Sign In Forgot Password

Social Action Annual Report

 

WOODLANDS COMMUNITY TEMPLE
SOCIAL ACTION  COMMITTEE
ANNUAL REPORT
2022-2023

 

The first 3 congregants to correctly answer the question contained in this report will each win a package of 2 LED lightbulbs. Responses to SocialAction@wct.org.

As usual, our teams were busy this year repairing the world. We very much appreciate being able to partner with both the Adult Education Committee and Kesher in many parts of this work.

Backpack Project:

Last summer, we again collected backpacks for the kindergarten/first graders of the Lois Bronz Children’s Center in Greenburgh. The summer is a bad time of the year for collections because we do not get the attention from congregants that we get at other times. Nevertheless, this project led by Rabbi Lisa Izes was a success. We were fortunate in that Geri Pell’s company again partnered with us, contributing 48 filled backpacks. Thanks go, as well, to Lois Bacharach, who helped Lisa with delivery.


 

Blood Drive:

Our two blood drives this year, all under the leadership of Margie Berman, Jill Garland and Steve Sagner, were successful.


Breakfast Run/Midnight Run:

  • After the first of our four runs this year, Tracey and Michael Frisch took over from Michael Silverman in co-chairing this team with Julie Fischer. The transition went very well and we are so grateful to Mike for the years he has shepherded this project, to Tracey and Michael for coming on board, and to Julie for her innovative leadership. Signing up to go on the run and providing food and other supplies are now facilitated by Sign-up Genius and Amazon lists. We have a dozen or so families going on the runs (not all at the same time) and many more preparing food and even more donating food, clothing and other supplies.

  • The Social Action Committee provided assistance, both hands-on and financial, to the Confirmation Class on their Christmas Eve Midnight Run. The biggest challenge was collecting and sorting clothing. In the past, we have used the youth lounge but that was not available this year. Another challenge was getting parents to take leadership roles – a lot of eagerness to help, but not to be a leader. Nevertheless, everyone worked hard and brought warmth and joy to some folks who do not frequently see either. 

Bridges to Faith & Friendship:

  • This task force is really taking off. We have two leaders, Eric Katz and Trudy Holand, whose skills complement each other very well. 

  • Our first activity was an outdoor end-of-the-summer get-together with Peace Islands Institute NY that folks enjoyed so much that it was hard to get them to leave. In the spring, we got together for an Iftar and we have already scheduled our Iftar for next year (Apr 7). 

  • We met with a Hindu cultural group (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh - HSS) and are planning some events with them for next year (Diwali/Hanukkah and a yogathon). We are also hoping to continue The Same Only Different with Peace Islands and possibly try it with HSS. 

  • We have taken part in efforts to breathe life into the Interfaith Caring Community of Greenburgh. To the extent that it has had any activities during the last few years, it is because of Woodlands’ efforts. (Our clergy again took responsibility for the Interfaith Thanksgiving services – now it’s been 3 years. Val Fox works with a member of another Interfaith congregation in organizing Sunday dinners for the Sanctuary, with Woodlands’ congregants preparing 4 of the dinners.) Woodlands hosted a meeting of representatives of the member faith groups at which a volunteer steering committee emerged with the mandate to create a vision statement. We decided that we need to see efforts by other congregations before we continue our efforts. We cannot be the sole driving force. It is too early to know yet whether that will happen.

Children’s Village Gifts:

We continued our tradition of providing the kids in a Children’s Village cottage with a holiday gift from their wish list. Thanks go to Jeanne Bodin, who has been organizing this project since its inception, and all those who purchased and donated the gifts.

 

Civic Engagement:

This has been one of our most active task forces – kol hakavod to Andrea Olstein, its leader. 

  • Starting out with the Religious Action Center (RAC) and then working directly with the Center for Common Ground, we led the congregation in writing over 5,000 postcards to encourage people of color to vote. This was a wonderful project because its goal was an important one and it enabled folks with limited time, but a great desire to contribute, to participate. 

