SOCIAL ACTION COMMITTEE
With so much that is broken and in need of healing in the world today, it would be hard to know where to begin if WES didn’t have a Social Action Committee (SAC) with a long history. The committee’s well-earned reputation for excellent programming has emphasized acts of kindness, activist work on behalf of social justice and advocacy. Often intergenerational in nature, SAC’s work has been a mainstay of this community helping us to live according to one of our deepest values, “repairing the world”
All that being true, it was quickly recognized that the 21st century is presenting some unprecedented challenges. While the plan for 2017-18 began by relying on some of the committee's traditional options for social action, modifying where necessary, the committee has also tried to create a fresh variety of community-wide activities as well as home-based or small group options that align with individual abilities and interests. At the same time, we found that it was more necessary than ever to join with other Jewish and faith-based organizations to have a bigger impact while not duplicating activities.
In 2017-18, SAC is focusing on two themes, Welcoming the Stranger and The Environment, while allowing space for other topics to emerge. These rubrics allow us to solidify former programming ideas while expanding activities to meet new challenges. To provide an efficient information conduit for those interested in our fast-changing world, a new Google group, WESSACNEWS, was made created. The group is moderated by SAC co-chairs Helen Stein and Bliss Siman. While Helen and Bliss work together to ensure a social action agenda that reflects the interests of the congregation, each is also responsible for one of the themes: Welcoming the Stranger (Helen) and The Environment (Bliss) in cooperation with the SAC committee.
Welcoming the Stranger
“One who has saved one life is as though one has saved the world” In 2017 support was continued for the Thanksgiving Day Thousand Turkey Challenge, sponsored by the West Side Coalition Against Hunger (WISCAH) along with other Upper West Side faith-based organizations. Donations from WES members allow WSCAH to purchase the turkeys and distribute them to those in need. For more information on WSCAH, go to their website at www.wscah.org.
Several new initiatives have been created with a focus on the needs of local refugee and immigrant communities. In the Fall of 2017, a one-time collection of yarn donated by WES members helped provide Syrian refugees with materials to produce handicrafts for sale.
In August and October 2017, WES members participated in the Syrian Supper Club. Groups of WES members enjoyed a dinner at a member’s home that was cooked by a Syrian refugee family. The dinners exposed us to new and delicious foods as well as enjoyable and valuable interactions between the diners from WES and the Syrian families who prepared the meals. Fees collected for the dinner went to the cooks to assist their efforts to become more self-supporting. Watch for announcements of more dinners in the pipeline for 2018.
Synagogue Coalition on the Refugee and Immigrant Crisis (SCRIC): In 2016, WES was one of the founding synagogues of SCRIC. SCRIC now includes 17 synagogues and 4 non-profits. Its mission is to provide information, support and resources to refugees and immigrants, to educate our own communities, and to plan joint actions with other groups and institutions. It also acts as a clearinghouse for information on activities conducted by existing groups. Because of our relationship with SCRIC, we have participated in the following activities:
Vigil In Memory of the St. Louis: Along with HIAS, SCRIC held a vigil on June 6, 2017 to commemorate the St. Louis, a ship filled with European Jewish refugees that sailed for Cuba in 1939. The refugees were neither accepted there nor in Canada or the US ostensibly because the immigrant quotas were “full.” Returning to Europe, a third of the passengers died in the Holocaust. The vigil was also held to raise awareness that President Trump was intent on establishing a smaller annual immigrant quota. WES members helped organize the vigil, participated in it, and attended.
Helping Refugees Families Settling in NYC: In the summer of 2017, WES members donated clothing and household items to an Afghan refugee family, who with HIAS’ help, had moved into an apartment in Queens. Through the SCRIC, we will continue to learn of families who will need donations for their resettlement in the 5 boroughs.
In addition, individual WES members participated in various activities in support of immigrants: Demonstrating, advocating and calling in support of the Dreamers (foreign-born youth, brought to the US as young children), helping to register Upper West Siders at the JCC for IDNYC, a photo ID card available to anyone, regardless of immigration status, that can be used as documentation within NYC, volunteering at a legal clinic at NYU for undocumented immigrants.
Collection of Stationery, Stamps, Folders, Pens: Since the late 1990’s, volunteers from faith-based groups, led by the non-profit First Friends, have visited asylum seekers and other undocumented refugees in detention centers in NJ, offering information and encouragement through English lessons, social services, visits, and letters. In 2017, a collection of stationery, stamps and games, accompanied our celebration of Hanukkah and of our own hard-won freedom. Adults and children created greeting cards for detainees at our Hanukkah party.
Other New Ventures in 2018
A new event planned as the beginning of an annual observance was the Immigrant Shabbat. It took place on Shabbat Shirah, where the Parasha highlights the “Song of the Sea”, the celebration of Moses and Miriam leading the Israelites across the Sea of Reeds and out of Egypt. Our Hazzan, Ayelet Porzecanski, performed her original operetta, “Clara”,” about the life of a fictional Russian immigrant girl who came across the Atlantic to settle in New York. Hazzan Porzecanski’s powerful performance along with additional readings about the immigrant experience, and information about opportunities for volunteering and advocacy created a memorable observance on behalf of immigrants. The recording can be found here.
On Feb. 23, SAC co-sponsored, along with HIAS and NIF, a special Shabbat service featuring Tamara Newman from the Hotline for Migrants and Refugees in Israel. She spoke about Israel, Responsibility and Refugees, to update us on the struggles of African refugees currently faced with the choice of deportation to Africa and likely death, or imprisonment in Israel.
Recycling at West End includes not only plastic cutlery but continues the collection of food scraps and “dirty” paper” after Kiddush into a compost bin. Non-recyclable paper cups have replaced Styrofoam cups, but hey, they are not styrofoam!
Fair Trade Products: On Hanukkah the committee partly supported the purchase of Fair Trade “gelt “ for group Hanukkah events and our Hanukkah party. We hope to purchase Fair Trade coffee for congregational events and will continue to encourage congregants to purchase Fair Trade chocolate for holiday celebrations
Earth Day observance April 22nd. A venerable West End tradition, Earth Day will confront the issue of plastics in the environment, which is the world-wide theme for 2018. A panel of experts from within the congregation will speak on climate change and related topics. We will display sustainable items and provide literature about ways to replace plastics at home. The event will provide opportunities for adults to find new ways to make a bigger commitment to a sustainable life.
Spring action event being planned for adults and children. Watch WESSACNEWS and the synagogue newsletter for information as the plans develop.
#metoo Events being planned
SAC in cooperation with Rabbi Georgette has decided to respond to the present issues roiling our country on sexual harassment in its varied forms. Discussions are in progress to create a set of programs for adults and young people on the moral and ethical treatment of others. WESSACNEWS will have information on the progress of this work. If you are interested in being a part of this program planning, please let Rabbi Georgette know or contact Helen Stein.