The Social Action Committee offers opportunities for Beth Am members to practice tikkun olam (healing, repairing the world) at varying levels of intensity, from once-a-year Mitzvah Days to monthly neighborhood meetings and regular tutoring.
The main focus of our activities is the diverse and historic Reservoir Hill neighborhood immediately surrounding the synagogue. As members of an urban congregation whose building has been an important part of the neighborhood for more than 80 years, the Social Action Committee acts as an outreach arm of Beth Am. We believe the well-being of Reservoir Hill and the well-being of Beth Am Synagogue are closely connected.
Since the early 1990s, the Social Action Committee has helped the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council offer entrepreneurship training, obtain grant support for a community organizer, and beautify the neighborhood with colorful flags and flowers. We have celebrated the deep past, at Interfaith Seders that draw on Jewish and African-American culture, history and music. We have explored the neighborhood’s 20th century history at a gathering of former and current Reservoir Hill residents. Residents of the blocks closest to the synagogue joined Social Action members to create a new organization, the Lakeside Neighbors Coalition. In collaboration with the Improvement Council and city government, Lakeside Neighbors has played a vital part in the revitalization of northern Reservoir Hill, including by helping to purchase, rehab and resell abandoned homes to homeowners. Rabbi Emeritis Jon Konheim and his wife Rena renovated a house in this area and moved into it in December 2004, followed by several additional Beth Am households. Our new Rabbi, Daniel Cotzin Burg and his family moved into the community in the summer of 2010.
The Social Action Committee also has an extensive partnership with the neighborhood John Eager Howard Elementary School. Activities sponsored by the committee include Bookworms (a monthly program in which participants read to a kindergarten class, and then donate the books to the classroom library), weekly lunchtime chess and scrabble clubs, semi-annual book giveaways, tutoring and mentoring, holiday sponsorships of school families, and Issues in Our Daily Lives (for 5th graders, facilitated by New Lens). These current and other, possible programs (poetry workshop, school newspaper, debate club, travel (online) club) await eager volunteers.
In addition to our work in Reservoir Hill, Social Action members also help the disadvantaged throughout Baltimore. Members volunteer in the city’s largest soup kitchen, Our Daily Bread, and collect clothing and food from synagogue members. A Social Action member organized the collection of used bicycles for Pedals for Progress, which repairs the bikes and sends them to residents of developing nations who need better transportation to work and school.
The Social Action Committee also leads Beth Am’s environmental education and action. Beth Am has joined the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network’s Green Synagogue Covenant of Commitment. Social Action members regularly participate in clean-ups and greening projects in Reservoir Hill. And the Committee has joined with Adult Education to sponsor the Shomrei Adamah (Guardians of the Earth) series of Jewish environmental education programs, highlighting everything from green building to sustainable personal behavior and Jewish, environmentally-friendly cooking.
A Special Message About Our Daily Bread
June 1, 2011, marked the 30th anniversary for Our Daily Bread. Beth Am is just one of more than 80 synagogues, churches, schools, groups, and businesses throughout Baltimore that have joined forces to accomplish what none could accomplish alone. It takes 120 casseroles and 35 volunteers to serve an average of 750 guests each and every day.
While it may not seem a lot to you as an individual, for the Baltimore area’s hungry it means that Our Daily Bread is able to continue to provide lunch 365 days a week, 52 weeks a year. For the volunteer, it means time spent with friends and family doing for others what we hope others would do for us if needed. It is a win-win situation. An added bonus is that school volunteers are able to earn required service credits.
Volunteers need not worry about bringing lunch with them – a volunteer lunch is provided and you will be invited to join in this lunch.
We invite you join your fellow congregants in helping at Our Daily Bread. It is a wonderful way to spend time as a family and help your community. You are always welcome to work as many times a month as you can, on an alternating schedule, or any other schedule that works for you. Some Beth Am volunteers work regularly, volunteering once a month; others volunteer on an “as possible” basis, coming when they are able. Our volunteers come with family, with a friend, or on their own.
If you are interested in volunteering at Our Daily Bread, please contact Victoria Dorf. Vickie needs to know 3–4 days in advance the dates you plan on participating and how many volunteers will be with you. You can reach Vickie by email at Victoria.Dorf@ssa.gov or by phone at (410) 965-9245 Monday–Friday and at home at (443) 845-1231 evenings and weekends.
Beth Am’s Bookworms Program at John Eager Howard Elementary School
Beth Am’s Bookworms program is in its fourth year of operation at our neighborhood school, John Eager Howard Elementary. Volunteers from Beth Am read to a class of twenty-nine kindergarten students one Monday each month from 11:30 to 12:30. Each volunteer brings a book to read to the children and to donate to the classroom lending library. It’s a close question who has more fun – the volunteers or the children! If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Cheri Levin at 410-664-2309 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The dates for this year are:
- January 23
- February 13
- March 12
- April 16
- May 7