October 20, 2014 · 26 Tishrei

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Jury Diversity
This award-winning project is co-sponsored by Temple Sinai and Baber A.M.E., an African-American church in Rochester. The two institutions have joined together in various ways over the course of the last five years, participating in seders, picnics, youth programs, a prejudice reduction workshop, and other activities aimed at building a sense of partnership. Based on the trust that has grown up in the course of this cooperation, they have now chosen to work together to help increase the diversity of Monroe County juries.

A 1994 report by the Chief Judge of the State of New York documented the statewide problem of under-representation of the poor and of minorities in New York jury pools. Such under-representation has a negative impact on both the quality and fairness of the jury deliberation process and on the community's respect for jury verdicts.

The Monroe County Jury Project was initiated by the Monroe County Bar Association as a response to these findings. It seeks to educate people to the importance of jury service and to enroll as volunteers for jury service young people, poor people, and people of color who are not currently on the jury source list. Hundreds of people have been added to the lists as a result.

Since its inception, the Jury Project has relied primarily on a small and dwindling number of volunteer attorneys. The Baber/Sinai collaboration is intended to infuse new energy into the project. Volunteer congregants of both institutions sit at recruiting tables in shopping malls, at the local community college, and in other places where there is a high volume of traffic, distributing information and encouraging people to let their names be added to the jury list.

It is anticipated that more than 200 Temple Sinai members will participate in the project in some capacity during the next two years.

The partnership between Baber A.M.E., Temple Sinai, and the Monroe County Bar Association was kicked off at an open meeting that featured, among other speakers, a talk by Betty Tyson, an African-American woman who had recently been released after serving 25 years in state prison, after the verdict rendered by an all-white all-male jury was overturned on the grounds that evidence supporting Ms. Tyson's claim to innocence had not been provided to defense counsel.

The integrity of the criminal justice system, and the respect with which it is held by the citizenry, depends on many things - among them, the composition of our juries. The problem of under-representation is nationwide and warrants concerned and constructive intervention.

*Recipient of the Irving J. Fain Social Action Award (1999)

The Interfaith Alliance of Central California
Temple Beth Israel is located in an area with few Jews, an area that is claimed by the Christian Right as one of its strongholds. In response to a flood of missionaries in the public schools, the synagogue decided to help create an interreligious coalition, called the Interfaith Alliance of Central California. After considerable investment in organizing, the first meeting took place in the fall of 1997. The group meets monthly, and it has attracted Reform and Conservative Jews, Unitarian-Universalists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Latter-Day Saints, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and Orthodox Christians. Representatives of Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Science, and Bahai have also participated, as have representatives of the gay and lesbian community.

The Alliance has successfully pressed the Fresno Unified School District to adopt a new policy on religion in the schools, a policy that has become a model for the nation. It organized an alternative to the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, an exclusively Christian event, called "The Fourth of July Diversity Breakfast," and where 200 people were expected, more than 800 attended. And it sponsors, with active Jewish participation, several interfaith programs, including a "get out the vote" campaign and a program in celebration of human rights.

*Recipient of the Irving J. Fain Social Action Award (1999)

South Bronx-Port Washington Community Partnership
In December of 1997, several members of Port Jewish Center, along with its rabbi, entered into conversation with community leaders of the South Bronx to explore the possibility of establishing an alliance that would enable the two communities to stand in solidarity with each other. Port Washington is one of the most affluent areas in the nation; the South Bronx is among the poorest. The resulting Partnership has created connections between schools, organizations, congregations, and individuals in the two communities.

The effort involves an ongoing project to provide art supplies and books for a South Bronx after-school program sponsored by the Willis Avenue Church; the synagogue has brought over 100 bags of "gently used" clothing to the church to be distributed to the 400-600 homeless people who eat lunch there weekly; 10 volunteers from Port Jewish tutor children in the church every week; 75 turkeys were delivered for distribution at Thanksgiving time; 330 presents were provided for distribution at Christmas time; gifts were also collected to enable clients of Citi-Wide Harm Reduction, an agency that provides counseling, meals, medical care, and other services to people with HIV/AIDS who live in single-room occupancy hotels to provide gifts for their children and grandchildren.

Parishioners of Willis Avenue came to Port Jewish for Shabbat dinner and services, and this spring a Port Jewish rabbi will deliver the sermon at Willis Avenue. Trinity Church, Willis Avenue, and Port Jewish are planning a tri-partite model seder, and all three congregations will join in a blood drive.

