IOWA CITY — While many families were waking up to presents under the tree or preparing a noon meal, two women sat in the quiet lobby of Mercy Iowa City.
Jeanne Cadoret and Carrie Z. Norton, longtime friends, volunteered to spend their Christmas morning as volunteers at the hospital. They answered phones and talked to the rare individual that passed through the mostly deserted lobby.
Cadoret, age 77 of Solon, and Norton, age 72 of Iowa City, have spent part of their the holiday here for several years. To the women, both of whom are Jewish, it’s a simple kindness they can perform — but one that has been a part of a long standing partnership between the hospital and a local synagogue.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” Cadoret said. “Christmas is special for other people, so let them enjoy it.”
Congregants of Agudas Achim synagogue in Coralville have taken volunteer shifts at Mercy Iowa City during Christmastime for several years to allow the regular volunteers to be home for the holiday.
Each Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, volunteers take over duties at the front reception desk of the hospital, which mostly includes answering phones, directing visitors to patient rooms or escorting patients to the emergency room or other departments.
“The value is that we’re allowing our Christian neighbors and friends to have that time with their families,” said Martha Lubaroff, member of the synagogue and volunteer coordinator for the effort. “It’s not a time we care about, so it’s easier for us to take over those positions and give other people to be with their families.”
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The estimates are fuzzy on how far back the trade-off goes, but according to Mercy Iowa City spokeswoman Margaret Reese, it’s been at least 30 years.
The volunteers are coordinated by the Tikkun Olam committee, which is chaired by Lubaroff. Tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase, translates to “repair the world.” It’s a phrase found in Judaic teachings related to social activism, community giving, as well as social justice.
The world has issues, Cadoret explained, and that’s part of the reason why people must work to make it better. One person can’t change the entire world, but one person can make an impact on whatever corner of the world they live in.
“One person will not change the world, but you’ve got to do your share,” Cadoret said. “You’ve got to make better whatever part you have access to or contact with.”
It doesn’t have to be a big action to be a good thing to do, she added. It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone at the grocery store.
The Tikkun Olam Committee works to promote community involvement all year-round, including food drives and other projects during the Jewish high holidays Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Lubaroff said.
“It’s very broad, but it’s like the saying: you’re either a part of the solution or you’re part of the problem,” Norton said. “I think most people subscribe to that belief.”
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