Tikkun Olam at Temple Beth Am

Connecting our congregation to social action opportunities


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Freedom to Marry in Washington

[Cross-posted from the Religious Action Center blog, where you can also find posts about other Fain Award-winning programs and the work of the RAC.]

This post is part of a series highlighting the amazing work of our 2013 Irving J. Fain Award winners. Continue to check back to learn about the inspirational projects at Reform congregations across North America. 

The commandment “Justice, justice shall you pursue” wisely comes with no expectation that the results will be immediate. To the contrary, Rabbi Tarfon reminds us, “It is not incumbent on you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21)The task of achieving marriage equality nationwide is not yet complete, but at the state level there have been several hard-won victories over the past year. In Seattle, the members and clergy of Temple Beth Am (TBA) played an active role in the Jewish Marriage Equality Coalition and helped make Washington one of four states that supported marriage equality at the ballot box in November 2012.

TBA had been on the record supporting LGBT rights since 1994, when the membership voted at an annual meeting to oppose anti-gay initiatives that were then circulating in the state. Shortly after he was hired in 1995, Rabbi Jonathan Singer began performing same-sex commitment ceremonies, and over the years he spoke from the pulpit and at the state capitol in favor of LGBT rights, domestic partnership and marriage equality. By the time the freedom to marry campaign came to Washington in 2012, our congregation was on board and, frankly, wondering what was taking so long.

Outreach to faith communities was an important element of the campaign, and TBA members were involved both in interfaith efforts and also as part of the Jewish Marriage Equality Coalition. The Coalition grew to comprise 28 Jewish organizations statewide, including nine of the 17 Reform congregations and the Jewish Federation. The Orthodox community could not explicitly support marriage equality, but they were persuaded that the measure protected religious freedom by allowing individual clergy to personally decide which weddings he (or she) would perform – and therefore agreed not to publicly oppose it.

There were myriad ways for TBA members to get involved, and we leapt in with both feet. Among other things:

We fielded a contingent in the Seattle Pride March, carrying banners for marriage equality;We offered community service hours for youth group members who participated in the Pride March;

We hosted a training session for the Jewish community on “How to Have a Jewish Conversation About Marriage Equality;”

One of our members curated an exhibit of same-sex ketubot, called “Equal Vows,” which was the subject of a cover story in the JT News, our local Jewish community paper;

We hosted phone banks in the synagogue office and social hall one or two nights a week for the Washington United for Marriage campaign;

We joined with numerous other congregations and individuals for a “Faith Ballot March” to demonstrate the range of faith communities’ support for marriage equality; and

The shul was a distribution center for buttons, yard signs, and other campaign materials.

As we pursued justice together, we also learned much about each other. The campaign centered on having “courageous conversations” about what freedom to marry meant to each of us. For some, it was finally being able to say “I do” to a partner of many years; for others it was the chance to dance at a child’s wedding; and for still others it was simply being part of the civil rights struggle of our generation.

Shelly Cohen is a member of Temple Beth Am in Seattle, WA.

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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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What’s Next for Gun Control? YOU ARE!

The Come Home Alive Initiative (CHAI), formed by TBA members Jessica Trupin, Shelly Cohen, Randy Simon, and many others, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, is delighted that Council member Tim Burgess, Deputy Police Chief Nick Metz and others will be joining us at our next meeting, which we’re co-hosting with the amazing One Million Moms for Gun Control.Nick Federici, advocate for nonprofit causes in Olympia, will be leading an advocacy training after the speakers. Other prominent leaders are also signing up to join us!We hope that each of you is in this struggle for the long haul. Come to share, learn, lobby, or just listen.

Next Sunday, 2/24, 3-4:30 at First United Methodist, 180 Denny. We’ll have you out in time for the Oscars. Childcare available.

RSVP to february24rsvp@gmail.com – but don’t let a lack of RSVP keep you away.


First Church (First United Methodist Church, Seattle)
180 Denny Way, Seattle, Washington 98109
View Map · Get Directions


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Zichronam Lirracha, For Their Memory Shall be a Blessing

Zichronam Lirracha, For Their Memory Shall be a Blessing

The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle is collecting signatures for a national Jewish petition to urge action on gun control and mass violence.

FInd Petition here.

December 14, 2012’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut has reminded us that the issue of gun violence in our nation must be dealt with immediately.

Please sign this petition to encourage our nation’s leaders to support comprehensive action, including meaningful legislation to limit access to assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, aggressive enforcement of firearm regulations, robust efforts to ensure that every person in need has access to quality mental health care, and a serious national conversation about violence in media and games.

On Friday December 14, a gunman armed with three high-powered firearms and high-capacity magazines walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Hundreds of shots were fired and twenty first-graders, ages six and seven, and six educators were killed.

This violent and horrific event aimed at children shocks our conscience and country. Our hearts are broken, our souls weep, and our arms are outstretched to the families of the victims, the survivors, the first responders, and the entire community of Newtown, Connecticut. In just the last few months, we have seen shootings at schools, malls, theaters, and houses of worship. We are pained and dismayed by the pandemic of gun violence, far exceeding other western nations, and we will not accept it.

Our tradition teaches us of the sanctity of life and how each and every person is created in the divine image. We must directly confront gun violence so that our nation is not marked nor the years measured by senseless massacres. We will not allow the intense emotion we feel now to return to a place of complacency where we become desensitized to the atrocities that unfold around us daily. We must come together to build a society worthy of those lost and a culture that represents our best virtues.

