Tag: Childspree

Dressing Kids, Petting Cows and Other Ways We Changed the World Today

Guest Written By Karin Pofsky

As a new member of Congregation or Ami, I was excited to begin participating in the many social action opportunities organized by the congregation. As it happened, two projects fell on the same day. Both were so exciting and worthwhile that my kids and I couldn’t pass them up … even when the first one started on a Sunday at 6:00 am!

We drove in the dark to Kohl’s Department Store in Woodland Hills for the Calabasas synagogue’s Foster Kid Childspree, a morning of chaperoned shopping for children in foster care and needy students from a nearby public school. On the ride over, my kids Samantha and Jacob were talking non-stop about meeting their “new friend” and helping her shop at Kohl’s with a $100 gift card donated by the temple. We were met by a well-organized team and quickly checked in, ate bagels and were matched up with our new friend, 11-year-old Kattia. My 5- and 8-year-olds immediately made friends with Kattia, and were pushing the shopping cart through the store, making suggestions on things she might like. We quickly learned that she loved anything sparkly and purple, which made it easy to help her pick things out. The kids had a great time learning about all the things they had in common, from sparkly things to baseball to math. Our whole family helped out, with my youngest pushing the cart and my oldest adding up our purchases in his head. Once we had everything Kattia wanted and then picked out a gift for her mom and her teacher, we went upstairs and had snack together. The kids realized once again how much they had in common, as they all chose the same healthy snacks.

I was so pleased that being with Kattia was like being with just another friend, who had the same likes and dislikes that we did, who loved math and the color purple. My kids realized that she wasn’t different. Kattia was just a kid, and that was a great way for her to feel and a great lesson for my kids to learn.

From Kohl’s, we drove straight to The Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita, a farm which adopts and heals animals who were abused or neglected. Visiting The Gentle Barn, a social action priority of Congregation Or Ami, as part of Congregation Or Ami’s Jewish values and Social Justice curriculum, the entire Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning program of 73 participants gathered to learn about our responsibility to care for animals. We met Ellie, the founder of The Gentle Barn, and heard about how visits by children who had experienced abuse brought healing to both the kids and the animals. My own kids were unable to contain their excitement about getting to hug the cows and pet the sheep. We got pictures of Rabbi Kipnes and a group of children hugging the cows. The experience was unbelievable. Both of my kids, usually afraid of large animals, fell in love with the horses and the cows. We went back for a second turn to both of those areas.

Thanks to the Mishpacha Coordinators Greg Weisman and Joel Abramovitz, we learned how Judaism teaches that we must care for all of the creatures of the earth. We explored how people and animals are not so different, that they often have similar stories and maybe even similar feelings. Interestingly, this was a similar lesson to the one we learned at Childspree earlier in the day.

After hearing her daughter Sarah say, “This is the best Sunday school I’ve ever been too!”, her mom Karen Brownlee said, “Between helping out at Childspree and attending Mishpacha at The Gentle Barn, I was intellectually-challenged, gave back to the community, and was able to spend a meaningful day with my children.”

I was reminded, and my kids began learning today, how even a small gesture, whether it’s shopping with a child who does not normally get that opportunity or hugging a cow which was rescued from abuse, can make a big difference in the world. I want my children to grow up understanding how lucky they are to have what they have and feeling responsible for giving back in some way. If they can do this in a warm and welcoming community, like at Congregation Or Ami, where they feel safe and part of something bigger than themselves, I think they have the best possible chance to grow up to be good, caring, compassionate human beings. If I can accomplish that, then I have not only achieved my own personal goal, but I have helped the world in another small way, by sending two more human beings out there, who will continue to make a difference long into the future.

The More Tzedakah, The More Peace

Why give of our time and energy to others? 

Jewish tradition teaches in Pirkay Avot (the Talmudic Teachings of our Ancestors) that the giving of tzedakah (charitable donations or the gift of our time) increases the shalom (peace) in our world.  Experiences over the past weekend, hearing from Or Ami congregants who gave of their time and energy, provided a wealth of evidence of the validity of this teaching.

So many people gave the tzedakah of their time:

  • Chaperoning Foster Care kids (previously strangers to them) during our award-winning Foster Kid  Childspree
  • Playing with children with disabilities at Brandon’s Village, a universally accessible playground
  • Delivering sufganiot (jelly-filled donuts) to fellow congregants in celebration of Chanukah

To read their email reflections on the experience is to understand that when we give of ourselves to others, we are filled with a warm sense of wonder and, yes, shalom (here translated as “wholeness”).  Next time you are wondering if you have enough time to give, to volunteer, remember these reflections and ask yourself instead  “Do I have enough shalom (peace/wholeness) in my life?” Then go volunteer – because it is right (tzedek) and because it is good for you!