  • A major focus this year has been on climate change, as we joined together with RAC-NY in researching issues and developing strategies. Working together with our Environmental Task Force and other Reform congregations in RAC-NY, we were involved in the successful effort to pass the NYS Environmental Bond Act last fall. And our additional efforts to get the All-Electric Buildings Act passed as part of NYS’s budget succeeded. We are now working on passage of the NY Home Energy Affordable Transition Act – all this to cut down on emissions, clean up our air and make our planet healthier and more sustainable. We also had a solid attendance at the recent NY Jewish Climate Summit.

                                                                              Where’s Woodlands?

 

Coachman:

Thanks to Julie Stein and Rabbi Lisa Izes for leading the 8th and 9th grades as they joined in activities with kids living at the Coachman Center. This was a resumption of our in-person activities with the Coachman, on hiatus and Zoom during COVID.

 

Dessert for a Week:

Jen Leff has been organizing the congregation in providing desserts for one week each month at the Sanctuary, the Children’s Village teen center in Valhalla.

 

Domestic Abuse Task Force:

  • We started off the year by taking moms and kids from Hope’s Door to pick apples and enjoy a lunch outdoors. It was a wonderful experience for both the folks from the shelter and members of Woodlands. 

  • In December, we worked with WOODSY and Academy students who collected, wrapped, and delivered holiday gifts from a wish list to every mom and child living at the shelter.

  • We continued to work with Hope’s Door in settling families moving out of the shelter into their own homes by providing bedding, small appliances, kitchen supplies, towels, and many other necessities for a fresh start. Beautiful hand-made blankets from our own knitting/crocheting Woodlands group are included in every delivery and are a special way to show these families that we care.

  • Donations that are not currently needed for the shelter folks are kept in the storage space provided to us by Lock Up Self Storage in Ardsley. Having these items readily available meant that we were able to provide some of them to our Refugee Resettlement team for the Ukrainian family they recently settled. 

  • We also did a program with our Kesher families. Our 5th graders collected cleaning supplies and decorated boxes with messages of support and colorful images to put them in. Our 6th graders collected mops/buckets and floor cleaners for the shelter families moving into new homes. 

  • We collected gift cards at the Sukkot BBQ to purchase items on wish lists that are not donated.

  • Judy Stieffel, Jennifer Trevor Hochman and Bill Woolis continue to do a wonderful job leading this task force and are always looking for new volunteers.

 

Environmental Task Force:

  • Completed Environmental audit: including pipe insulation around water heater, reduction of energy use in air circulation, and reduction in energy use for lighting.

  • Continued looking into adding solar panels to Woodlands’ building structures. Still a work in progress. 

  • Along with the Civic Engagement Task Force and Racial Justice Task Force, we became involved in RAC-NY’s climate change work. 

  • Attended the NY Jewish Climate Summit.

  • Our zero-waste campaign, begun last year, has become fully integrated into Woodlands.

  • Plans for a multi-task force led Tu b’Shevat observance fell through and, instead, we created a Tu b’Shevat newsletter

  • Woodlands’ raised bed vegetable garden has been installed and is being tended to through member volunteer list. Veggies grown should be donated to Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry. Thanks to Avital and Sam Miro for leading this project.

  • Thanks to Kirsten Kleinman for leading this effort

 

Gun Violence:

The task force is leaderless and dormant. Unfortunately, everyone who has worked on it has the sense that the political climate is such that nothing more can be accomplished now and that their efforts are better spent where they can make a difference.

 

Holiday Gifts for Community:

Michele Montague organized Toys for Tots and Gift of Hanukkah and the congregation was very generous with its donations.

 

Hunger Projects:

  • Our High Holy Day food collection was amazing. When we drove up to the food pantries with the truck brimming with food donated by WCT congregants who really took to heart the commandment to feed the hungry, the pantry workers were shocked. They had expected something more like last year (a COVID year) when our collection was much smaller. This year, Julie Stein took over leadership and spent virtually all of Yom Kippur at the food truck – and then got to the truck bright and early the morning after Yom Kippur to organize it and add some late arriving items). Many congregants, both adults and kids, worked the food truck, many more brought in food, and we had a good group delivering the food to the food pantries the day after Yom Kippur. So huge was the haul that we left the pantry workers puzzling over where to put everything. Thanks go also to the adults and teens who accepted, sorted and packed the items yesterday, a tough job any day, made even tougher by the rain. Kol hakavod to Woodlands. We all felt a little down last year because the drive brought in so little. This year more than made up for it.

