Repairing Our World – WRT Social Impact Update

 

For those of you who I have not had the opportunity to personally meet, my name is Sharon Stiefel, and I am WRT’s Director of Social Impact and Community Engagement.  With help from each of you, and the support and guidance of the incredible clergy and staff, together we will weave a thread of tzedek and tikkun olam throughout the tapestry of Jewish life at Westchester Reform Temple.  

Through this blog, Repairing Our World, I will explore ways in which WRT is making and can continue to make this world a better place.

 

B’yachad, doing things as one, we make a bigger difference,

Sharon


November 22, 2022

 

Celebrating Thanksgiving Jewishly

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.  Having grown up without many Jewish friends, I spent a lot of holidays either being the one celebrating or the only one not celebrating.  Thanksgiving was that one holiday during which I felt part of the bigger community, experiencing what everyone else got to experience.  But what about those that are not fortunate enough to be able to celebrate the way “everyone else” does?

This year, in furtherance of its commitment to fighting food insecurity, WRT launched a new initiative – WRT Delivers Thanksgiving.  To ensure that as many people as possible, regardless of circumstances, have the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving, WRT joined a local Scarsdale tradition – Grandma Pat’s Thanksgiving Dinner – to come together to feed those in our community that might otherwise have gone hungry on Thanksgiving. 

Grandma Pat was the mother of a local Scarsdale mother, Cindi Fisher, who shared in the belief that no one should go hungry, much less on Thanksgiving when others are able to gather around a table and enjoy a holiday meal. When Pat passed away, Grandma Pat’s Thanksgiving Dinner was her family’s way of not only feeding those who are hungry but also to keep alive the traditions of Pat in showing kindness and support to those who are experiencing food insecurity. Cindy and her family teamed up with WRT to continue her family’s tradition.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, under the leadership of Allison Friedland, Cindi Fisher and Amy Hirschhorn, over 250 volunteers, some as young as four years old, gathered at WRT to cook, bake, and distribute food.  If cooking wasn’t your thing?  No big deal – you could decorate Thanksgiving cards, or be one of our special Turkey carvers.   Together, we were able to prepare Turkey, candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, corn bread, brownies and cookies for 365 people, as well as an additional 100 cornbread, 50 trays of cranberry sauce, and 4 green bean casseroles.  Without the support and hard work of the WRT facilities staff, none of this would have been possible.

In addition, because of your generosity, we were able to provide 90 $50 Stop and Shop gift cards to HOPE Community Services, Mt. Vernon Department of Community Engagement, and Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Yonkers.  A special thank you to Yoel Magid for organizing these efforts.

I have always struggled with the concept of volunteerism around the holidays, in fear that there would be an overabundance of giving on a specific holiday, when the need exists all year round.  But I have learned that tzedakah during the holiday season is just as important.  Indeed, a founding principle of Mazon is the ancient rabbinic tradition that a celebration may not begin until the community’s poor and hungry are seated and fed.   And still, our WRT community ensured that our weekly commitments were still fulfilled.  While WRT Delivers Thanksgiving prepared Thanksgiving meals, members of Cooking4HOPE prepared 440 sandwich bags for distribution to HOPE Community Services.  

I began by discussing Thanksgiving as the secular holiday that I was able to experience with everyone else.  But what could be more Jewish about a holiday than providing for those that are less fortunate?  During the Passover seder, we say “All who are hungry, come and eat!”  In the Haftarah reading for Yom Kippur, Isaiah challenges the people to do more than ritually observe the fast; he implores them to let this fast lead the the people to do the work of tikkun olam and “to share your bread with the hungry.” (Isaiah 58).  And on Purim, we give matanot la’evyonim, gifts to the needy, to ensure that everyone can partake in the feast and celebration of Purim.

