Since Beth Am was founded in 1974, pursuing justice – tzedek in Hebrew – has been central to its mission. This was reaffirmed by a survey of congregants conducted as part of the synagogue’s 2020 strategic planning process: 98% of Beth Am members surveyed said social action is a key part of the reason they identify with the shul.
Tzedek Beth Am (Justice Beth Am) is the congregant-led body that oversees all of Beth Am’s social justice work. That work generally falls under three categories:
There are several ways for Beth Am members and Reservoir Hill residents to connect with Beth Am’s social justice work:
For more than 25 years, Beth Am has had a partnership with our neighborhood public school, Dorothy I. Height Elementary School (formerly John Eager Howard). Congregants have been volunteer tutors, mentors, teacher partners, reading buddies, and club leaders. We have sponsored regular book and food giveaways, outdoor education programs, and holiday family dinners. We recently dedicated a “Little Free Library” outside the school and our members make sure it is stocked with a range of age-appropriate books.
In recent years, Beth Am has also made an annual gift to the school, in response to expressed needs. These gifts have included a freezer for the school’s Judy Center food pantry, school uniforms, supplies for the school store, and winter jackets.
Our members’ in-person activities at the schools paused during the pandemic, but beginning in the 2023-24 school year, our members will be back in the school to volunteer with these wonderful students. If you are interested in hearing more about this wonderful opportunity, please email Jackie Donowitz.
Beth Am’s justice work has taken many forms over its history, primarily through the Social Action Committee (SAC). For almost 50 years, the SAC has worked to build relationships with our neighbors, neighborhood schools, fellow congregations, and community centers; provided direct support for people in need in Reservoir Hill and throughout Baltimore; and advocated at City Hall, Annapolis, and Washington D.C. on a wide range of issues, including support for immigrants, racial justice, and reproductive justice.
For much of that time, Beth Am’s Environmental Team has operated alongside SAC. It has worked to make the synagogue and neighborhood more earth-friendly by conducting energy audits of the synagogue, planting trees, installing rain barrels, and installing solar panels; sponsored nature outings, often with synagogue youth; partnered with local environmental and faith-based institutions; and advocated for pro-environmental legislation.
In 2013, Beth Am established In For Of, Inc. (IFO), a separate nonprofit comprising Beth Am and Reservoir Hill community members and designed to focus on relational justice. IFO has organized cultural and community activities, promoted Beth Am as a neighborhood meeting and event space, and facilitated social justice causes within the Reservoir Hill neighborhood, working with neighborhood community and civic groups.
In 2022, in order to harness the power of Beth Am’s multiple streams of justice-seeking work, we consolidated these groups under a new internal banner, Tzedek Beth Am (TzBA). When we are outside the synagogue, Beth Am members doing social justice work simply identify as representatives of Beth Am.
Within this new structure, IFO continues to exist as an independent non-profit, with its own Board members, able to solicit grants that benefit Beth Am and Reservoir Hill, while acting in coordination with Tzedek Beth Am.