Tikkun Olam at Temple Beth Am

Connecting our congregation to social action opportunities

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Reflections of a Young Jewish Feminist

Here is another in our occasional series of divrei Torah by our amazing TBA youth. This one was written by Rachel Warshaw for her bat mitzvah on May 11, 2013.

In my haftarah portion, the prophet Hosea refers to Israel as the cheating wife and God as the husband. The imagery Hosea uses is very negative towards women, and is hard for modern women to digest or accept. In my Torah portion, in the census, the men aged 21 and over are the only ones who are counted. These men were eligible to be drafted into a fighting force. Women are not mentioned at all. Men are the only ones who are counted. If we re-arrange that sentence, we find that in the time of my Torah portion, it seems that men were the only ones who counted, or in other words, the ones who were valued most.

In Reform Judaism, women are lucky to be treated in an equal way to men. And in our temple, girls and young women have had the opportunity to see that of 4 professional rabbis on the temple staff, three are women. Women who practice Orthodox Judaism are less lucky. Unlike us, they cannot stand on the bimah and read from the Torah. In Israel, the women who come to pray at the Western Wall can only pray in a certain less choice portion of it, whereas men can pray in the nice area. I believe the people in charge of who may pray and read Torah at the Western Wall are acting like the adulterous wife Hosea portrays in my portion. In the same way that Hosea says Israel has become adulterous towards God by straying from God, her husband, and going to other gods, people who will not allow others to further their relationship with God are ruining their own personal relationship with God.

While I would very much like to be able to say that our Torah is a feminist book, I cannot. There are so many instances in it of women being treated and portrayed as the “weaker vessel.” In fact, many of the matriarchs in the Torah are only special because they married men whom God called to do something great. Rachel, my namesake, did not do anything particularly special that was recorded in the Torah other than waiting 7 years to get married to a man who didn’t know her well enough to tell the difference between her and her sister. Leah did even less. She married the man her sister was promised to, because her father wanted to marry her off before she got any older. Neither of these “matriarchs” did anything to change her fate. I wish that the strong, smart women of the Biblical stories could have been shown as heroines, but women who thought for themselves and got what they wanted were either overlooked, or their stories are recorded in a way that does not focus on the heroic. How many women and girls were present at the counting my Torah portion represents? We cannot know. Their history is a blank, their numbers are invisible. And the people who were not included were not just the women, as Rachel Stock Spilker writes in the Women’s Torah Commentary, “What about the woman who might have wished to fight? Or how about the 19-year-old man, just months short of his 20th birthday, eager to serve God and his people? Or the 23-year-old male Israelite who can count the right number of years, but the not the right number of limbs since he lost one of his in a childhood accident?” This type of census was not fair.

As of today, women are now supposed to be treated the same way as men in the army, in what posts they are given, thanks to recent orders by the Defense Secretary to allow women in combat. Even though we consider our American society progressive, we were still woefully behind when it came to counting women for the army.

During the last war that people were drafted for, the Vietnam War, women were not drafted. Only men, aged 18 and above were drafted. I hope there will be no more wars that will call for anyone being drafted to serve in combat forces, but I do think that it is a big step for equality to know that women will be eligible to fight, too. In light of recent revelations about abuse of some female service members, there is obviously still a great deal of work to do for women’s presence and contributions to fully valued and respected. I am proud to go to a temple that will let me, a young woman, lead the prayer service, chant Torah and Haftarah, and give my D’var. In reaching this day, I am now able to be counted for a minyan, and can participate fully in Jewish prayer and Torah study.

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Seeing people without labels

Yasher koach to Lauren Feiges for this d’var from her bat mitzvah on Feb. 9, 2013.

How do you feel when you are stopped at a red light, and a person who is homeless asks you for money? Do you get annoyed? Do you feel guilty? Do you feel indifferent? Or are you just numb?

Unlike many other torah portions, my portion Mishpatim did not have a story. It listed many laws, such as you are not to take bribes, you are not to spread rumors, you shall respect your parents, and the ever so famous eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. But one particular law stood out to me. It stated, “You shall not wrong nor oppress the stranger, for you were once slaves in the land of Egypt.” My interpretation of this law is that we are not to look down or turn our backs on the stranger, because we can easily be in their place. A stranger is someone you think you have no connection with; although deep down inside the person you may consider a stranger is just like you. Put another way, the stranger is us.

