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Repairing the world, one JCC at a time

When an elderly New York Holocaust survivor died as a result of a fire in his apartment the YM-YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood, where he had been a member, took action. The fire was thought to be a result of his sleeve catching fire when he was making himself a cup of tea. He died from the resulting burns, according to Cippi Harte, director of the Center for Adults Living Well@the Y.

“I wanted to do something that would keep people safe at home and came up with the idea to raised the funds to purchase electric kettles with automatic shutoffs, and do a burn prevention program,” she said. At the program, the Y distributed the kettles — along with tea.

The effort, known as safEtea, has been rewarded with a Jewish Social Action Month (JSAM) grant from UJA-Federation of New York. The teakettles and tea packages come from that organization’s real estate division. The capital “e” in safEtea stands for Eric, as a way to remember the man who lost his life.

Jewish Social Action Month began in 2005 as a way of using the Jewish communal infrastructure already in place as a vehicle for promoting Jewish connection by having people engage in acts of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. The effort is international and intended to capitalize on the heightened Jewish interest spurred by the High Holidays. The month of Cheshvan, which this year began on Saturday, Oct. 25 and winds up on Saturday, Nov. 22, was selected since it is devoid of any Jewish holidays.

We asked JCCs how they were rolling up their sleeves for JSAM and throughout the year. We hope they inspire us all with new ideas to “do good” in the future.

St Paul JCC, Minn. –The early childhood department will hold its annual Mitzvah Mission Food Drive, so that their youngest learners and their families can learn about and come together to provide support for those in need in the community. The program models on the JCC’s Jewish value of the month, gratitude, and its Mishnah Mission from Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me; if I am for myself alone, what am I; if not now, when?”

Alpert JCC, Long Beach, Calif. – The JCC has a roster of activities that span the month, including a canned goods collection project that benefits Centro Shalom, a homeless shelter for the area. This community-wide effort includes the local federation and nearby synagogues. As well, the JCC will incorporate PJ Library into its Scholastic Book Fair, having its littlest participants collect pajamas for children in need. And tzedakah for November goes to Adopt-A-Family, matching families with similar school-aged children to help meet their holiday wishes.

Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, San Diego, Calif. – Teen Technology Tutors gets off the ground, pairing teens with seniors so that the techno-savvy youngsters can help their elders become more adept at email, word processing, Facebook, Skype and more. Teens gain community service hours and maybe learn a thing or two from the seniors, according to Karen Flexer Friedenberg, teen director and assistant Camp Jaycee director. The program was designed by two teens serving on the JCC’s Teen Leadership Council executive board.

District of Columbia Jewish Community Center – Behrend Builders, a volunteer repair and construction service of the JCC, began extensive work to reconstruct a local woman’s home that had been destroyed by fire. She is retired, has a dependent son and cannot afford to fix her home without help. The JCC has partnered with Youthbuild and Maggio Roofing to rebuild the roof has received donations from Gotta Go Now Portable Restrooms and Tenleytown Trash. Throughout the year, volunteers will participate in reconstruction efforts such as installing drywall and painting.

Mandel JCC of the Palm Beaches, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. – ReelAbilities Palm Beach opens Nov. 2 at the Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival. This is the largest film festival in the United States dedicated to storytelling from, by and about people with various disabilities. The goal is to promote awareness about how people cope with disabilities, our changing attitudes and ways we can celebrate diversity through screening nine films over the festival’s four days. The J is the first organization to bring this festival, which plays in 14 different cities throughout the U.S., to Florida.

Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston – Ten of the JCC’s adult groups, whose members all have disabilities, have been charged with coming up with at least one tikkun olam project they will do to make the world a better place, according to Judy Pearl, director of inclusion and support services. They loved the idea of helping others and have committed to sending care packages to wounded veterans and soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces; baking and bringing goods to Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly; creating birthday boxes for homeless children, working at the local kosher food pantry and delivering bags of food to people in need.

Scranton JCC, Pa. – Throughout the month, Project Joy collects gifts for children in need. According to local statistics, one out of three children in the northeast region of Pennsylvania lives in poverty, and the economic picture in the region is not very rosy this year. RoseBud Leventhal, who has since died, came up with the project, which is intended to make the holiday season a little brighter. Last year, more than 75 children benefitted. Gifts come from wish lists that came from Jewish Family Services, the Catherin McCauley Center and St. Joseph’s Center. The program also helps those served by Children and Youth Services and Children’s Advocacy, and includes visiting pediatric departments of all three local hospitals to give patients gifts and holiday cheer.

Calgary JCC, Alberta – A Jewish Fair Trade Festival, targeting all ages with different activities, was a first for western Canada and sought to create awareness in consumers while highlighting fair trade as an expression of core Jewish values. The day included a series of talks aimed at adults; kids’ activities, including storytelling; a marketplace featuring fair trade Judaica and general products; samplings of coffee and tea. All the artisans that participated and contributed goods from around the world had been paid fair wages and guaranteed safe working conditions.

Riverdale YM-YWHA, New York – Y member Berta Davidovitz Rubinsztejn will receive the Jewish Rescuers Citation and be honored at the Y in early November for her actions during World War II. As part of the Zionist movement Habonim Dror, she rescued then-8-year-old Meir Brand, who will attend the ceremony to honor Rubinsztejn at the Y. Having rescued the young boy, she managed to get him, herself and 10 other Jewish children on the infamous Kastner train. She nursed the starving child to health and protected him through their journey, which wound through the Bergen-Belsen death camp. Eventually they made aliyah to Israel. The award is a joint project of the B’nai B’rith World Center and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews Who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust.

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