Sign In Forgot Password

Social Action Annual Report

 

WOODLANDS COMMUNITY TEMPLE
SOCIAL ACTION REPORT
2020-2021

 

Nobody would have predicted a year ago that this year would be a banner year for Social Action. Like the rest of Woodlands, we didn’t know what programs could be continued, how those that continued would have to change, where we could do them and, most of all, how we could continue the sense of group effort if we were not able to come together.

A number of our programs did have to go on hiatus, such as our 8th and 9th grader visits to The Coachman in White Plains. Some had to change. For example, instead of preparing home-made Sunday dinners for the teens in Children’s Village Sanctuary shelter in Valhalla, Woodlands congregants joined together to purchase dinners for delivery. Others, such as the Children’s Village holiday gift program, continued with little modification.

Several major accomplishments stand out:

  • The committee as a whole worked more broadly, with members pitching in with ideas and time for projects other than those in the areas of their primary responsibility. For example, the leaders of our Racial Task Force developed a program with The Furniture Sharehouse for Rabbi Billy’s Day of Social Justice – a program, incidentally, that will continue as we go forward. A leader of our Domestic Abuse Task Force arranged a racial justice story time for the Day of Social Justice. And so many others just stepped in with help where it was needed – evidenced by such sights as a leader in the Blood Drive clearing the temple grounds with our Environmental Task Force.
  • We started our Racial Justice Task Force this year, with Linda Einfrank and Rebecca Mazin as leaders. Racial justice is a very hot issue right now and there are a lot of opportunities out there for programming resources from the Reform Movement and the UJA, among others. The leaders took advantage of some of these resources and ran with them, creating a valuable program for us at Woodlands that promises to grow even stronger as time goes by. The participation in our programs by members of the congregation has been very strong.
  • Our Civic Engagement Task Force blossomed. We began the year with a major effort to get out the vote, both here and in parts of the country in which voters have been traditionally suppressed. After the elections, we transitioned to concentrating on NYS issues, working with the New York Religious Action Center. Our Civic Engagement leader, Andrea Olstein, has become a leader in that state-wide group. Again, as in Racial Justice, this is an area of strong interest among our congregants.
  • Zoom: Our meeting and event participation went up on Zoom and we were able to do some programs more economically on Zoom than would have been the case in person and we had a wider audience. Two cases in point were our Racial Justice Task Force program on Blacks and Jews and our Bridges of Faith & Friendship concert, Diversity Sings, in December, organized by Rabbi Vicki Armour Hileman with Peace Islands Institute. The attendance at the concert from Woodlands members as well as members of the wider and diverse Westchester community was enormous. We can’t talk about major programming using Zoom without a very big thank you to Rabbi Zach Plesent. It wasn’t just his technical skill that was so valuable, but also his understanding of what we were trying to accomplish and his supportive nature.
  • Tribute to Rabbi Billy: We were honored to have been asked to organize a day honoring Rabbi Billy’s involvement in social action. This gave us two opportunities – one, to thank Rabbi Billy for his enormous contribution to growing social action at Woodlands and two, to show off to the congregation the work of our committee, work that in large part, was inspired by Rabbi Billy. We ran a number of activities during the day – breakfast run, blood drive, opportunity to learn about the work of our Refugee Committee and meet the Azizis, environmental clean-up, social justice story time, knitting and crocheting. The evening program was centered around music and social justice, with an amazing reading of Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem by present and former Woodlands kids and very touching statements by congregants of how Rabbi Billy inspired their social justice work. The formal part of the program was on Facebook (as well as Zoom) so the outside world got to join in but this was followed by an informal fun session available only to congregants during which each Social Action team “showered” Rabbi Billy with a gift connected with their mission.
  • We also had some major activities working jointly with other Woodlands committees this year. Adult Education was our partner in several programs with the Racial Justice Task Force and we partnered with Hesed in helping congregants manage parts of their lives during the COVID crisis and get vaccinated before vaccine became so readily available.

Our submitted report contains summaries of the year’s work for each of our task forces and I urge you all to read it. Hopefully, we will have completed our revision of the Social Action pages on the Woodlands website by the end of the summer and you will be able to find our full report there. For now, let us just thank the task force leaders: Backpack Collection, Rabbi Lisa Izes; Blood Drive, Margie Berman, Jill Garland & Steve Sagner; Breakfast Run, Julie Fischer & Mike Silverman; Bridges to Faith & Friendship, Eric Katz; Civic Engagement, Andrea Olstein; Children’s Village Gifts and CV Sanctuary Desserts, Jeanne Bodin & Natalie Werner; Coachman Program, Julie Stein & Rabbi Lisa Izes; Domestic Abuse Task Force, Judy Stiefel, Jennifer Trevor Hochman and Bill Woolis; Environmental Task Force, Kirsten Kleinman; Food Collection, Val Fox & Sandi Lieb; Gun Violence, Shelli Katz; Immigrant Friends at WCT, Lesli Cattan & Steve Glusker; Knitting & Crocheting, Angela Adler & Elizabeth Barnhard; Project Ezra, Harriet Kohn, Elise Wagner Ballan & Janet Weinstein; Rabbi Billy’s Midnight Run, Leora Cohen; Racial Justice Task Force, Linda Einfrank & Rebecca Mazin; Refugee Task Force, Marge Glusker & Melanie Roher Schwartz; Shelter Dinners, Val Fox – and all the wonderful other volunteers on these projects.

