a fire, a toothbrush out of reach for the parents of a needy child, and an HIV test for someone who couldn’t pay for it on his own. Small gifts, each of them, but the kind that make a difference, according to Barbara Brown, a congregant, who helped organize this year’s event.

In response to a question about the motivation of a temple holding a kind of charity fund-raiser more likely to be found this time of year at a Christian house of worship, Brown said the mall reflects the Jewish tradition of “tikkun olam,” which translates to “repair the world.” Brown added that the Mitzvah Mall was Beth Sholom’s “gift to the Anchorage community.”

Many of the gifts that could be purchased for a donation were notable both for the good they offered and the low price. For instance, $5 given to Catholic Services purchased a pair of socks for a needy adult, while a $15 gift to Lutheran Social Services could buy someone a state ID card for job or housing applications. Other items included a $4 meal for a child at Bean’s Cafe soup kitchen. Bean’s was also offering the chance to provide everyone a day’s supply vitamins and pain relievers for only $15.

But of all charities, Habitat for Humanity was flushed with pride for one of the biggest donations of the event—$200 for a toilet for one of several new homes the agency is constructing in Anchorage. Beth Sholom’s Barbara Brown noted that of all the gifts, this one really stood apart from the others. “You don’t have to dust it. You don’t have to find a place for it.”—Bruce Trachtenberg