As a relative newcomer to this community, I cannot say enough about how moved I was to see so many people, new friends and old ones, come together with the common cause of helping others.  The social hall and kitchen were filled with the chatter of people becoming acquainted and reacquainted – ECC families, college students home for the holidays, Men of Reform Judaism, Family Mitzvah Corps, Women of Reform Judaism, the WRT Social Impact Council, members of the WRT Board of Trustees, Cooking4HOPE volunteers, JLL and Sharing Shabbat families, and many community members.  As we sit down to our Thanksgiving meals with our family and friends, we will know that we celebrated Jewishly by not sitting down to our own meal until we knew that our neighbors were cared for.

 Learn more about where the food was donated:

Meals on Main Street

The Friendly Fridge Network

Mamaroneck Community Resources Center

 

 

If you participated in WRT Delivers Thanksgiving, this is a great opportunity for you to reflect on your experience, write it down, and put it in your Tzedek Box!

 

 


November 14, 2022

 

No Mitzvah Too Big, No Child Too Small

Ok, this might be an overstatement, but when speaking of children, there is nothing catchier than the Paw Patrol phrase, “no job is too big, no pup is too small.”  And seeing the outpouring of generosity by the ECC families, I may not be overstating that much.

Cantor Danielle Rodnziki kicked off our ECC Pajama and Book Drive on October 28, 2022 during ECC Shabbat, when she read the classes Llama, Llama, Red Pajama, and encouraged those who could to donate new pajamas and books for children in need.  Not only were children captivated by Cantor Rodnizki’s story time, they truly listened to her message.  

From October 31 through November 3, the ECC parents brought new pajamas and books, collecting over 300 items for donation.  The week culminated in a pajama day on Thursday, November 3, during which all ECC members, regardless of size or age, were encouraged to wear their pajamas to school.  I can remember being a kid and not only getting excited to wear my pajamas to school, but the thrill of seeing my teachers in pajamas!  Sue Tolchin, ECC Director; Rebecca Roseman, ECC Associate Director; and the ECC teachers did not disappoint!

As silly as a pajama day feels, it provides a tangible message for young children that all children deserve a meaningful bedtime routine.  A special thank you to the ECC Mitzvah Corps, co-chaired by Lauren Tetenbaum Dorman and Drew Kramer, for creating and promoting this meaningful opportunity.

 


September 23, 2022

 

Shana Tova

For me, Rosh Hashanah has always felt more like the “New Year” than December 31.  The secular New Year always felt like an interruption – the middle or the end.  It is the middle of winter, but the end of the Holiday season.  It is also my birthday.  It was not until I visited Israel on my birthday, where New Year’s Eve is just another day, that I had the opportunity to celebrate December 31 as mine and mine alone.

But I also choose to believe that my affinity toward Rosh Hashanah as the actual new year has more to do with Rosh Hashanah feeling like the true beginning, and less to do with me not wanting to share my birthday with the world’s party goers.  As students, our minds are trained to think of the year as September through June, with a break for summer.  As adults, we look forward to summer for slower days, and time for rejuvenation.  And as parents, we once again join the September through June schedule.  

Fall has always signified the beginning for me, even more so than Spring.  When the leaves change, I have always felt that it was time for the cycle to commence again. The beginning of harvest and the beginning of chillier weather.  But I also believe that this feeling of renewal and commencement are not in addition to Rosh Hashanah but because of Rosh Hashanah.  

I, like many of you, use this time to reflect on my past year, and consider ways that I can do better toward my family and friends, and give more toward my community.  I also take the time to forgive myself for my mistakes and disappointments, putting them aside and resolving to do better in the upcoming year.  

During this time of renewal, I ask that each of us take time to consider ways to be more patient, be more forgiving, and give a little bit more of ourselves to others that do not have as much.  I look forward to working with each of you in 5783 to perform acts of tikkun olam as we work toward making this world a better place.