We stand committed to working with our local, state, and national leaders to squarely address these issues and honor the victims, survivors, and their families. We recognize the right of Americans to own guns, but we do not accept the current state of affairs. We stand united and call on our leaders to support comprehensive action, including meaningful legislation to limit access to assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, aggressive enforcement of firearm regulations, robust efforts to ensure that every person in need has access to quality mental health care, and a serious national conversation about violence in media and games.

We, the undersigned, ask that President Obama, Congress, and every citizen to take direct and unequivocal action to stop the outrageous and unacceptable violence that is destroying the fabric of our society.

FInd Petition here.


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Freedom Shabbat – January 11, 2013

Musical Performance: 7:30pm
Service: 8:00 pm

I am pleased to remind you of the annual Temple Beth Am Freedom Shabbat service on Friday, January 11, 2013.  Each year, our congregation joins in celebration and education about our relationship as Jews to the life and work of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr.

So often, it can seem that working for peace and justice involves choosing from a laundry list of “issues” that are addressed as separate concerns.  As citizens, it behooves us to examine the connections between various struggles against oppression in order to further a more just society.

To that end, we are so very pleased to have Dr. Michael K. Honey speak at this year’s service.  Dr. Honey is the Haley Professor of Humanities at the University of Washington-Tacoma. He is the award-winning author of a number of books and a community activist. He will be speaking on the topic of, “The Interconnectedness between Racism, Poverty and War”.

We will again be honoring a number of congregants who have been involved in numerous tikkun olam actions.  While it is not possible to include everyone in reading from the bima, this year we want to invite anyone who has been engaged in this important work to join on the bima at the Torah service for a group aliyah and blessing from Rabbi Beth.  Please spread the word amongst your colleagues in action about this opportunity/honor.

New this year, we will begin our evening of celebration with a musical performance at 7:30pm with Shades of Praise/Jubilation Choir of St. Therese Parish, under the direction of Mr. Kent Stevenson.  We are honored to share this joyous evening with these exuberant singers.  Please help us to express our collective appreciation for their time by attending this part of our evening’s event.

Finally, I want to let you know that this is my fourth – and final – year coordinating this wonderful service.  I am passing on the role to Leigh Hofheimer who has worked with me on this year’s service.  Please join me in welcoming her to this important effort.

For justice!

Susan Picard – Coordinator, Freedom Shabbat Service


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Film Screening by AJWS Dec. 12

Film_screeningPlease join American Jewish World Service (AJWS) for cocktails and a private screening of Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a riveting documentary film depicting the extraordinary true story of Liberian women whose nonviolent protest movement helped bring an end to their country’s devastating civil war.

To RSVP, please contact Matt Balaban at mbalaban@ajws.org or 415.593.3298.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2012 • 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

6:00 p.m. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, Hosted by AJWS
7:00 p.m. Remarks and film screening

FRYE ART MUSEUM
704 Terry Avenue, Seattle, WA

Featuring
Cecelia T. M. Danuweli
West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, Liberia (WIPNET)
Cecelia will share the captivating story of her life before, during and
following the war, including her participation in events depicted in the film.

HOST COMMITTEE:
Deborah Ashin
Merrill Black
Rabbi Jill Borodin
Laura Brandt
Pamela Cowan
Dr. Margaret Crastnopol
Shelly Crocker
Judy de Jonge
Krijn de Jonge
Susan Edelheit
Jeff Gillman
Marcy Gillman
Larry Glosser
Joanne Glosser
Kate Koester
Alexis Kort
Rabbi Lauren Kurland
Lauren Lavoie
Howard Metzenberg
Marcy Migdal
Michael Milder
Sarajane Milder
Steve Miller
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum
Linda Paros
David Ramenofsky
Carol Silverstein
Kenny Wolf
There will be no solicitation for funds.


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4th Annual Light the Night: A GLBTQ Hanukkah-December 11th

Hi everyone, I hope you had a good Thanksgiving and are still smiling because of our R74 victory.  Kolenu, Seattle’s Jewish LGBTQ Young Adult group(http://kolenuseattle.blogspot.com) hosts a Hanukkah party every year where they honor LGBTQ leaders in our community.  This year, the event will focus on the effort to achieve marriage equality in Washington State.  I want to encourage everyone to come and also to invite your friends, congregation, and organizational members to come also.  The event is open to the public.  There will be a program where we will honor individuals and communities.  Please come and please spread the word!  See below for more details.
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Kolenu invites you to their 4th Annual Light the Night: A GLBTQ Hanukkah
Enjoy tasty latkes, colorful dreidels, music and a beautiful candle lighting symbolizing both the miracle of Hanukkah and the idea that great leadership and community action will prevail against oppression.
This year, we are fortunate to celebrate a new “miracle” in our time: marriage equality in Washington State. In this spirit, we will be honoring community leaders who were active in Referendum 74.
FREE and open to the community. Allies, friends and family welcome. Due to the location, this is a 21+ event.
This event is made possible through the generous support of Jconnect Seattle, The Lobby Bar, Three Dollar Bill Cinema, Jewish Family Service, and The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
What:                                     4th Annual Light the Night: A GLBTQ Hanukkah
Where:                                   The Lobby Bar (916 E. Pike Street, Seattle, Washington 98122)
When:                                    December 11, 2012 6-8 pm
Facebook Event:                  https://www.facebook.com/events/483533345003014/