Social Action/Social Justice Committee Reviews Its
Multi-faceted and Vital Work
(Editor’s Note: Presented by committee co-chair Valerie Tabak at the
April 29 Social Action/Social Justice Shabbat)
Shabbat Sholom and thank you for being here to celebrate and learn with us during this special Shabbat service.
Despite the many challenges of these past two years, our Social Action/Social Justice Committee has grown in both our committee’s name and our membership numbers. We are so pleased to have the many minds and hands that make all that we do possible, even during these truly unusual and uncertain times. Additionally, we are continually invigorated because many of the projects that we bring to this congregation become congregational efforts. Thank you everyone.
Before I share some of the many undertakings of this committee, I want to thank Rabbi Weisbrot for attending our committee meetings that she works to fit into her busy schedule, and also we thank the members of the Delmar Presbyterian Church who partner with us for food and clothing collections and through our shared work with Family Promise of the Capital District.
Speaking of Family Promise, we are fortunate to have Anita Stein as our liaison who keeps us apprised of the opportunities to provide meals and, once again, companionship to the guests of Family Promise, and Becky Marvin who served on the board and continues as chair of fundraising. We thank the congregants who donated items for this year’s auction. If you are unfamiliar with this organization, please reach out to Anita for information. As the only Jewish house of worship in our area that is a member congregation, we are proud of B’nai Sholom’s commitment to this organization that strives to house families who find themselves homeless.
Food insecurity has increased as the pandemic has raged on. Members of our committee and congregation have continued their volunteer efforts at the Sister Maureen Joyce Soup Kitchen. With thanks to Steve Klein for coordinating and Janet Strominger for all of her efforts in feeding the homeless, we thank all who have baked desserts that are served as part of the meal. Hayden Schwartz has stepped up to being our next coordinator as we seek additional venues for which our help is needed.
Thanks to all, too, who have made it possible for us to stock refrigerators for Free Food Fridge Albany. We will continue to seek monetary donations and volunteers to help us provide fresh food for those in need.
Our collections for non-perishable food and diapers have enabled replenishment of the Little Food Pantries in Albany and one in Schenectady, when restocking is necessary, with thanks to the generosity of our congregants. In keeping with this, the donations brought for tonight’s “Reverse Oneg” will certainly be beneficial to so many.
Clothing collections have continued in both fall and spring. Clothing collected at this year’s spring drive will be taken to the City Mission.
With our kickoff event of May 5, 2021, many members of our B’nai Sholom family furthered our congregation’s commitment as a Brit Olam Congregation, “to strengthen and connect our congregation to Reform Judaism’s social justice endeavors and priorities,” by participating in an evening with Rabbi Jonathan Kligler, singer-songwriter, activist and educator Reggie Harris, and our own president, author and educator Julie Novkov.
While chronicling the film Shared Legacies and the major unifying events that brought both prominent members and concerned citizens of the Black and Jewish communities together to demand voting, educational and employment equity during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954 through 1968, Rabbi Kligler and Reggie wove their many-year friendship into the film’s important themes that Jewish people have a particular history, including slavery and near annihilation due to both slavery and the Holocaust, into their conversation. Our moderator, Julie Novkov, posed questions that our members had submitted, which kept the discussion relevant from the perspectives of the film’s many important historical moments, through current relations among and between members of Black and Jewish communities. Out of this exciting evening came our now worn and tattered HINENU, WE ARE HERE, BLACK LIVES MATTER banners that proudly graced our front lawn. We are currently investigating more permanent signage that can show our congregational support for causes that are important to our Jewish values.
Our Rabbi is working to develop relationships with clergy in the area who can help to guide us with what is needed in the Black community so that our work will be beneficial to what is needed and wanted.
Out of our growing awareness that inclusivity is a key element for growing and maintaining our place in the Jewish community, the Reform Jewish Movement’s focused effort, Audacious Hospitality, was brought to the Board of Trustees, and we are so grateful that not only was this approved, but a subcommittee is being formed to begin the work. We are excited that Steve Gottlieb has agreed to be our committee’s representative on this group. It is reinforcing to know that we are already of the belief that we are a more vibrant Jewish community when we fully incorporate the diversity that is the reality of modern Jewish life.
Literacy initiatives, which are funded by the generous contributions to our Vera Propp Book Fund and Books for Babies program, have continued to give us the opportunity to purchase baby board books which, along with information outlining the importance of reading to your baby, is distributed to organizations that encourage reading as a practice in families where reading may not be a tradition. Our latest order of 255 books is soon to be packaged and delivered to the Schuyler Inn, Dr. Bob Paeglow’s office and The Baby Institute among others. We continue with our monetary support to help purchase books for well-child checkups at the Whitney Young Health Care Center in Albany. Our synagogue-wide book collection for the RED Bookshelf was an amazing success.
As a member of the Capital Region Interfaith Creation Care Coalition (CRICCC), the committee has had an incredible representative in Barry Pendergrass who has continued to keep us alerted to climate and environmental issues that affect us all. Sharing volunteer opportunities and providing websites and phone numbers to make our voices heard through support of legislation and showing up to support projects and causes, we are consistently made aware of what we can do to help ensure that we will have a habitable planet for us and for future generations. Barry has now expanded his role and is our representative to Religious Action Center of NY (RAC NY) and its Climate Covenant – A Campaign to Combat Climate Change, which began with a ZOOM kick off in March and a regional retreat held in May. Please reach out to Barry for more information and take a look at the RAC-NY website.
Last year, RAC-NY’s focus was on racial justice and parole reform. Gail Volk led us into congregational participation in statewide ZOOM calls and telephone messaging with our local and national leaders, including Senator Charles Schumer. The postcard writing campaign, GET OUT THE VOTE, saw many congregants participate in alerting Georgians that they needed to make sure they were registered to vote. Our voices were heard!
Universal Health Care, an ongoing initiative of CDAUH, the Capital District Alliance for Universal Healthcare, has Dave Ray as our representative. CDAUH is now part of a coalition to get more people to volunteer and joined forces with the Poor People’s Campaign and the Labor-Religion Coalition. Broadening the base is the goal. Trying to get universal health care state by state is the current strategy.
It is my pleasure to serve alongside Becky Marvin as cochair of this amazing committee.
On a side note, taking a page from David Liebschutz’s playbook, I am proud to stand here at the bimah on the 56th anniversary of my bat mitzvah at Temple Beth Sholom in New City, NY.
Again, thank you B’nai Sholom congregants for all you do in helping to make this committee’s work not only meaningful but beneficial to our community and our world.