Shana Tova,

Sharon

 


D’Var Torah Delivered on Shabbat, August 19, 2022

 

Paying Your Privilege Forward

Good evening and Shabbat Shalom.  It is my honor to deliver the D’Var Torah this evening.  Let me introduce myself.  I am Sharon Stiefel, your Director of Social Impact and Community Engagement here at Westchester Reform Temple.  I am a white, Jewish, cisgender, heterosexual, woman, mother, and wife.  

I also love Broadway, and I recently had the privilege of seeing one of my favorite musicals, Into the Woods.  Consider the stories of Cinderella and the Baker.  

Cinderella wants to go to the festival at the castle.  However, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother and stepsisters will not allow her to go.  Cinderella has done nothing wrong; rather she does everything asked of her.  Yet, because of circumstances beyond Cinderella’s control – the death of her mother and the remarriage of her father – she is treated as less than and not permitted to join the other people at the castle.

The baker and his wife are unable to conceive a child.  They learn from the witch that she placed a curse on their lineage because the baker’s father stole magic beans from her.  The Baker is being punished for the choices of his father; the repercussions of his ancestor’s history fall upon the baker and his wife.  

And so, along with the other well known fairy tale characters, Cinderella, the Baker and his wife go off into the woods in search of their wishes; or put another way, they go off to try to get their “wish” despite their current circumstances for which they do not have responsibility.

This week’s Torah portion is called Eikev. It’s the third portion in the Book of Deuteronomy. The Israelites have been wandering the desert for 40 years and have finally come up on the border of Canaan, the promised land.  Moses is telling the Israelites what they must do to enter the land and to receive the favor of G-d.  

Moses warns the Israelites that they must abide the rules of G-d even after entering the land.  And if they do, G-d will make sure that their lives are bountiful and that they lack nothing.  In addition, G-d has promised to rid Canaan of the people currently living there.  

Moses explains, “It is not because of your virtues and your rectitude that you will be able to possess their country; but it is because of their wickedness that the Eternal your G-d is dispossessing those nations before you…” (9:5) (emphasis added).  We know that the Canaanites were idolaters.  But, at times so were the Israelites.  We do not know the Canaanites’ story, or the story of their ancestors.  Nor do we know whether they were given opportunities to atone, at least not until this moment when Moses addresses his people.  

Instead, we learn that the Israelites were given chance after chance to choose a better way, to choose to follow G-d, but fail, time and again.  Moses reminds the Israelites that they must “never forget” that they have been “defiant toward the Eternal” since they left the land of Egypt (9:7) recounting the way in which the Israelites themselves provoked, defied, and angered G-d (9:7).  Yet, the Israelites were given the opportunity to right their wrongs and still be rewarded by G-d.  G-d never deserted the Israelites, despite their wrongdoing, even when they were wandering the desert; the Eternal provided them with manna and water and ensured that their clothes would remain clean and their feet would not swell.  This is the essence of Moses’s stern speech to the Israelites.

So, here I am… the Director of Social Impact and Community Engagement at WRT.  And I read these words of Torah and begin to wonder: why the Israelites?  We admit they are imperfect.  We admit that they make mistakes.  And yet they are given repeated opportunities to prevail and eventually are led into the promised land.  

I began this evening with Cinderella and the Baker wandering the woods having to reckon with the consequences of choices made by  those who came before them.  And now we are here with the Israelites who are ultimately given redemption because of a promise made between the Eternal and  their ancestors. Moses tells the Israelites, “Remember that it is the Eternal your G-d who gives you the power to get wealth in fulfillment of the covenant made on oath with your fathers…” (8:18).   Repeatedly it is said that the reason is because of the covenant that G-d made with their ancestors.  Not with them; their ancestors.  In neither story are the current individuals’ virtue or goodness ultimately the deciding factor.   If they were, we would certainly find the Israelites’ behavior much more wanting than that of Cinderella or the Baker, to say nothing of  his wife who just married into this mess.  (Families, amirite?)  

I am going to suggest to you that the reason that Israelites have been given these opportunities, have defied the Eternal and yet been forgiven time and again, is because the Israelites have been granted a position of privilege.  And I note, as does Moses, that their privilege is not derived from the actions of these Israelites, but by the covenant made between the Eternal and their ancestors.  