And Marge, Liz and Michele and Hernando – always ready to help us, even when we miss a deadline. Of course, Andy, who was one of Social Action’s “go-to” persons even before he became congregational president. Of course, our clergy – Billy, Mara, Lance, and Zach, too – they inspire us, they help us problem solve, they open doors for us. We have long said that “Social Action congregations” – and, for sure, Woodlands is a “Social Action congregation” – cannot exist unless their work is a priority of their clergy. Woodlands proves this to be true.

 

 

 

INDIVIDUAL TASK FORCE REPORTS

 

Backpack Collection

The Backpack Collection did not go on as usual this past year. We will be in touch with the Lois Bronz Center to see what their projected needs are for the upcoming school year. (Lisa Izes)

Blood Drive

We ran 2 successful blood drives at the temple this year, one in November and one in April, both following the COVID guidelines of Woodlands and NY Blood Center, our partner in this project.

Breakfast Run

We had two successful breakfast runs during the pandemic in October 2020 and April 2021 while not holding any runs in Spring 2020.  Normally we have two runs in each of the spring and fall.  Our efforts and procedures for the runs were significantly altered as a result of the pandemic.  We also didn’t car pool to get to the city with each family bubble using their own car. In order to minimize the risk, we packaged and prepared as many items in advance and simply handed them out.  Typically, we would serve hot coffee, tea and cocoa as well as one hot serving.  Instead we served sandwiches or bagels along with our regular juice box, water, 2 pieces of fruit, hard-boiled egg, cheese slice, granola bar, muffin/donut.  All of this food was pre-bagged for quick distribution.

As usual, on both runs we gave out toiletries and socks as well as sweatshirts and underwear in the fall and t-shirts in the spring.  We also included hand sanitizer and masks, given the circumstances.
We were pleased to help 35-40 people on each run and had about 7-8 WCT participants at each run (somewhat lower than normal given the simplified distribution method). (Julie Fischer & Mike Silverman)

Bridges to Faith & Friendship

Our major events this year were: (1) Diversity Sings, an evening of music among Jews, Muslims and Christians offered up in the spirit of mutual understanding, hosted by Woodlands and Peace Islands Institute, with optional contributions going to Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry; and (2) our 6th annual Iftar with Peace Islands, in which Peace Islands also did a tribute to Rabbi Billy. We also joined in on the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and the Interfaith Seder, both run by our clergy.

Civic Engagement

The Civic Engagement Task Force (CETF) was not impeded by the challenges pandemic presented. Participation in all our activities was good to exceptional. Most of our work was done in conjunction with the Religious Action Center-NY) (RAC-NY) whose leadership has engaged NY state congregations in meaningful activities. Rabbi Mara has been a full partner and an active participant. The year started off with the Texas “Reclaim our Vote” postcard writing campaign pre-election (2020). In 2021 we’ve held virtual lobby meetings with our State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Member Tom Abinante’s staff to Lobby for Less is More, the NY parole reform bill. We’ve also made phone calls to elected officials encouraging them to work to pass the bill. While in person activities might have been more meaningful, working virtually allowed us to engage many WCT members in this important work. RAC-NY recognizes that WCT is strong participant in civic engagement. Looking ahead, we have begun participating in RAC-NY’s Racial Justice program which includes making WCT a welcoming community to all. (Andrea Olstein)

Children’s Village Gifts

About 12-14 Woodlands congregants provided holiday gifts for CV kids.

CV Sanctuary Desserts

Unfortunately, COVID restrictions prevented this program from taking place this year.

