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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Members of Congregation Kol Ami participate in Mitzvah Day in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. The day of service is held each year to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

SALT LAKE CITY — Members of a local Jewish synagogue held a special day of service Sunday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Families of Congregation Kol Ami spent the morning tying blankets, donating blood and performing other acts of service as part of the annual Mitzvah Day. 

Pamela Silberman, one of the event's organizers, said Mitzvah Day is a great opportunity for families in the community to teach their children about the value of serving others.

"The values of Martin Luther King are very much aligned with Jewish values," Silberman said. "As a mother, that's such an important value that I want to instill in my daughter, that it's important for her to give back to the community. We have a responsibility to make the world a better place."

Orit Sommer, Congregation Kol Ami's religious school director, said the group began having a Martin Luther King Jr. Day-inspired Mitzvah Day three years ago and each year has tried to reach out to more individuals and service organizations.

"Our intention is for this to be a day of the community and not just a day of the school," Sommer said. "The idea is to spread it out as wide and far as we can."

Service opportunities in this year's event included hygiene kits for the Fourth Street Clinic, fleece blankets for Project Linus, food boxes for the Utah Food Bank, arts and crafts for Primary Children's Medical Center, an American Red Cross blood drive and letter writing to Utah's lawmakers.

After a brief program about the life and legacy of King, families spent the morning hours rotating through the various stations to complete their service.

Sommer said Mitzvah Day events are held by congregations at various times throughout the year and are typically centered on the idea of community- and self-improvement.

In choosing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, Sommer said organizers felt the civil rights leader's legacy should be commemorated with a day "on" rather than a day off.

"This is the perfect context to have our Mitzvah Day," she said. "We think it's educational, national and for so many reasons it's just the right connection."

Andrea Caplan, who participated in the event with her husband and children, said the Mitzvah Day was a great activity for the family, as well as a way for parents to show their children through example the importance of volunteerism.

"It's very important to watch your parents do it to teach children the importance of doing service," she said. "I think it's a great experience with our kids."

Nicole Fenwick, a parent who oversaw the blanket-tying portion of the event, said the volunteers are able to produce around 40 no-sew fleece blankets each year, which are then given to Project Linus, a service organization that supplies hospitals and emergency service workers with blankets for children in need.

"Some kids will stay here the whole time," she said of the blanket-tying. "They just love doing this."

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com