Let’s be honest, naming “privilege” makes many of us not only feel uncomfortable, but also leaves many of us feeling blamed.   But I invite you to start getting comfortable with the word. 

Privilege is a special right or advantage granted to a particular person or group based on aspects of one’s identity.  Such aspects can include race, class, gender, sexual orientation, language, geographical location, ability, and religion, to name only a few.  But privilege is not stagnant.  A person may experience privilege as a result of one aspect of their identity under one circumstance, whereas the same person may be marginalized due to another aspect of identity under a different circumstance.

Privilege also does not mean we should be blamed for what we have, or that we did not work hard for what we have achieved, or that we have not overcome hardships. We know that the Israelites, although in a position of privilege, suffered and overcame challenges: they were slaves in Egypt and forced to roam the desert for forty years. The privilege was that they were benefiting from a covenant that they did not themselves earn, but was made for them by their ancestors.  

Each one of the Into the Woods characters, despite their personal wishes and struggles, also has their own privilege in comparison to the others.  While the Baker and his wife cannot conceive, they have a home and a business.  Comparatively, Jack and his mother cannot afford to eat, and yet Jack’s mother has the son she wanted.  Cinderella is treated as a servant in her own home.  But she has food, a home, and in the end the protection of a fairy godmother, as one may in a fairytale.

This evening I introduced myself as a white Jewish cisgender heterosexual woman, mother, and wife.  Some of these identities I was born with; some I chose.  I derive privilege from being white, cisgender, heterosexual, and married and disadvantage at times from being a woman, a Jew, a mother and a wife.  

So what do we do with the privilege we have?  This should be the operative question.  In this Torah portion, Moses warns the Israelites to “beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Eternal your G-d.”  (8:14).  What do we take from this?  Perhaps the takeaway ought to be:  Do not be ashamed of the good things you have or that you may have more than others.  Rather, name that privilege, and use it to pay it forward – do good in this world.  Do not be haughty, be generous.   

I challenge each of you to think of ways to pay your privilege forward.  Next Wednesday, August 24, we are gathering from 10:30 – 12:30 to write postcards encouraging underrepresented and marginalized communities to register to vote and vote in their primaries.  If you are interested, grab a flyer on your way out.   On August 29, at 10 am we will be gathering in the WRT kitchen to make hot meals for HOPE Community Services in New Rochelle.  These are just two examples of opportunities through which you can make an impact here at WRT.  Be sure to visit the WRT website, which has an upcoming opportunities page on its Impact section.  Together, we can be impactful, be mindful, and be just.  Shabbat Shalom.

 


August 4, 2022

 

Tikkun Olam is Not One Size Fits All  

I used to find the concept of Tikkun Olam daunting.  How could I, one person, repair the world?  Intellectually, I knew that this obligation was not mine alone.  Rather, it is for each of us to commit to acts of tzedakah (charity), chesed (kindness), and tzedek (righteousness) in order to  continue making the world a better place.  But this intellectual knowledge, and even acceptance, does not provide a road map to how, where, or what.  And it is the how, where, and what of social action that is really what many find daunting.

I believe that tikkun olam can come in many forms, as can action.  There is action in learning, cooking, conversing, reading, donating, and lobbying, to name only some examples.  The goal is to make an impact – and unlike when you are shopping for that perfect pair of shoes, or need the right size sheets for your new bed, there is no perfect size or style for acts of tikkun olam.  

This past week, the WRT community was extremely busy performing just deeds…

On Monday, many gathered in the WRT kitchen to cook hot meals and pack sandwich bags for the clients of Hope Community Services in New Rochelle, NY.  This is a monthly commitment that WRT has made to HOPE, and with the dedication of our community members, a commitment that we are able to fulfill each month.  It involves shopping, baking, cooking, driving and packing.  Each month, volunteers can be found in the WRT kitchen; some volunteers come when their schedules permit, while others volunteer every month. 