  • Our Hunger team, led by Sandi Lieb and Val Fox, collaborated with Kesher in collecting food for local pantries throughout the year through the Mensch of the Month program. 

 

Knitting & Crocheting:

Our Knitting & Crocheting group, under the leadership of Angela Adler and Elizabeth Barnhard, this year made and donated 47 hats and 18 scarves to the Coachman Family Center, made and donated blankets to Hope’s Door, and for the first time, made and donated 12 children and preteen/teen sized blankets to Project Linus. Some of the results of their labors can be seen on their page on the Woodlands website 

 

Project Ezra:

  • We were able to resume our luncheon for Project Ezra this year and it was a success. Among the afternoon’s highlights:

    • Our Kesher students, under the guidance of Cantor Jenna and teacher Adam Hart, performed for the group filling the room with the beautiful sounds of youthful voices singing.

    • A Chanukah trivia game was conducted by David and Maia (Ezra colleagues)

    • Bingo games with prizes

    • Polaroid picture taking

    • And lots of friendly conversation mixed in.

Unfortunately, we did not raise sufficient funds to pay for the bus and fundraising remains a challenge. Without the reminder that the list of donations in the monthly Makom provided, people don’t think of making donations to Project Ezra throughout the year. The luncheon is a wonderful activity, providing much joy to our guests and making our volunteers feel so good. We need to figure this out and we welcome any suggestions.

  • On the other hand, our fundraising for Passover food for Project Ezra was excellent, with $2,174 being sent to Project Ezra.

  • We thank the leaders of our Project Ezra team, Harriet Kohn and Elise Ballan Wagner for wonderful work. 

 

Racial Justice Task Force:

The major activities this year, in addition to collaboration with Civic Engagement and Environmental Task Forces on climate change, were:

  • Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden tour at the Yonkers waterfront: Focused on remembering the lives, feelings and legacy of enslaved people who were stripped of their human rights and were among the first to be freed by law 64 years before the Emancipation Proclamation. We were fortunate to be led by Michael Lord, site director of Phillips Manor Hall Estate. Co-sponsored with Adult Education Committee. We had about 20 participants and all were very enthusiastic about the experience.

  • The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones: (also with Adult Education Committee) We have been holding monthly sessions on zoom, discussing the 1619 Project, one chapter a month. This has been very successful, with about a dozen participants. We found, though, that our discussions lack a diversity of voices. We are now working with the Greenburgh Public Library to hold monthly programs based on the video series built around the book, as a way of having a greater variety of ideas/backgrounds involved in discussion. Each session will focus on one of the 6 episodes of the series and have a pair of discussion leaders, one black and one white, a different pair for each episode. (Democracy, Oct 11; Race, Nov 8; Music, Dec 13; Capitalism, Jan 10; Fear, Feb 7; Justice, Mar 13) The Greenburgh Human Rights Advisory Committee is also very enthusiastic about this project and working with us to structure it and get the right discussion leaders. As an aside to this, they have asked us to be involved in their healing and reconciliation project for the town. 

  • Several congregants were involved in RAC DEI programs. These programs are open to all and are excellent.

For the coming year:

  • We are planning a book read in advance of the Civil Rights tour; it will be open to all but will be focusing on material that will be helpful in preparing those who go on the tour. We will be looking to Billy Planer to suggest books for us.

  • Stephen Ritz will show his award-winning documentary, Generation Growth, followed by Q&A  (Stephen Ritz is a globally acclaimed teacher who shows how, in one of the nation’s poorest communities, his students thrive in school and in life by growing, cooking eating, and sharing the bounty of their green classroom.)

