March 24, 2022
Last night, at the first of our two-part discussion on the Israeli television mini-series The New Jew, one of the things we discussed is how American Jews might choose to identify Jewishly. Needless to say, there are a host of ways, but in the liberal Jewish world, we find an interesting phenomenon: Jews who regard themselves as atheist (or at the very least, lacking in any religious fervor) belonging to religious communities – synagogues and temples!
In truth, there’s nothing very curious about this at all. We come together as community for many reasons. And one of the things that animates many liberal synagogue communities is the opportunity to engage in gemilut chasadim – acts of righteousness and tzedakah. We can express our Jewish souls through interaction with the world around us. A central tenet of our religion (and most religions) is to help the needy, the sick, the bereaved. You don’t need to be a God-fearing person to do that, but a religious community is as likely a place as any to step up to that work.
Of course, our synagogue is made up of members and attendees who represent a broad religious spectrum. But an unsung (or not-sung-enough) feature of EMJC is how we quietly and modestly occupies ourselves with the good works that we do. Take, for example, our partnership with the Acosta-Molina family. Misael, Katy, Nicol, Madaì, and Kathyna, are about to celebrate one year (!!) in the United States. Their story is far from over, but as of now, they are living in conditions that were unimaginable to them a year ago: safety, comfort, warmth; school for the girls!; friends and supporters from our community. Through our caring, we have made a material difference in the life of this family.
Recently, Credahina Milman, a Room J mom, asked Audrey for help collecting goods for a Ukrainian refugee family that had just arrived in New York. Audrey put out the word among the young families, and within days, they had amassed a tremendous amount of material support for this young family. Again, our instinct is to help, to support, to uplift! And when called upon, we do it.
A few weeks ago, after the war in Ukraine began, I suggested some good organizations to donate to that were supporting Ukrainian refugees and people so terribly displaced and affected by the situation there. We will republish that list, as well as suggesting other good organizations that are doing these acts of gemilut chasadim in that war-torn country. In the meantime, we’d like to suggest making a donation to the UJA Federation Crisis in Ukraine Fund. This fund supports around two dozen organizations doing humanitarian aid, rescue, and refugee support. Many (but not all) of them focus on helping the sizable Jewish community in Ukraine. You can get more information and donate here:
So far, UJA Federation of New York has allocated over $8 million to these various organizations, and people on the ground are getting aid to those in need, often at great personal risk. If you are able to make a donation, it is another great way of showing our community’s giving and caring nature.
I am proud to be associated with EMJC. Caring for others is truly in our nature – it is not a burden to any of us – and I have long believed that this practical application of our values is the very heart of our faith and our practice. Yasher Ko’ach – may we have the strength to stay on the straight path, the one that makes such a difference in people’s lives.
Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.
Rabbi Sam Levine