On Wednesday, as part of the Religious Action Center Every Voice, Every Vote campaign, many of us gathered in the social hall to write postcards urging registered, infrequent Black Florida voters to vote in the upcoming Florida primary.  The postcards are non-partisan, and encourage early voting and bringing ID to avoid Election Day challenges and intimidation.  For those that were unable to attend, but wanted to participate, I prepared postcard kits for them to pick up at WRT and write at home.  

On Sunday, while Rabbi Blake delivered his sermon, “You’ve Stayed Too Long on This Mountain,” at Greater Centennial AME Zion Church, joined by many WRT congregants both in person and via zoom, WRT hosted Supplies for Success under our tent.  We were joined by approximately 130 volunteers of all ages, and were able to back almost 500 backpacks that went directly to Hope Community Services and Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Yonkers, NY.

While some people wrote, some people gathered to listen, others cooked, and still others packed food and school supplies, we did so with the common goal of bringing more light into this world.  Our world, and each one of us, were a bit better off because we participated.

 

To learn more about Cooking4HOPE visit: Cooking4HOPE

To learn more about Every Voice, Every Vote, visit: Every Voice, Every Vote

To read Rabbi Blake’s sermon, visit:  You’ve Stayed Too Long on This Mountain

To read more about Supplies for Success, visit: Patch Article, The Examiner News, News 12 Westchester

 


June 23, 2022

 

Waiting Isn’t Easy

One of my children’s favorite books is Piggy and Elephant “Waiting Is Not Easy.”  In this book, Piggy wants to share a surprise with Elephant, but Elephant must wait to receive it.  This is very difficult for Elephant, who wants to give up many times.  At the end, Elephant sees that the surprise is the nighttime sky filled with stars, and says “this was worth the wait.”  In the current age of instant gratification – streaming television shows to binge watch in one weekend, next day delivery through amazon prime, and instacart – it is difficult to teach our children (and ourselves) that sometimes, things are worth the wait.  It is even more difficult to teach that sometimes, regardless of your patience and ability to wait, your wait may not be rewarded with results.

This past Saturday, I rejoined many Sharing Shabbat families to harvest our mitzvah garden.  We began by reflecting on the growth we had personally experienced during the passage of time between now and when we had planted the garden.  Next, we checked our garden to determine whether the passage of time (coupled with sun, fertilizer, and watering of course) had yielded a positive crop. The answer was yes and no.  We were able to harvest some of the kale, chives, and edible flowers. But the beets and radishes were not yet ready and needed more time.  So after waiting, and being rewarded with a small sampling of the harvest, we were being asked to wait again.

Gardening is unpredictable, and somewhat out of our control.  Fortunately, sometimes we can prepare for the unpredictable with additional planning.  You may recall that we planted the garden in celebration of Earth Day and in order to donate the harvest to HOPE Community Services to provide more fresh produce.  In case the harvest did not yield enough vegetables, Cantor Rodnizki and I had asked the Sharing Shabbat families to bring clementine with them that day.  And after sampling our harvest, we joined together under the WRT tent to make sandwiches and pack sandwich bags, including the clementine, for donation to HOPE Community Services. 

While we were packing the sandwiches, I was asked by one of the children, well under three years old, “Who’s hungry?”  At first, I thought he was referring to the oneg being laid out, and I began to explain about waiting, even trying to refer back to the vegetables that were not yet ready to be picked.  He looked at me confused, until I realized my mistake.  He was asking who all the sandwiches and snacks were being packed for.   Whereas I was still waiting for the next thing, he was present in the moment.  

After packing 350 sandwich bags, the time did come for us to relax, chat, and eat a meal together.  We talked about the wonderful morning spent together, and our individual plans for the upcoming summer.  We would wait for the mitzvah garden to finish growing in its own time, while we enjoyed the here and now.

