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Interfaith Shelter

Congregation creates a safe space for homeless families.

Community Contact Information:
Family Promise's National Interfaith Hospitality Network (US)

Mosaic Interfaith Out of the Cold (Canada)

Congregation Ner Tamid
Las Vegas, NV

Temple Emanu-El
Westfield, NJ

Beth David Reform Congregation
Gladwyne, PA

Isaac M. Wise Temple/K.K. B’nai Yeshurun
Cincinnati, OH

Congregation Temple Emanu-El
San Diego, CA

Temple Har Zion
Thornhill, ON Canada

Holy Blossom Termple
Toronto, ON Canada


  • Assist homeless families in finding places to live and work. 
  • Engage congregants in a face-to-face, hands-on social action project.
  • Present a positive face of Judaism to the general community.

The Interfaith Hospitality Network encourages faith communities to assist the homeless by providing emergency shelter, meals to homeless families. At the same time, the organization provides comprehensive assistance in finding housing, jobs, and job training.

Social action committees should make arrangements with their local Interfaith Hospitality Network (see above website) to host families during the year. Enough space must be set aside at the synagogue for several families, at a time when the synagogue is not in use, in a way that allows guests privacy. The IHN provides cots for the families. The committee should make a coordinated schedule for volunteering. Each day that the program runs, it is necessary to have six volunteers: 2 organizers, 2 people to sleep over, and 2 to serve dinner. The synagogue can work with other local places of worship to facilitate a longer term program.

Project Implementation:
The synagogue hosts eight families at a time, four times a year. All the linens are donated by congregants and washed by another crew of volunteers. Two or three cooks bring in the dinner each night and stay to eat with their guests. Other volunteers come in after dinner to play with the children, perhaps helping with homework or leading a craft project. At least two volunteers stay overnight, waking the guests up at 6:00 AM, helping with breakfast and making sure the morning runs smoothly. Each family is given their own room.

In the mornings the families are given breakfast and a pack lunch. A van from the Hospitality Network takes the family to a day house where they receive assistance finding employment and housing, among other concerns. During the holiday season, a congregant organizes a list of needed or desired gifts for the guests and recruits members of the congregation to purchase these gifts. Some congregations hold clothing drives to collect warm clothing for their guests.

The plight of the homeless became tangible for congregants, and the desire to help those in needy was increased. The families made connections with people of different backgrounds. They shared stories and insights, meals, and leisure together.

For most guest families, the program was their first experience with anyone Jewish. This offers the added opportunity to educate others about Jews and Judaism. The members of the congregation who volunteer become for the families a face and a person associated with joy, kindness and support during their time of need.

Many congregations have engaged in such efforts, partnering with local and national organizations. These partners include the Interfaith Hospitality Network and Out Of the Cold, among others.