By ISJL Education Fellow, Sam Kahan
During the annual ISJL Education Conference, Education Fellows traditionally present some sort of “schtick” during meals. This year the Fellows pondered the question: “if you were a Jewish superhero, who would you be?”
As the daughter of an excellent Jewish mother, I know that feeding those you love is both a Jewish value and, at times, a superhuman accomplishment. Having inherited my mother’s drive for preparing and sharing meals, I had to incorporate food into my wished-for superpower.
My passion for feeding others manifests itself in many ways. For one, I love to cook for friends when they stop by my house. It is in my blood, or so my mother tells me. But my desire to share sustenance with others is not limited to friends and family, rather, it extends to the community at large.
A few years ago, a friend and I were involved with an organization that set up a temporary food pantry on the corner of a busy Baltimore intersection during Thanksgiving. There we were: armed with hundreds of thanksgiving meals, donated clothing, blankets and other items essential for surviving a brutally cold winter on the Baltimore streets. As I served a tremendous number of homeless people who stopped by to receive aid, I found myself thinking. I thought of what a mitzvah it was that this group of people took time out of their Thanksgiving, a day reserved for family and friends, to make sure that the larger community was taken care of.
I reflect back on this moment and recognize the teachings of Judaism that not only encourage, but command us to care for those who are hungry. The aspiration to feed friends, family, and community echoes Jewish values and is a Jewish superpower we should all work to develop. Matzah Mama will make her next appearance at Rodef Sholom Temple in Hampton, Virginia, during a Passover program about creating family traditions, be sure to watch out for her!
If you were a Jewish superhero, who would you be?
Did you grow up watching Captain Planet? (I didn’t – but that’s a long story; apparently I have some catching up to do on cartoons and sitcoms of the ‘80s and ‘90s). The point is, if Captain Planet were Jewish, he would be preparing right now to celebrate his favorite holiday: Tu Bishvat, the New Year for trees.
The timing of Tu Bishvat seems perfect; it follows a period of introspection where we reflect on our past year and make resolutions for the coming year. But, by the end of the month, we look outward – at our external world and think about how our existence impacts the environment and what we can do to make this year a better one for the trees-our universe. Better yet, congregations can come together and make a communal commitment to our universe.
These are just a few of the many ways in which congregations can make the sacred experience of going to the synagogue more environmentally friendly (remember, as Captain Planet would say, “The power is YOURS!”):
- Flowers in the sanctuary: Use living plants in pots, not cut flowers.
- Candles: Beeswax candles are the most environment-friendly choice.
- Bulletins: Go paperless! Email out your congregational updates.
- Programs: Congregations that distribute programs at services can place a container at the exits so that the programs can be recycled.
- Kiddush cups: Congregants can keep their own reusable glass at the synagogue or can be asked to bring a cup with them to services.
Youth can also play an active role in improving our environment. In fact, a communal focus on the environment can also serve as a bridge-builder—all religions have lots to say about the environment. Youth groups from local churches and synagogues can join hands to promote a cleaner environment. Actually, an interfaith coalition to preserve the environment might be of interest to Captain Planet—his diverse group of “Planeteers” were just that sort of youth group. So, young and old, we all have the power to help and respond to the needs of our trees, and our environment as whole.
And guess what?
That’s right. The Captain Planet Foundation helps us exercise our powers to help the environment by funding initiatives that inspire youth and communities to participate in environmental stewardship activities. Preferential consideration is given to requests seeking seed funding of $500 or less and to applicants who have secured at least 50% matching or in-kind funding for their projects.
Do you think that your congregation has the power? Do you have an idea for a great project? If you do and you require funds to put it into action, please find information about how you can apply for the funds right here. Don’t forget to share your ideas with the rest of us!
Tikkun olam has long been a hallmark of Jewish life – and that’s certainly true here in the South.
Southern Jewish communities have long been active in their cities and neighborhoods, working together with their neighbors to make a difference. Now, the ISJL also works in partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi Campus Link AmeriCorps Program. One of twelve AmeriCorps programs funded through the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, USM’s Link AmeriCorps program places year-long AmeriCorps service members to work with partner nonprofits.
This is the second year of the ISJL’s partnership with the Campus Link AmeriCorps Program. Campus Link provides nonprofits, like the ISJL, with AmeriCorps teams in order to lower student drop-out rates and promote academic success. The team is led by a full-time member, based at the ISJL, who is responsible for coordinating tutoring and mentoring sessions to be facilitated by part-time AmeriCorps members. As the Director of Community Engagement here, it’s my privilege to supervise our AmeriCorps member – and I’m thrilled that this year, we have selected Gernelle Nelson as our second full-time AmeriCorps Fellow to lead the ISJL’s AmeriCorps team.
“I am so excited to be working with the ISJL Department of Community Engagement,” says Nelson. “Having worked with middle school students at Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, I feel prepared to reach out and help students achieve academic success. I feel like I have the unique ability to look past circumstances and as I try to work with the students to uncover the great potential that each of them possesses.”
Please join us in welcoming Gernelle to the team, and helping continue the tradition of communities coming together to make our world a better place!