 

   

 


June 13, 2022

 

WRT Stands Up Against Gun Violence

There is not a school aged youth (k-12) that remembers a time before gun violence and mass shootings existed in school.

The above was said by a student at the March For Our Lives Rally this past Saturday, and I have replayed that statement in my mind numerous times over the past few days.  I did not grow up with active shooter drills; my children, ages 4 and 7, are already well experienced in these drills.  Their drills began during their 2s program – one similar to the WRT ECC.

The day after the Buffalo massacre, my husband took my daughter to the supermarket for grocery shopping.  My son was at elementary school.   At the end of the day, I wondered whether we had put our children in danger by allowing them to go to the supermarket and school.  We must do better for our community, our neighbors throughout this country, and for our children.  This must not be the legacy that we leave them.

In Judaism, preservation of life takes precedence above all else.  Human life is so important, that if there is a choice between following the rules of Sabbath and saving a life, one must ignore the rules of Sabbath to save the life.  We, at WRT, know that hopes and prayers are no longer enough and that we must affirmatively protect the sanctity of life from gun violence.   WRT honors the victims of gun violence and demands action from our legislators.

March For Our Lives Rally:  On Saturday, June 11, members of WRT gathered at March For Our Lives to stand up for gun reform and call out against gun violence.  While we pray for the day we no longer need to attend these rallies, for now, we will continue showing up, pray with our feet, and raise our voice for change.

 

Interfaith Vigil to Honor Victims of Gun Violence:  On the evening of May 25, 2022, the day after the massacre in Uvalde, TX, members of our clergy, concerned community members, and elected officials came together at the Scarsdale-Hartsdale Interfaith Vigil to honor victims of gun violence and so no to the unrelenting plague of gun violence and mass shootings in America.  Rabbi David Levy offered the convocation, and Cantor Dannielle Rodnizki led the group in song.

If you would like to take action, stand up to the gun lobby by texting ACT to 644-33. Call NY Senator Schumer 202-224-6542 and tell him to put the Background Check Expansion Act on the floor for a vote now! If you would like to make a donation, please consider Everytown for gun safety: https://www.everytown.org/donation-information/

 


 

April 28, 2022

A Mitzvah Grows at WRT

As a child, and if I’m being honest well into adulthood, The Lorax was one of my favorite books.  For those of you who are not familiar with the story, a twelve year old boy who lives in a polluted place devoid of nature goes to see the once guardian of the forest, the Lorax, who tells him the story of how the natural environment was destroyed.  At the end of the book, the Lorax warns the boy, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”  To quote another children’s favorite, this is a “tale as old as time,” told again and again in movies and books: Ferngully, Wall-E, and Our House is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet, to name just a few.  But this story really began with the  allegory in the Garden of Eden in which G-d told Adam, “Take care not to damage and destroy My world, for if you destroy it, there is no one to repair it after you.”  (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13).  And while this was one of the first commandments given to us by the Eternal, the collective we have not listened.  

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of celebrating Earth Day with Sharing Shabbat families.  We planted a  burlap sack garden containing a mixture of lettuces, radishes, scallions, and edible flowers.  The intent that accompanied this Mitzvah Garden  was to think about the Earth, the nourishment it provides us, and the healing we must help it undergo.  Indeed, Asher Landes, the farmer who led us from Empress Greens, Inc., challenged us to find a blessing from our own lives and “plant” it in the earth along with the seeds and seedlings we would soon plant.  Next, each participant, parents and children, painted a sign to decorate the garden.  The signs reflected the intent and meaning that each individual person brought to this work – in the end there were images of hope, nature, sunlight, community, and beauty.  

