What’s all the Justice hype? Check out what people are saying about the immediate impact they have made just by joining and taking part in one or more of our Social Justice Network (SJN) activities within direct service, advocacy, awareness, and action.
Direct Service: Community Passion by Susan Folstein
For the past few months I have been a volunteer, after-school tutor for the Overtown Youth Center (OYC). I am having a wonderful time. The children are adorable and serious about their schoolwork, and the staff are grateful for my help with the primary school children. I am known as Miss Susan and am politely greeted: “Good afternoon Miss Susan.”
OYC is a pleasant, clean, well-run facility with well-qualified staff. The children’s after-school “teachers” also work with the same children at their various schools and accompany them on the bus from school to the OYC. At the schools they do many things: visit parents of truant children, get the parents involved in parenting programs where help with many other things is offered: getting the electricity turned on, paying the rent, etc.
Each day, over 200 children, from second grade through high school attend the OYC. Upon arrival they have a healthy meal (endowed by a donor), do their homework, and then attend art, music and gym classes. Yearly tests of vision, dental health, and hearing are carried out on site through the good offices of agencies such as Lighthouse. Any detected problems are followed up and treated.
The OYC is funded by a cobbled together combination of government agencies and donors.
I have identified two main challenges in my role as a tutor that need funding. The first is the need computers in the primary school classrooms. There is a computer room with adequate desktop computers (donated when a company got new ones). The computer room is mostly occupied by older children and teens. But even the primary schoolchildren are expected to do considerable homework online, particularly math but also reading. They also use computers for science projects. So, laptop computers and a printer are needed for the three primary school classrooms. There is also a need for additional software, printers, a local area network, and someone onsite daily to maintain the systems and supervise youths using computers in the computer room and in the primary classrooms. The children’s teachers at their various schools assign computer homework because they presume that the OYC has adequate computer access. None of the children have no computers at home.
The second problem is crowded classrooms. The OYC is very popular with schools and is overflowing. Children with excellent ability to screen out extraneous sights and noises can do their homework in this noisy afterschool environment but many cannot. The desks are grouped together and even one boisterous child can make it difficult for the others. In my experience in child psychiatry, sitting at a separate carrel with noise cancelling earphones allows inattentive children to better focus, remain quiet, and do their homework much more efficiently. The carrels can also be used for computer work.
Why have these two problems not been addressed in such an excellent facility? The government agencies do not provide sufficient funds and the private donors so far have been interested funding in very specific kinds of activities, mostly things of personal interest to them and/or their families such as nutritious after school lunches, sport equipment, performing arts, etc. Contact Susan Folstein directly if you would like more information on volunteering with OYC.
Advocacy : Pact Lives by Michael Berman
Well, EXCUSE ME! (As Steve Martin would say) Yakrive yakrivanoo
Melinda and I arrived at TBS at about 5:45 pm last Monday evening (a week ago) to get on the 6:00 pm yellow school bus to The New Birth Baptist Church on NW 135th Street, for the annual Nehemiah Action PACT event – People Acting as Community Together. But at 6:10, only four congregants were there (including us) with Mark Baranek, Rabbi Davis and Rabbi Pomerantz. Oye….where was everyone who had signed up for this important community action social justice event? Where was our community? Last year about a dozen of us attended the PACT event, and we hoped for at least 20 TBS congregants this year. Oh, well…. No need for the bus, let’s just take a couple of cars and drive there. Maybe others from our congregation have done the same. Hope so…. We start to talk about all of the reasons why various folks could not be there, including the high school kids who had signed up with such good intentions.
We jumped in the car with Rabbi Pomerantz and arrived at the church early. Let’s find the TBS group – at least let’s hope that one exists. There they are – down in the front. Ok. About 10 of us. It’s really early. We noticed a quote from the Torah on our way in and a tree of life. Only 200-300 people are here in the church. So we relax and chat and look around at this huge Baptiste sanctuary and imposing bima just a few feet in front of us. Does this Baptiste congregation call this a “bima” just like we do?
Then the crowds start to enter. The plan is that over 1,000 congregants from about 38 churches and two synagogues will attend and, as a community, advocate for justice (1) for our kids who have made mistakes but need our help in the Miami-Dade schools and (2) for affordable housing for the people of our county – we live in one of the least affordable counties in the entire USA. How can the elderly, the young professionals, the disabled, and the working poor afford to live when rent is over 50% of their take home pay and that leaves only say $5 a day per person for food, clothes, medicine, transportation, holidays, wifi, and how about a fun activity or a school field trip to a museum?
The organizers have done a huge amount of work advocating to our county commissioners, political representatives, police chiefs, school superintendents, school board members – and about 25 of them are here tonight to commit to help our cause.
That’s right – only two synagogues participating. Rabbis Glickstein and Davis are on the bima as leaders of PACT along with Denis Russ, who is key to the affordable housing initiative. Cantor Segal is in the choir on the bima leading us all in song with others from our Chai Notes. Karen Rivo, our in-coming president is up there singing, too. And Rabbi Pomerantz has worked tirelessly to engage our TBS Social Justice Network and to motivate us to learn about the issues and then to engage. Our TBS leadership is fully engaged and helping to make this happen. So it feels really important that we show up. That we stand up and be counted as part of our community.
Here come a few more folks from TBS. It’s 7:30 pm, and they start right on time – Rachael Cain has worked so hard to get us to show up and be counted. The church is pretty full – about 1200 strong. I look around the church – we are a minority – so what else is new. Last time I checked, we are part of Miami-Dade County, and while these issues may not directly effect me, they are clearly our issues. And TBS is represented as leaders of the entire Miami-Dade community. Rachael makes a list of TBS participants – 32 of us – wow! More than twice as many as last year. Fantastic! And our rabbis are spreading the word to other clergy at other synagogues to get them involved. This is what we do as Jews. This is what we do as members of Temple Beth Sholom.
99% of the challenges publicly put to the commissioners and other leaders on stage this night are accepted – we have momentum! This public community action can and will make a difference to those who need our help. The 1200 of us chant “JUSTICE, JUSTICE, JUSTICE” over and over as each challenge is met. Public advocacy in large numbers matters. This matters. I feel proud to be part of our congregation and to be a part of this community event. Nehemiah was our prophet – all of us – and this is our community. Next year, I hope 100 of us stand up and are counted there! And I pray that more synagogues engage and show up with us.
When we left the church Monday night at 9:00 pm – right on time – I mentioned to Rabbi Pomerantz that this was a really important event for us. We needed to be there and we were there. We showed up. We were counted among our neighbors in the struggle for justice for all – for our community and for our congregation. Someone should write a testimonial.
So now it’s Friday night, and I’m listening to Rabbi Davis’s sermon in the beautiful and cozy chapel at TBS on the first book of Leviticus. It’s my least favorite – lots of laws about animal sacrifice and purity and priestly sanctification. But the Rabbi has an interesting and important focus on the text, as he points out the words: “Yakrive yakrivanoo” . And as I listen to his words, they begin to sink into my thick skull. Rabbi Davis explains that if you say something, then you have to do it, or it doesn’t count. A statement or intention, even if from the heart, does not count unless you follow through and do it. I have no idea how to spell “Yakrive yakrivanoo” – but it means something to me as I leave services for dinner. I intended to show up at that church on 135th Street and then bring it back to TBS. Just a beginning step…. Thank you, Rabbi.