  • Lucille Goldin, Vice President (Calabasas resident): I was honored by shopping with a young mother who has a five month old baby girl. Her first question was can I put my money with my babies to get her a stroller as I really need one because she is getting very heavy to carry. Kohl’s doesn’t carry strollers. She then told me how cold it was were they lived because the walls are very thin, I didn’t ask, we just made sure to get the baby some very warm sleepers and warm clothes.  Between the sale Kohl’s had and our coupons we not only did well for her daughter but were able to get her some jeans, and shoes which she so desperately needed.  Today I am going to Babies are Us to get her a stroller and I plan to drop it off with Lovette who will see it gets to her case worker for delivery to her.  When we said goodbye yesterday her mother said in Spanish (which she translated) God bless me and was tearful. I hugged her mother and went to hug her.  She was hesitant at first and I could see she was on the verge of tears.  She did in fact give me that hug and then broke down and cried so overwhelmed from the bags she was carrying out of the store.  I believe this will be the nicest gift I receive this year.  It really is a gift to be able to help others. 
  • Jill Marder-Meyer (Westlake Village Resident): Foster Care Childspree is an incredible occurrence and, as always, my daughter and I had an wonderful time participating.  We chaperoned a 9 year old boy who had a great time buying shoes, a necklace for his mother and a remote control helicopter for him to play with his father in the park. Though we encouraged him to buy warm clothes or other essentials, he said he didn’t need them. …He was happy to have the belt, shoes, hat and gifts that, without Childspree, he wouldn’t have been able to get.  Not only did he take his money to buy things for his Mom and Dad.  He asked me if I liked this job. I said, “I love it, why?”  He said, “I just wanted to know.”  He then asked us if we needed anything, he would buy it for us. How warm to have a 9 year old boy caring about others and not just what he could have for himself. What a mitzvah for us to be able to participate in this event.  Thank you Kim Gubner (Childspree organizer) and Congregation Or Ami for allowing us to be a part of this.
  • Randee Hilborne (Los Angeles resident): Five of us chaperoned a 3 year old girl (her brother was the 9 year old that Jill wrote about!) and we shopped with her and her mother! I spoke in length with the mom and she was so appreciative of all we were doing for her kids.  I also met the grandmother as well who couldn’t stop thanking us. The little girl was adorable-loved with my two kids and loved being with the other two high school friends we brought along. She was so fun and was so happy to be able to pick out things. She couldn’t stop talking about her “princess dress” and her “Dora light up” shoes!! She was so proud and excited; she was really bubbling over with pride! Her mom was a doll and we took her phone number.  She told us that her kids loved to read and so we decided as a family that we are going to share some of our books with them. You just cannot help but become attached to your families you are with and just want to give and give! We are so blessed to be part of the Congregation Or Ami community and everything we do to help out others. …  I actually met a shopper in Kohls who asked me what we were doing. She asked about Or Ami was so touched and thought how wonderful it was what we were doing. That really meant a lot to me and made me feel so good inside. Also, met one of Kim’s friends who is not a member of Or Ami and just decided to donate and be part of the shopping spree.  She felt so blessed … and also honored to be part of what we were doing for the community.  Childspree was an incredible day as always!
  • Andrea Setterstrom, non-member: I was fortunate to be asked by my very best friend, Lucille Goldin to share in this wonderful Childspree event.  Although I am not of the Jewish community, I was proud to be included amoung such admirable people who gave of themselves with either their organizational skills,  time, money or treats.   You opened your hearts to every person, needy or volunteer who was present.  I was the second volunteer to meet my recipient.  He was a nine year old boy who was as cute as you could imagine. I thought I might get some insight into what sort of things he needed by asking questions about school, sports, etc.  What I learned is that he was very determined not to get what I thought he needed but to get ONLY what he liked…TOYS.  He didn’t wear jeans, sweats, hoodies, long sleeve shirts, shorts, hats, belts or anything that wasn’t black.  He didn’t need socks, undies or shoes.  What he needed was a remote controlled helicopter, a baseball and a star wars figurine.  After much negotiation, we compromised and he had a ball filling my arms with the baseball, helicopter, star wars figurine and some much needed t-shirts, pajamas, and a very special gift for his sister complete with wrapping paper and a musical card.  He was so proud of his accomplishment and when we met his 22 year old sister at the end, she was absolutely shocked to see clothes in his bag.  I have no doubt that he is the proudest of the special heart necklace for his sister who takes care of him; he promised to hide the gift until Christmas. What I discovered was that my arms were filled with much more than the items he purchased.  They were filled with the joy of experiencing this special moment with my new friend who could not hug me enough when the evening came to a end.  He even insisted on serving me refreshments while I was standing in line to pay for his purchases.  What a gentlemen!  He has stolen my heart as have all of the people who put this event together.

No less than 36 times does the Torah command us to care for the stranger.  As I teach over and over again, that is more than the amount of times it tells us to celebrate Shabbat, keep kosher or do just about anything else.  Our participation with Childspree – under Kim Gubner’s inspirational leadership – ensured that we continued to fulfill this mitzvah, even in the midst of an economy that might have given any of us an excuse to turn inward instead of outward.  Our tzedakah – our time and charitable donations – brings a sense of peace to those receiving the gifts and to those who chaperon others.

Congregation Or Ami shines because of people like these volunteers – who turn inward to help each other and reach out to help those most vulnerable outside our community.