Great commentator Rashi once said; “You know the feelings of a stranger- How painful it is for him when you oppress him” What I think Rashi means is that we shouldn’t label people, or prejudge them. This year my mitzvah project brought me face to face with people in need. Some people needed food, some people needed a roof over their heads, and some people just needed company. My experience made me realize that children living in a shelter are just regular kids. That a person who is homeless is still gracious and thankful for a meal I have just given them. That the people in nursing homes, who need assistance with simple everyday tasks, can still tell a good joke. And through all of these experiences, I really wanted to help these people as much as possible, but I had a fear of reaching out to them and opening myself up to them because I thought they were strangers. Through my contact with them, I quickly learned they weren’t, and I found myself feeling less sorry for them and more connected to the people they were on inside.

Everyone has a purpose in life, and we should recognize a purpose in everyone. This brings me back to my point of not forgetting the so called “stranger”. We all have to remember to reach out and make the stranger once again recognizable, even though it is true that there are a lot of people that need our help; more than any one person can provide. But the next time you are stopped at a red light and see someone asking for help, try this. See them as people without a label. Take out the word homeless. When we do this, we are making our community once again whole by eliminating the stranger. We are all becoming stronger and better people from the inside out. Shabbat Shalom everyone.

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Green Team Meeting Feb 4

by guest blogger Barak Gale

Dear Beth Am Green Teamers,

Many a Tu B’Shevat has passed since our Green Team (or Adama Team, or whatever we will call it) has convened.  Yet the scourge of catastrophic climate change impacts our country, our world, more and more.  May our blessings tonight over the fruit of the trees help in some small way to move the Divine Shefa, not only to provide renewal of the fruit trees, but to provide renewal of our community’s collective effort at Tikkun Olam-Adamah, Let’s bring to bear the skills, heart, joy, compassion, of Beth Am and become part of the Reform Jewish movement and part of the worldwide movement for change.

Leah and I hope you can join us to renew the process of engagement.

Date:  Monday Feb 4
Time:  7:30 pm
Place:  Home of Leah Vetter,  10715  39th Ave NE, Seattle

Special Request:  to not apply any perfumes or fragrances, including in lotions like Vasoline, shampoos like Head & Shoulders, etc.  Thank  you!

Please let us know if you can come.

Barak Gale


Kaddish for Kindergartners

Those of us who routinely say Kaddish at the close of Jewish religious services are generally aware that the Hebrew prayer for mourning makes no actual reference to mourning nor to death. It’s a prayer of glorification, sanctification, and praise for God and the world He made, and it’s a call for the peace He can bring to that troubled world.

The guttural and beautiful sing-song in the middle makes clear our connection, dependence, and awe – Continue reading

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Matanot L’evyonim for Purim Returns!

Homeless To RenterBy Temple Member Sue Covey

Sunday I took two of my grandsons to the Purim Carnival.  While they enjoyed the carnival, I was the “rover” for H2R – educating people about H2R and also encouraging people to celebrate the mitzvah of matanot l’evyonim with tzedekah for homeless families with children. My grandsons observed me talking with parents about donating to H2R.  My youngest grandson, Lincoln, a kindergartner, began asking me questions about what I was doing; what is H2R; etc.  As I explained it to him he was most concerned.  He then said, “Well, I want to help the children have a home; can I give some money?”  I answered in the affirmative; and he then pulled out all the money he had in his pocket that he had recently saved – $.39 cents.  Lincoln asked, “How much do you think I should give?”  I responded, “How much would you like to give?”  He asked, “Is $.10 cents okay?”  I welcomed his donation; gave him a smiley face H2R donation sticker and he observed me add his 10 cents into the donation envelope.  All considering, $.10 may seem like a small amount, but for Lincoln this donation was 25% of his saved pocket change.  Just imagine if each person donated 25% of their pocket change to H2R.  Remember – You can make a difference with any donation, no matter the amount.

Donate with PURIM to PESACH H2R VOUCHERS.  To give online, please go to Http://templebe.ejoinme.org/h2r


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An Evening With Mary’s Place Families at TBA

by Ellen Koretz Whitton

My usual role with the Mary’s Place families while they are at Temple Beth Am (or Ravenna United Methodist Church, where TBA volunteers also help out) has been as an overnight host, so I often don’t really get the chance to know the families.  But this time, along with my husband and 8-year-old son,  I hosted one evening.  My son was nervous.  He asked, “what if the homeless people aren’t nice?”, but once he got there he fit right in and had a great time playing with the other kids.