While we honored G-d’s creation and warning not to destroy it in a literal sense, celebrating nature and planting new growth, we also honored the broader meaning of the Eternal’s caution and guidance.  For it is the entire world that has been given to us, including the people that inhabit this Earth.  When G-d placed Adam in the Garden of Eden it was so that humankind could “cultivate and care for it.”  (Genesis 4:15)   We must not just cultivate the land, we must work to care for the world and the people in it.    While we planted the WRT Mitzvah Garden in honor of Earth Day, we did so with the objective of growing food to donate to HOPE Services.  As I discussed in my previous entry “WRT Comes Together To Address Food Insecurity in Westchester County,” the children and teens of WRT recognized that food donations tend to come as shelf stable items.  Simply put, they noticed that with all the donations, there were no fresh fruits and vegetables.  So as we moved past Passover and looked toward Shavuot (a celebration of harvest), families at WRT planted a Mitzvah Garden that would grow food to help sustain those who have less access to fresh vegetables.  With sunshine, music, dirty hands, and a shared meal, we were able to honor the Earth on this Earth Day, planting the seeds of change in our next generations. 

I have been here at WRT as the Director of Social Impact and Community Engagement for a little over four months, and I, with each of your help, am cultivating our WRT world, growing a culture of tzedek (justice), tzedakah (charitable giving), and kehillah (community).  Through advocacy, education, and giving, we work together toward tikkun olam (repairing our world).   We are all a part of the mitzvot growing at WRT. 

 

 

As a garden will not flourish if forgotten and thus requires continuous attention, so does our world.  Learn more about ways each of you can continue this work.

Advocate for Green LegislationRAC-NY is urging New York Legislators to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.  To learn more click here and write an email to your legislator. To learn more ways that WRT is Green, visit WRT’s Environmental Impact page.  

Volunteer for Cooking4HOPE:  Cooking4HOPE is a centerpiece of tzedakah programming at WRT.  Cooking4HOPE is always in need of volunteers for monthly hot dinner-making and bakers for weekly lunch projects.  Please consider becoming a volunteer in Cooking4HOPE so that this WRT tradition of tzedakah and gemilut chasidim may continue.   Learn more.

Read with your children with intent:  Check out this list of wonderful books that focus on environmental justice and teach children to care about the environment.

In the community:  If you and your family are looking for other ways to fight food insecurity in the community, you can consider learning more about some of the organizations we at WRT have partnered with: Hope Community Services,  Feeding Westchester, Lifting Up Westchester,  Mott Haven Fridge

Environmental Impact at WRT: Learn more about Environmental Impact at WRT.

 


 

March 28, 2022

WRT Comes Together to Address Food Insecurity in Westchester County: Fulfilling the Mitzvah of Matanot La’evyonim

My first meaningful participation in social action was down the street from Westchester Reform Temple at the mid-Westchester YM&WHA (now the mid-Westchester JCC).  Being in junior high school and unaffiliated with a synagogue, my mother thought it was important for me to meet other Jewish youth.  She encouraged me to consider some of the teen opportunities at the “Y”, which is how I found myself holding a loaf of bread, standing outside a large social room with about seventy-five teens I had never met.  The program was called Sandwich Brigade, and each person was invited to bring a loaf of bread with which we then made hundreds of sandwiches for Providence House, Grace Church and Coachman Hotel Shelter.  As the program grew, we switched to lasagna, salad, and garlic bread.  I continued to walk through that door every Wednesday night for the next five years. 

I gained many things from my time down the street from WRT, especially lifelong friends and a passion for helping others. In many ways my life has come full circle from those Wednesday nights, as my first congregational wide initiative as Director of Social Impact and Community Engagement was to help the WRT community fulfill the Purim mitzvah of matanot la’evyonim, giving to those in need, by addressing the food insecurity that still exists, and has only worsened during Covid, right here in Westchester.  

When many of us think of Purim, we think of the “Jewish Halloween”, with funny costumes, loud noisemakers, carnivals, and the one time you are not only allowed, but encouraged, to make as much noise as possible during a holiday service.  But there are four mitzvot of Purim: the reading of the Megillah, the mishloach manot (giving of gifts to friends and neighbors), the Seudah (festive meal), and matonot la’evyonim (giving to those in need).  This year, the congregation was called upon to fulfill the mitzvah of matanot la’evyonim by donating food, which in turn was packaged by ECC and JLL students into breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner bags.  These bags were donated to Feeding Westchester and Lifting Up Westchester, both of which assist underserved individuals and families in Westchester County. 