Task Force Leaders: Rebecca Mazin and Linda Einfrank (we are looking for a third person to make this leadership team a trio)

 

Refugee Resettlement/Immigration:

  • We joined forces with 5 other Westchester synagogues (Bet Am shalom, Congregation B’nai Yisrael, Shaarei Tikvah, Sinai Free Synagogue, and Temple Beth Shalom) to form the Westchester Refugee Coalition with its goal to set up a structure for the settling of refugees, one family at a time, under the guidance of HIAS. We were told, on merely days’ notice, that an Afghan family would be arriving at the end of the summer. The coalition quickly went into action. Leslie Litsky, who both represents Woodlands on the Coalition board and leads the apartment set-up team, put out the call for needed items. Woodlands was quick to answer the call, with special help coming from our Domestic Abuse Task Force and their stash of household needs. Unfortunately, the Afghan family we were scheduled to welcome was detained and, instead, we welcomed a family of 3 from Ukraine (increased to 5 with the arrival of 2 additional family members several months later). Woodlands congregants were very helpful in settling them: Olga Tenenbaum, herself from Ukraine, helped to welcome the Ukrainian family; Leslie Litsky did a wonderful job in overseeing setting up the apartment and obtaining things that the family needs; Gary Karlitz, a key member of the Employment Committee, helped them find appropriate employment. We are still in fundraising mode, collecting the money necessary for the next family assigned to us. (Compared to the other 5 congregations, Woodlands has been falling short in fundraising on this project.)

  • Congregants active in settling refugees participated in our Refugee Shabbat on Shabbat Shira. The service is here

Reproductive Justice Task Force:

  • We started off the year with a ShoTest, a protest against the Supreme Court decision eliminating the right to reproductive freedom, on our patio on Sep 15 (and on Facebook). Cantor Jenna led the group of about 30-35 congregants in song and Rabbi Mara spoke and blew the shofar. This was part of a nation-wide week of protest led by the National Council of Jewish Women. This was the first step in forming a task force, led by Tanya Briendel. The group has been meeting regularly throughout the year. Its goals:

    • Inform – Although NYS protects reproductive health rights, many other states do not. One of our goals is to determine how best to influence these other states. This requires educating the membership about various state laws, federal laws and how they impact Jewish law.

    • Inspire – The programs will be designed to engage people to interest them in the need to protect reproductive rights.

    • Act – An obvious way is to donate money to reproductive health rights initiatives. However, not all people are able to make donations and some people like to get actively involved in addition to, or as an alternative to donating. To this end, we maintain a list of potential action items.

  • We participated in a Reproductive Justice shabbat service. See here.

  • We are working with the Adult Education Committee to focus on reproductive justice at a WCT University on October 29. Professor Lisa Fishbayne Joffe of Brandeis University will be the keynote speaker. She will focus on legal restrictions on abortion insofar as they prevent the free exercise of religion. We also have a commitment from NYS Senator Shelley Mayer, who will speak about the law in NYS. We have had several planning meetings involving our clergy along with members of the committees, and have additional ones scheduled.  

  • Follow-up events are being planned.

  • Will be working with Civic Engagement Task Force on passing new NY equal rights amendment.

Special Collections:

Thanks to congregant Nathan Munits, we did a collection of winter clothing to be sent to Ukraine through Hope for Ukraine. We were able to donate many items left from the Christmas Ever Midnight Run as well as winter clothing brought in by our congregants specifically for Ukraine. 


Teen Shelter Dinner:

Val Fox continued co-organizing the Sundays at the Children’s Village shelter, the Sanctuary, for Interfaith. She also organized Woodlands’ 4 assigned dinners for the project. We have developed a reliable group of cooks but hope to get new people involved in this activity. The Confirmation Class gathered in Woodlands’ kitchen on Thanksgiving morning and prepared a Thanksgiving feast for the teens in the shelter. 

 

Other activities this year:

  • We have been meeting monthly with Rabbi Mara and Cantor Jenna.

  • 2 newsletters plus a special edition for Tu b’Shevat.

  • Shabbaton with a guest from Dayenu as a way of emphasizing our work on the environment this year. Dayenu’s focus is on financial pressure/incentives through financial institutions to decrease use of fossil fuels.

  • Participated in Community Engagement Committee Fair.

  • Initiated Zoom check-in for the months when we do not have SAC meetings to allow those who are working on programs to get help or discuss them and for those with ideas for new programs to explore them. 

We are very appreciative of the efforts of Rabbi Mara and Cantor Jenna and all the Woodlands staff that makes temple life and our part in it work so well, Abby R, Avital, Haya, Liz, Marjorie, Michele, Hernando and Anthony.

Submitted by Rabbi Joan Farber and Roberta Roos, Co-chairs, Social Action Committee

Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyar 5784