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.

 


 

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. 

 

“You are not required to finish the work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.”         

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), Chapter 2:16      

 

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.  

Care for the WRT Mitzvah Garden:  Do you have a green thumb or want to get outside with your family for a bit without screens or technology?  Volunteer to take care of WRT’s Mitzvah Garden.  

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 and sign up.  

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

 

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

 

Sharon

 


 

March 28, 2022

WRT Comes Together to Address Food Insecurity in Westchester County

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.

 

“You are not required to finish the work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it”

– Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), Chapter 2:16;

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 and sign up.  

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 will pickup food directly from your home and donate it to Feeding Westchester.  At this time only non-perishable items are accepted.  The food was previously donated to Feeding Westchester and this month it will be donated to HOPE Community Services. The next food donation pick up is April 3SIGN UP  After April 3, Neighbors2Neighbors will be shifting to a new model.  Stay tuned for more information.  

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

 

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

Sharon