One conversation I overheard really struck me.  One of the children had brought a Scholastic book order leaflet back from school.  The child’s mother sighed and said, “I don’t get my TANF until the middle of the month.”  Here is a mother who has nothing, not even a roof over her head, yet she is trying to find a way to get books for her child.

As I write this story, I reach over to pet Grace, our family’s tuxedo cat.  I know that we can have a pet because we have a home. (Grace is a shelter cat, who was homeless herself!)  The night I served as evening host, another volunteer let the children pet his dog, and they were delighted. Having a home means that a child (or a parent) who loves animals can have the simple joy of having a pet.

No matter how much you study the problem of homelessness, I don’t think you can truly understand what homelessness means until you have spent time with these brave and resourceful people.  It truly has been a privilege to help.

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Freedom Shabbat 2012: Revisioning the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With a focus on Dr. King’s later emphasis on economic, as well as racial, disparity in our country, this year’s service unveiled the newly revised Freedom Shabbat Service to our congregation.  We celebrated Dr. King and congregants who have engaged in social justice work in our community including work on health care reform, homelessness, hunger, marriage equality, and concerns related to aging.  We were honored to have King County Councilman, Mr. Larry Gossett, as our guest speaker.  He explored the history of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign and how the current Occupy Movement is tied to this legacy.  It was exciting to weave our traditional Shabbat prayers and songs with the inspiring words of poet Maya Angelou and the speeches given by Dr. King to labor unions and supporters of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, TN.

I want to acknowledge and thank my colleagues Robby Stern and Wendy Schwartz for their work on revising the service and to give a special note of gratitude to Rabbi Beth Singer for her supportive leadership throughout the planning of the service.  We hope that the service inspired – and will continue to inspire – our congregation to engage in acts of Tikkun Olam.

Susan Picard

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2012 One Night Count in Lake City

By Temple Beth Am member Sally Kinney

When I left the house at 2 AM to meet my One Night Count group, it was 27 degrees and frozen hard. When I drove home at 6 AM this morning, it was 30 degrees and a thick icy fog made it almost impossible to see the road.  Most of us find it hard to imagine people being outside all night in that weather.  But they are and we found them. If we’d counted last week during the snow, we would have found them then, also. Continue reading

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Tell your legislators: no more cuts to social services

(NOTE: The regular legislative session starts on Monday, January 9. If you’re interested in meeting face-to-face with your legislators, click here for a list of planned citizen lobby days. – ed.)

From Dina Burstein and the Health Care For All Committee:

The Washington State special legislative session failed to fix the $2 billion revenue shortfall in the 2011-2013 state budget. Seven intrepid TBA members went to Olympia during the first week of the special session to lobby against health care cuts and to urge the passage of a fair budget revenue package. Continue reading

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Share the Warmth of Chanukah with YouthCare

From TBA member Sis Polin:

THEY CALL ME NANA SIS and they are the girls, and sometimes boys, that I teach to knit once a week at Youth Care. How and why they are there is not what we talk about. We focus on knitting, creating hats and scarves, sometimes with chatter and sometimes with music as the background. For them it is also a personal connection with someone who cares. I go there happy to spend a little one-on-one time with these young folks, but I leave with a sad heart knowing the struggles these kids go through to survive but grateful for what YouthCare does for them.

For the past two years, I have depended on my friends to donate items for the kids that YouthCare serves, but now it is time for everyone at TBA to demonstrate our commitment to tikkun olam by joining in. I want to thank Rabbi Beth for helping me to do this, and what would be a more appropriate time than Chanukah! We would like you to bring items to the Temple Beth Am Chanukah Party on December 23. If you can’t make it, you can drop your donation off beforehand – just make sure it is marked for Youth Care.

We are focusing on the following desperately needed items:

    • New thermal, wool and athletic socks,
    • New hats, gloves, and scarves (check out the Dollar Store and Target)
    • Gently used warm coats, hooded sweat shirts and rain jackets
    • Gently used sleeping bags and blankets
    • Gently used back packs
    • Personal items:
        Tooth paste and tooth brushes (ask your dentists to dig into their samples)
        Deodorants (travel size)

Let’s make Chanukah a real giving time for all of us!