Coachman

Due to Covid restrictions, Academy visits to the Coachman Family Center were suspended this year. We hope to resume in the 2021-22 school year and will be in touch with the Coachman Center for updates in regulations. (Julie Stein & Lisa Izes)

Domestic Abuse Task Force

This past year was challenging for Hope’s Door. When the pandemic hit, we responded by providing laptops so the children could participate in online learning and collected/delivered games, books, and activities to keep them busy during the summer months and beyond. Working with WOODSY and Academy, we filled all of their holiday wish lists and made their holidays brighter with gifts for the moms/kids along with beautiful blankets from our knitting/crocheting committee. We are incredibly grateful for our community's continuing support. (Judy Stiefel)

Environmental Task Force

Due to Covid Restrictions, most of this year was spent on hiatus for the Environmental Task Force.  However, Social Action Day for Rabbi Billy brought us back out to do our job again.  We ran an environmental clean-up around the WCT grounds during the day.  Three shifts, over ten participants, and 20 large garbage bags were our tallies for our efforts for the day.  Larger hauls included a traffic cone, a rusty muffler, and a 10-foot industrial cable.  However, the best find of the day was a $50 bill which was donated to tzedakah.  We hope to get back to our Zero Waste education campaign as our doors start to reopen. (Kirsten Kleinman)

Food Collection

Due to pandemic regulations, of course our cart in the lobby sat empty as Religion School could no longer be held in the building, and the food pantries were anyway restricted from accepting real food donations.  

As High Holy Day services were held remotely, our usual collection was not possible either. Instead, led by Sandi, we made an appeal for supermarket gift cards to be dropped off during several in person events being held during September, with an alternatively request for checks to the Hunger Fund, all for donation to the food pantries.   We ultimately collected $720 in supermarket cards and approx. $800 in checks, which were divided between WestCop and Dobbs Ferry pantries.

Next came our Thanksgiving food collection. Again, the was an opportunity when people would be attending events in the Temple grounds, such as the blood drive.  By this time food donations were acceptable, and as always, we were impressed with Woodlands members’ generosity.  Julie Stein partnered with me to deliver about 60 or more bags, divided between Hastings-on-Hudson and WestCOP food pantries. 

The Christmas toy drive also yielded a few extra gifts for Dobbs, as there had been a glitch in the pick-up arrangements, so we were able to give them several bags of toys in time for Three Kings Day which is particularly celebrated in their community.

Social Justice Day to honor Rabbi Billy provided our most recent opportunity to collect for the pantries.  Again, partnering with Julie Stein, we enquired to find out how their local communities are coping and ascertain their greatest needs.  This turned out to be items not covered by government assistance, i.e. non-food essentials, such as diapers, toilet paper and kitchen rolls, feminine hygiene products, toiletries such as soaps, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and house-cleaning products.   We received a mountain of donations and took four large carloads, again to WestCOP and Dobbs Ferry pantries, also helped in delivery by Liz Knobler. In addition, we collected a large quantity of baby wipes for Neighbors’ Link and Steve Glusker arranged for delivery to them.

Not only are we grateful for temple members for giving so generously, but also for the help of all those who manned the tables during collection times. (Val Fox)

We also made a donation from the Hunger Fund to help the work of the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry, whose client base has quadrupled this past year.

Immigrant Friends at WCT

In April, Immigrant Friends at Woodlands conducted a successful “baby wipes drive” for Neighbors Link, an Immigrant Service Center in Mt Kisco, as part of Rabbi Billy’s Social Justice Day events. We collected 350 packages of wipes which is approximately 1 month’s supply for about 60 people. We received a thank you from NL as follows: “We are so grateful for the generous donation of baby wipes we received from Woodlands Community Temple. Please extend our gratitude to everyone who made the donation possible. The families we serve will really appreciate getting these supplies.”

While our partnership with Neighbors Links and advocacy for pro-immigrant legislation was curtailed because of Covid, the situation of undocumented immigrants was and remains dire. One of our goals for next year is to hold events which will educate and draw in more members from the congregation. (Steve Glusker)

Interfaith Caring Community of Greenburgh

Interfaith has been semi-dormant this year, in part because of COVID limitations and in part because of the illness of Alan Shapiro, leader of the group. Woodlands has stepped in to make sure that some of the programs continue. Our clergy ran a very meaningful interfaith Thanksgiving service. Woodlands also kept the Sunday dinner program going for the teens at The Sanctuary. We maintained Interfaith presence on Facebook.

At this time, we don’t know what Interfaith’s status will be in the coming year. (Roberta Roos)

Knitting & Crocheting

The Woodlands knitting and crocheting group has had quite a productive year. We’ve made blankets and scarves for Hope’s Door, hats for the Midnight Run office that serves the homeless, more colorful hats for women and children at the Coachman Family Center and donated 8 blankets to the Michael Nolan Scholarship Foundation. And, finally a core group is volunteering to work on something special for our retiring Rabbi Billy.

We had all knitting meetings via Zoom except for our meeting in May which was held outside on the patio. As instructed by the Task Force, we made sure to do a screening and wore masks. Six members attended. We tried including folks via Zoom as we worked outside but conditions weren’t perfect. We have not gone into the building yet but were told up to 20 would be allowed. Those guidelines were given early in May. 