Throughout the day leading up to the WRT Purim celebrations, I had the honor to meet with many ECC students and JLL students to teach them about matanot la’evyonim and to discuss food insecurity.  The children told me that when they themselves are hungry, they have trouble paying attention, have stomach aches, and are tired and cranky, to name a few feelings and emotions shared.  We then considered what it would feel like to feel this way all the time, and how difficult it would be to be our best selves if we did not know the next time we would have a meal.  Many of the JLL students noticed that the assembled bags lacked fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as fresh meat, chicken and fish, and we discussed the difficulty for those in need to receive fresh food.  By the end of the day, we were able to use the congregational donations of food to assemble approximately 650 meal bags for donation to local teens and families in Westchester County for donation to Feeding Westchester and Lifting Up Westchester.

 

With each group of students I met with, we acknowledged that while doing one good deed is important, that in order to repair our world, we must continue the work.   There are many opportunities both at Westchester Reform Temple and in the community to continue this work both individually and as a family. 

Cooking4HOPE:  For many, the menu I described for Sandwich Brigade may sound familiar.  It is similar to the food that volunteers for Cooking4HOPE have made weekly and monthly for the past 12 years for Hope Community Services of New Rochelle, feeding 125 people hot meals in addition to the hundreds of lunch bags that are donated for distribution.  I, like many, consider Cooking4HOPE the centerpiece of tzedakah programming at WRT.  Cooking4HOPE would not be as successful as it is without the tireless commitment and leadership, past and present, of Kristin Friedman, Debbie Radov, Debbie Kolodner, Emily Kolodner, Susan Kessler Ross, and Yoel Magid.  However, for this important work to continue, we cannot only rely on the few who have led this initiative.  Please consider becoming a volunteer in Cooking4HOPE so that this WRT tradition of tzedakah and gemilut chasidim may continue.  Cooking4HOPE is always in need of volunteers for monthly hot dinner-making and bakers for weekly lunch projects.  Learn more.  

Neighbors2Neighbors:  WRT’s very own Jordan Cascade, a senior at Scarsdale High School and recipient of WRT’s Tracy Kreisberg Prize (an award given to an outstanding confirmand) started his very own student run leftover food pick up service as his senior entrepreneurship program, called Neighbors2Neighbors.  Students picked up food directly from your home and donated it to Feeding Westchester and HOPE Community Services. 

In the community:  If you and your family are looking for other ways to fight food insecurity in the community, you can consider learning more about some of the organizations we at WRT have partnered with: Hope Community Services,  Feeding Westchester, Lifting Up Westchester,  Mott Haven Fridge

 


Sharing Shabbat and Family Mitzvah Corps Volunteer with Mott Haven Fridge

In November 2021, Sharing Shabbat and Family Mitzvah Corps came together to volunteer for Mott Haven Community Fridge, a non-profit that helps gather, sort, and repackage fresh produce that would otherwise be thrown away. Volunteers then drive and deliver that produce to community fridges around the Bronx, helping to feed our neighbors in need with nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be too expensive or difficult to find. As WRT and the larger community began work together that morning, Rabbi Levy reminded the group of our sacred obligation to feed the hungry, and Cantor Rodnizki led everyone in a special blessing thanking God for the opportunity to help repair the world.

Mott Haven Fridge is an active collaborator and partner of Westchester Reform Temple.  Not only did this wonderful event take place, Dan Zauderer,  cofounder, presented to the WRT Racial Justice Working Group about food insecurity.  Not only does Mott Haven Community Fridge provide a meaningful tikkun olam opportunity to be shared by the whole family, there are also many b’nei mitzvah opportunities.