Tag: social justice

If I’m Freezing and I’m Worried

I am freezing.

Either global warming has finally transformed Southern California or winter has arrived. No matter the reason, just know that it is darned cold here.

No, we are not talking about Midwest cold, which today is hovering around 16 degrees. Nor are we talking about Eastern seaboard cold, which can mix below freezing temperatures with ice-y, slushy painful cold. Rather, I am kvetching (complaining) about the California cold, which occurs whenever the thermometer dips below 65 degrees.

(I know that I am engaging in a mostly meaningless West Coast kvetch (complaint). Usually, I try to downplay our awesome So Cal weather and quietly endure the cold spells. After all, the last time I gloated about our weather to my brother on Cape Cod, I awoke to the destructive shaking of the 1993 earthquake. So I no longer gloat about weather. I just enjoy it in silence.)

I am worried.
You shouldn’t worry. I will be fine. I have my warm jackets, insulated home, and plentiful heat. Yet, I think about all those families who don’t… especially those who live below the poverty line. And the kids who wear only hand me down clothes, and have to pile on sweatshirts to get through a cold night. And the older people who need government assistance just to heat their homes. I think about the 100 at-risk kids from New Directions for Youth, who just last week we took on a shopping spree through Kohl’s department store to provide them with new clothes and maybe even a new toy for the holiday approaching.

This morning, as I left the house, I was able to chose among three different coats to find the one that would both keep me warm and keep me stylish. Not so for those kids or those older adults, or the many who spend what little money they have on food and other subsistence items.

That’s why, when I get home tonight, my wife and I plan to go through our closets and those of our children, to pick out the extra coats that we don’t wear or don’t really need. We will bring those extra coats over to Congregation Or Ami and donate them to needy families through a kid-run organization, Jill’s Coats for Kids.

Imitating God

Sabrina and Chelsea Stone
with Jill’s Coats for Kids Bin

We have a chance to address these worries and Judaism goads us to do just that. Our Talmud (Sotah 14a) explains, “Just as the Eternal clothes the naked as God did with Adam, so you clothe the naked; just as the Eternal visits the sick as God did with Abraham, so you visit the sick; just as the Eternal comforts the bereaved as God did with Isaac, so you comfort the bereaved; just as the Eternal buries the dead as God did with Moses, so you bury the dead.” We are invited to be imitatio die (imitators of God), living out Jewish values by acting in ways that God has acted. Simply put, (as we learn in the Midrash), “Just as the Eternal One is gracious and compassionate, so you be gracious and compassionate.”

Jill’s Coats for Kids
Jill’s Coats for Kids was the creation five years ago of two Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) kids, 12-year-old Sabrina and 9-year-old Chelsea Stone, two Or Ami California kids, who collected over 150 coats last winter to bring warmth to needy children. According to their website,www.jillscoatsforkids.com, they created this organization in honor of their “grandmother, Jill Stone, who started a coat drive in Dallas, Texas. We thought it would a good idea to help children who need coats in our community, too.” Jill’s Coats for Kids emulates the Jewish values we work so diligently through our Or Ami Center for Tikkun Olam to instill in the hearts and minds of our children.

The girls’ dad Rob Stone explained:

This has been a fantastic experience for Sabrina and Chelsea and a great reminder that this time of year is about giving and helping others and not all about shopping and getting presents. They have personally distributed some of the coats to the children over the years and they loved seeing their faces light up when they get a new coat.

Jill’s Coats for Kids goads us to take a simple act – donating our old, used coats to people in need – and thereby be gracious and compassionate. In doing so, we raise up others and then our own lives toward holiness. As we declare whenever we say a blessing – asher kiddishanu b’mitzvotav – who makes us holy through sacred actions – when we do holiness, we become holy.

Please Act Now
So I invite you to emulate the Holy One and help clothe modern day Adams (and Eves and their descendants). Clean out your closets of old and used coats, and bring them to Congregation Or Ami by December 24th. Sabrina and Chelsea Stone and their parents with ensure that the coats get to people who need them. (If you cannot get over to Or Ami, contact Rob Stone and he will arrange to pick them up.)

We may not succumb to frostbite in our 54 degree weather, but we do sense the discomfort. Let’s help others survive the frost that surrounds us by warming them with our coats and our compassion.

Whatcha Waiting For??
Head over to Jill’s Coats for Kids where your most pressing questions will be answered.
Or read about last year’s donation drive.

Jill’s Coats for Kids: 2 Kids Collect 150 Coats

The Or Ami Center for Tikkun Olam (social justice) was created to foster the knowledge and commitment of young people to become social justice advocates. We stive to instill in them an awareness of our obligation as Jews. As Torah teaches, lo ta’amod al dam rei-acha – don’t stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.

Thus we schep nachas (share our prideful joy) about the work of Sabrina (8 years old) and Chelsea (five years old) Stone, two Or Ami California kids, who collected over 150 coats this winter to bring warmth to needy children. According to their website, www.jillscoatsforkids.com, they created this project in honor of their “grandmother, Jill Stone, who started a coat drive in Dallas, Texas. We thought it would a good idea to help children who need coats in our community, too.”

They delivered the 150 coats to Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission in Sun Valley, CA, which is “committed to meeting the needs of the hungry, homeless and destitute.”

This simple act by Sabrina and Chelsea touched so many people.  So writes Ken Craft of the Valley Rescue Mission, who kvelled (praised) about them:

How beautiful it is to see people truly care about the genuine needs of others. This winter, though milder than others, there are still many nights where the temperature dips into the 30’s and 40’s. At times like these, our friends living on the streets are desperately seeking coats and jackets in order to stay warm.  

