For Bessie Rutchik, a resident of Homecrest House in Silver Spring, the arrival of 20 "young people" to play an afternoon of bingo recently was a blessing and not in disguise.
"They were really a joy," Rutchik said. "They made me feel like I was with my grandchildren. It gave me a lift for the entire day."
Rutchik's visitors were members of the Mitzvah Makers, the Joy of Judaism, a group of young professionals ages 22 to 35 that was formed several months ago when co-workers Kris Wallerstein and Beth Benswanger decided they wanted to get involved in a philanthropic organization that helps Jews who need companionship.
Most participants are people "who are typically not affiliated with a synagogue," or perhaps any other Jewish organization, said Wallerstein, 28, a retail property management administrator with Beco Management. "They may not have the opportunity to [participate] and see all the good you can do."
Doris Torti, director of programming at Homecrest House, said the residents, all of whom are in their late eighties and early nineties, got a boost of self-esteem from the Mitzvah Makers. "It was like having a house guest. There is definitely a need for this. It brought back memories of [the lives they led] in their own homes."
In addition to the bingo with the seniors, the group has played putt-putt golf with a group from the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes and held a picnic combined with a craft session for seniors and young people. On Sept. 22, it will sponsor a showing of "The Last Days" by Steven Spielberg at the Bethesda Cinema and Draft House, where the scheduled speaker is Spielberg's sister, Susan Pasternak, an area resident.
Persuading people to participate in the organization wasn't hard, the co-founders said. They easily found people who backed the group's mission: to do an activity with people who might not be able to do it on their own, perhaps because of age or disabilities. The group's goal is to do a good deed, which is the meaning of the word mitzvah. Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland, volunteered to be the group's adviser.
Benswanger, 27, of Germantown, also a retail property management administrator at Beco Management, said she hopes that within a year, the Mitzvah Makers will have name recognition within and outside the Jewish community.
Alan Popvosky, 36, owner of Felix's, a nightspot in Adams-Morgan, said that although he has lived in the area many years, he had not joined a volunteer group before his involvement with Mitzvah Makers. "I felt like I was missing a lot of my life," he said.
He added that he enjoys giving back to the community. "It was a rewarding experience," he said of the group's recent outing to play miniature golf with some seniors.
Wallerstein, who says planning group activities takes a large part of her day, said she wants the participants to walk away with good feelings. "I want them to say, 'It's just a few hours of my time once a month, but look how good it makes me feel and makes the other people feel,' " she said.
People interested in the Mitzvah Makers can find information on the Internet at www.mitzvahmakers.org.