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 to weekly tutoring and mentoring sessions.
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 90 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, new trees 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. In more recent history, committee members have helped to create a new children’s playground, German Park, and have helped maintain Whitelock Farm, a neighborhood produce garden.
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. Several Beth Am households have settled in the neighborhood. Our Rabbi, Daniel Cotzin Burg, and his family moved into the Reservoir Hill 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 weekly lunchtime newspaper, chess and scrabble clubs, ongoing tutoring and mentoring, a once a month Bookworms program in which participants read to the kindergarten students, semi-annual book giveaways, holiday sponsorships of school families, day and overnight summer camp scholarships for neighborhood children, and Issues in Our Daily Lives (for 5th graders, facilitated by New Lens). These current and other possible programs await eager volunteers.
In addition to our work in Reservoir Hill, Social Action members 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. The Social Action Committee also leads Beth Am’s environmental education and action program. Beth Am is a member of 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 residential energy conservation and Jewish, environmentally-friendly cooking.