Temple Judea Mizpah's program, called Changing the World Together One Block at a Time" was created as a joint effort of the members of our Religious and Social Action Commission, our rabbi, our Education Director and the Executive Director of the Good News Community Kitchen where Temple Judea Mizpah (TJM) has been involved in serving hot meals to the homeless for over 25 years. We held two separate programs, linked by a desire to further solidify our relationship and to continue to teach a community that it can help itself as well as others.
Our first program was staged to elevate the attitude toward the appearance of the community by working together with the residents. It was held in April 2008 on the block in the City of Chicago that houses the Kitchen. We created a logo depicting the earth being held up by two children with a block of houses protruding from the top. This was hand painted onto a fabric banner and children from both communities had a chance to draw themselves in activities they loved, to create the border for the banner, interspersing their pictures with one another. The morning of the event, Reverend Pagan-Banks, director of the Kitchen, came to our religious school and spoke about poverty to all of our students. She talked most specifically about how on the inside, we are all alike. She had the opportunity to speak to the adult participants before we headed out into the community. Her message was clear, "Until people of means are willing to get together with people of little means, there is no hope." We spent the afternoon cleaning up the block, sweeping the street, pulling weeds, turning dirt, planting flowers, painting the outside of the Church that houses the Kitchen, erasing the graffiti that had been sprayed there, readying a garden at a women's shelter for victims of domestic violence and serving lunch to anyone who happened down the block.
Our second program was held at our synagogue and was created to afford the Kitchen community the opportunity to give back to our community, to feel that they, too, have something to offer in helping others. Volunteers from both communities came together to paint bathrooms; wash windows; sand and paint benches and outside stairs; and again, share lunch. Children planted a garden with perennial flowers that returned in the spring and each had an opportunity to create a ceramic tile that was laid permanently on the concrete around the garden. The Good News Kitchen community was cleaned, beautified, planted and fed. We noticed a difference the next time we attended our monthly dinner at the Kitchen, new flowers had been planted. We took this as a sign that we helped to create a sense of pride that together we could make the community a cleaner, more beautiful place to reside, instilling pride in its residents. At TJM, we did the same, giving the Good News Kitchen Community the chance to give back, to feel the value in being of help to others.
The impact on our congregation was great in that we had the opportunity to watch the children of both communities come together and work together. Shortly after the program, the Pastor of the church that houses the Kitchen invited a few of us to come to a weekly Sunday discussion about race relations. We shared lunch and had open discussion about the stereotypes they have heard about the Jewish community. At TJM, we saw this as a way to continue to break down barriers to our communities coming together and working together. The shelter garden we cleaned and readied for planting was tended to by four women. For these women, it was an eye opening and touching experience. We understand from the shelter that the women and children enjoyed the "fruits of our labor and their planting" for the entire winter. At each program we fulfilled our long standing goal of feeding the hungry as food was donated by the congregation so everyone could enjoy a hot lunch. Sharing these meals together was even more special, as often we prepare and serve and do not get the opportunity to visit and get to know one another. As we felt this program would further help to break down racial barriers, we invited several important public figures to join us. They included George VanDusen, Skokie Mayor and TJM member; Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center; Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Representative; Richard Durbin, Senator; Julie Hamos, State Representative; Jeff Schoenberg, State Senator; Larry Sufferdin, Cook County Commissioner; Barack Obama, then Senator and Joe Moore, Alderman. While only Mayor VanDusen was able to join us, many wrote and one made a financial contribution to the program.
There are several highlights of these programs that we feel are important to note:
Our first program on Paulina street drew 49 TJM members (ten of which were teenagers over 13 and nine of which were younger children) and our second program at TJM drew another 40 (eight of which were teenagers over 13 and nine of which were younger children).
The first program drew almost 100 residents of the Paulina community and the second drew another 35. While we helped with money for transportation, this proved to be an issue. While we cannot determine the exact number of children, at least 1/3 of the participants were younger than 13 at the first program and at least 1/2 were children at the second program.
A local caterer donated her time and her industrial grill to cook and help serve lunch at both programs.
60 families made donations of hot dogs, buns, drinks, cookies, condiments, tools, flowers, seeds, soil, pots, art supplies and money to help make these events happen. There was no cost absorbed by the congregation.
Close to 200 lunches were served at each event.
Graffiti was painted away from the facade of the Church that houses the Kitchen.
Older members of the congregation who were unable to do heavy work came just to visit and get to know members of our partner community.
Just think, from a congregation of just 225 families, 230 volunteers, 60 family donations and 400 lunches in just two four hour programs. We often imagine what we can accomplish moving forward. Our goal was to create a lasting relationship of mutual understanding and of helping one another through the years to come. We were so proud and honored when the Religious Action Center awarded the prestigious Fain Award to TJM for this program. Photos are available on our local paper's website.
RESOURCES: photos in the local paper; publicity flier