THANK YOU for the three large bags of coats you collected through Jill’s Coats for Kids. Each jacket will be given to a man, woman or child who finds themselves homeless in the San Fernando Valley. Only God knows the importance of your act of love and the generosity of your donors!
On behalf of those we serve each day….THANK YOU for providing the coats. Your efforts are not only appreciated, they are deeply needed! 

Sabrina and Chelsea acted in concert with longstanding Jewish values. As our Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism reminds us,

Our Biblical prophets themselves exhorted us to follow a long-standing tradition of hospitality among the Jewish people. According to one midrash (rabbinic teaching), Abraham is judged to be greater than Job because while the latter “opened his doors to the road” (Job 31:32), Abraham left his tent to seek guests among the passers-by (Genesis 18:1-8). Furthermore, Abraham “got busy and built spacious mansions along the highways, and stocked them with food and drink, so that whoever entered ate, drank, and blessed Heaven” (Avot 1:5; Avot d’Rabbi Natan 7). More recent Jewish history, with its exiles and expulsions, is a powerful reminder of our special obligation to provide for those with no protection.

So it is like this. There are people in need. There are people with more. The latter must act to help the former. This is what we try to teach at Congregation Or Ami. This is why our Center for Tikkun Olam (social justice) was created.  May the actions of Sabrina and Chelsea inspire us all!

On Sunday I was Kissed by a Stranger

Torah commands to feed the hungry, the widow, the orphan and the stranger.  Congregation Or Ami partners with other churches and synagogues to provide hot meals and a warm smile for those in need.  Fariba Cooper, chair of this project for the past few years, shares this powerful experience with us:

It has been a while since I started to volunteer with “Feed the Homeless” program; each time I participated was a different experience but always truly rewarding.

Well, this time was surely different. I just got back from Congregation Or Ami’s amazing Seder in the Wilderness with trays of delicious leftovers from our amazing Bahador Catering.

As we were setting up to serve dinner at 6:30 pm, we reminded our Or Ami teens, including Jared and Josh Swedelson and Bar Mitzvah student Zachary Oschin that because this is Easter Sunday, please welcome the guests, wish them Happy Easter and don’t forget to smile. As I was serving the rolls, a middle age gentleman smiled after I said, “Happy Easter Sir.” He asked me if I celebrated Easter. “No,” I replied. “I celebrate Passover.” He shook his head and said, “You people are remarkable!!” I was analyzing the comment when he signaled me to come out from behind the serving table.

When we both got to the end of the table, he held my cheeks in the palm of his hands, pulled me over, and kissed my cheeks. He said, “Even though you don’t celebrate Easter and you are celebrating your own holiday, you are acknowledging my holiday. You Jewish people are very accepting of others and always helping everyone else. You don’t have the attitude of ‘our way is the only way, the best way’.” I was stunned. Then he gave me a hug and left to eat his Persian dinner.

I was truly touched. He was a well-dressed man who spoke eloquently and who was clearly down on his luck, like many other people these days. But he was wrong about one thing. He gave me a much greater gift than I had given them by volunteering for a few hours. For that, I am grateful.
Congratulation to Joshua Swedelson for accepting the responsibility for Or Ami’s “Feeding the Homeless” program. I know you will do amazing.
To all of our Seder in the Wilderness family, thank you for sharing your leftovers. Rest assured they were truly appreciated.

A Rabbi, A Priest and a Minister Walked into a Bar…

My day was the beginning of a great joke: A rabbi, a priest, and a minister walked into a bar and ordered drinks … except it wasn’t a bar, we didn’t order drinks, and instead of just a rabbi, priest and minister, more than a dozen religious leaders gathered together.

I was attending my first-ever interfaith clergy association meeting. Assembling at Unity of the Oaks in Thousand Oaks, we sat together and broke bread (a meal that amazingly addressed the needs of everyone – carnivores, vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-freers…). We updated each other on the happenings in our churches, temples, mosques, and meeting rooms. Theologically diverse, and in some cases holding diametrically opposed values, we rose above differences to embrace that which unified us: a desire to engage the sacred, to create a world filled with compassion and justice.

So many people complain that religion, the opiate of the masses, has been the cause of more warw and violence than anything else. History provides plenty of fodder for those arguments; the past is littered with crucifixions, crusades, inquisitions, and genocides, colonization, missionizing, and more. Most poignantly, this year we commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11, which was nothing if not a misappropriation of Islam for vile purposes.

Yet religion – most all of them – at its core pursues peace. So every instance of an individual or group, picking up a knife or gun and claiming that his “god has called him to slay the unbeliever,” should be recognized for what it is: the misuse, misappropriation, and desecration of the words and intent of the Divine.

Religion’s purpose is to uplift and to strengthen, to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. That’s why more social justice work is done by religious people than any other. And that’s why more joy and love emanated from that interfaith gathering, as Jew, Christian, Morman, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian Scientist (and others) came together to break bread and break the down barriers that attempt to divide us. It was an energizing experience, one I hope to enjoy again and again.

NOTE:  I have begun writing for another blog in Calabasas Patch. Sometimes I will double post. Sometimes I will write content special to that readership. Either way, may my words bring wisdom and illuminate the intersection of spirituality, religion, and daily life. Check out my other blog on Calabasas Patch.