The Partnership has extended into other areas. Three of the synagogue's business people went to the Bronx to explore the possibility of turning an abandoned theater into a cultural arts center; with the help of an excellent gardener from Port Jewish, consideration is now being given a significant greenhouse project; a scholarship fund for needy high school and college students is being established, and work on a job bank has begun; real estate experts in the Port Jewish are examining the possibility of turning a vacant lot across the street from Trinity Church from a dumping ground for garbage into a parking lot and garden.

After a joint Kwanzaa/Chanukah/Christmas potluck dinner, members of Willis Avenue and Trinity handed the Port Jewish Center rabbi a card that read, in part, "You are to me a friend, a sign on this earth that the inverse is good and rightly made."

*Recipient of the Irving J. Fain Social Action Award (1999)

Multicultural Group of Greater Hartford
When Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation (Simsbury, CT) participated in a one-time volunteer program at a soup kitchen run by Faith Seven Day Adventist Church, its action led to expanded programs with this African American church. The enthusiastic response to the program resulted in the expansion of the program to include the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, members of two Hartford-area Muslim mosques, and members of the Bahai community. Together, the Multicultural Group of Greater Hartford, as the new alliance was called, participated in a broader range of activities, including a Havdalah Service, a Latke party, a Kwaanza festival, and an ethnic food festival, and the area's first interfaith Seder, coordinated in conjunction with the Community Relations Council. In October 1994, the group took part in its first joint social action project, a "cleanup" at an urban Christian cemetery. The Multicultural Group has an expanded array of joint social action programs planned for 1997. For more information, contact Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation.

*Recipient of the Irving J. Fain Social Action Honorable Mention Award

Breaking the Circle of Hate
This program started at Temple Har Zion (Thornhill, Ontario) as a one-day event designed to sensitize the congregation's youth to anti-semitism and racism. The success of the program, in which over 120 people participated, was due in large part to the creation of several age-appropriate workshops. The senior youth group heard a lecture entitled "Anti-Semitism on Campus," the congregation's younger children learned to express their concerns artistically in a class called "Racism," and adult workshops focused on strategies to confront racism, neo-Nazism, and Holocaust revisionism. Dr. Karen Mock, the National Director of the League for Human Rights for B'nai B'rith Canada, delivered the keynote address. The congregation held ongoing, follow-up programs for all age groups, exploring the history of the Holocaust and methods for confronting racism in daily life.

Temple Har Zion reached out into the community for additional educational resources, as well. In May 1994, representatives of the J'Affari Islamic Center and the Canadian Black Teachers Alliance were invited to the congregation for a multicultural dialogue program. In November 1994, young adults from the congregation, St. Gabriel's Church, and the mosque located next doorto the synagogue, took part in a similar exchange program. On November 12, 1995, Har Zion, J'Affari Islamic Center, St. Gabriel's Church, and several Black churches sent representatives on a retreat to extend these dialogue programs.

*Recipient of the Irving J. Fain Social Action Award

InterFaith Works! - Respite Care to Foster care Parents
Congregation B'nai Israel (Elmira, NY) developed this program to meet two goals: build interfaith connections within the faith community and provide tangible service to the community itself, by providing respite care to foster care parents. InterFaith Works! provides a day of activities for foster care children, allowing parents time off to catch up, rest, and renew themselves. The programs have also been highly educational, entertaining and nurturing for the children—a second mitzvah! The program also serves to increase awareness of the foster care program, its needs and role.

Approximately every other month, a day of activities is provided for 30-60 children. The ages of attendees have ranged from pre-Kindergarten through 10th grade. InterFaith Works! has taken the children on trips including an excursion to a science museum in a neighboring city; provided days centered on arts and music; and presented days of cross-cultural experiences, including the last program which "flew" the children to Japan, Zaire, and Israel, where they experienced the foods, sights, music, language and cultural activities of each country.

Each of the three participating congregations takes turns in "hosting" a day. Hosting involves the preliminary planning (final plans are ironed out together) and providing the facility. Each host provides a home-cooked meal and at least one snack. Funding for the program is covered by the Department of Social Services of the County, minus those provisions donated by congregations and vendors.

InterFaith Works! has gained wide support among foster care parents. Many of the children,while in foster care, are returnees. Strong, meaningful relationships have been built between returning children and volunteers. It has been strikingly moving to witness the levels of trust shared and the impact these relationships have had on the children and volunteer staff as well.

*Recipient of the Irving J. Fain Social Action Award

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