Some of our members enjoy meeting on Zoom as it’s less work getting to a meeting. We’re sure others don’t mind coming to the Temple. Something to discuss. (Angela Adler)

Project Ezra

Because of COVID, we were unable to hold our annual luncheon for Project Ezra and, for the second consecutive year, we were unable to do a Passover food collection. To help the Project Ezra folks celebrate Passover, the clergy sent a letter to the congregation asking for donations. This appeal was very successful and a check for over $2,700 was sent to Project Ezra. Our Project Ezra Fund, used not just to assist Project Ezra’s programs, but to assist Woodlands’ programs for Project Ezra, has been down considerably compared to past years and we have discussed how to remedy this problem. At one time, there was a substantial amount in the fund but in recent years less and less food has been brought to the temple for the Passover food collection. To fill the 50 boxes we always provide, we have had temple members shop for the missing items and then reimburse them. This has caused a shortfall (remedied by money from the Social Action Fund and the special clergy appeal) in a fund that, at one time, had been very flush. Harriet is in conversation with the Project Ezra organization to determine their needs and then we can determine which we can fill and how we will raise the money to fill them. We are considering a summer food drive and Hanukkah bags. It is highly unlikely that there will be a luncheon this year. We will not know about the Passover food collection before January.

Rabbi Billy’s Midnight Run

Unfortunately, COVID restrictions prevented this program from taking place this year.

Racial Justice Task Force

The Racial Justice Task Force (RJTF), formed in the spring of 2020, got off to a strong start engaging the temple community in learning and conversation about tough topics. A successful Summer Reading for a Cause was followed by the Fall Reading for a Cause, which encouraged temple members and guests to stretch beyond their horizons and discuss diverse perspectives. In the winter, Billy Planer visited WCT, virtually, to share insights on how to have difficult conversations about race. In April 2021, RJTF joined the Adult Education Committee (AEC) to produce the WCT University program entitled, “Blacks and Jews; Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going?” The program featured lectures, breakout room discussions, as well as music and art.  As a result of RJTF and AEC efforts, the UJA awarded WCT a $5,000 grant, which included the opportunity to attend Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training. The grant also enabled us to develop connections with other temples. RJTF programs reached more than 300 screens, built community connections, engaged a committee of 25+ and has seen leaders emerge who are busy planning initiatives and programs to build on these efforts. (Rebecca Mazin & Linda Einfrank)

Refugee Task Force

We continued to support the Azizi family from Afghanistan throughout the year 5781 in several ways even though the family has now been in White Plains for two and a half years. This past October, the family welcomed a new healthy baby girl, and we were able to give them a generous gift from our joint refugee fund with Bet Am Shalom.  Because of co-vid, we could not have as much interpersonal time with the family, but we continued our bi-weekly/monthly leadership team meetings so discuss such issues as the children’s educational progress, and, very importantly, the ability for the family to find a suitable apartment where they could have a lease in their own names.  We brought our work to the attention of our congregation in two ways; one was doing the Iyunnim (introduction to the prayers) on HIAS Shabbat, and the second, was introducing the family via zoom to our congregation on Social Action Day in honor of Rabbi Billy.  There may be more refugees allowed into the country this coming year, and we have put out several feelers to see if other congregants would be willing to participate in this work. (Marge Glusker & Melanie Roher Schwartz)

Shelter Dinners

We have continued to play our part in the Interfaith effort to provide Sunday dinners to the teens at the shelter.  As usual we have taken two dates in the fall/winter and two in spring/summer, although, of course, over the past year we have not been permitted to provide home-cooked food due to Covid precautionary regulations.  Instead, we have been able to gather together small groups of volunteers who have worked together to plan a menu, order and pay for restaurant food for delivery direct to the shelter.  Initially this worked well, but to be truthful, it has gradually become more of a struggle to find volunteers.  Feedback seems to indicate that our people are more touched by the notion of cooking nutritious homely food for the youngsters, but are possibly less motivated now due to the remoteness and logistics of the current arrangement.   So unfortunately, our up-coming spring/summer date, June 13th, has so far gained no responses from our mailing list, although I’m hoping that resending an appeal will 'bear some fruit.

One additional aspect, and I am not sure whether this happened before or after our last meeting, but would like to mention ... Woodlands had recently taken on the role of scheduling coordinator for the whole Interfaith group, and last year First Reformed Church in Hastings offered to share this work with us.  Prema Samuel and I are now enjoying a cooperative partnership and it’s great to have someone with whom to iron out glitches and double-check to let me know when I mess up on dates. (Val Fox)

 

Submitted by Roberta Roos and Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber
May 2021 – Sivan 5781

Thu, December 2 2021 28 Kislev 5782