RUSH (Rural Self Help) Initiative

Congregation supports local underprivileged community using Maimonides' teaching that the highest form of tzedakah is to help people help themselves.

Community Contact Information:
Temple Emanu-El
Birmingham, AL


  • Assist an impoverished local community.
  • Provide children with tools to develop important life skills.
  • Engage the congregation in more active forms of giving back to the community.

Inspired by Maimonides’ injunction that the highest form of tzedakah is to help people help themselves, the congregation took action to positively impact their local underprivileged community.

Project Implementation:
The project was three-fold.

  1. Mental Health Summit: After hearing from the local elementary school nurse practitioner about untreated mental health issues of the students the synagogue organized a “summit” that included local political leaders. The county commissioner, impressed by this advocacy, offered to hire and train a full-time school therapist for the public schools. 
  2. Thrift Store: Congregants worked together to open a neighborhood co-operative thrift store to bring new vibrancy to this dilapidated area. The congregation received a grant to begin building the store, and synagogue members helped renovate the building for use over the course of several months. During Mitzvah Day, congregants donated clothes and furniture and brought them to the store. Shoppers can purchase goods, or receive them in exchange for volunteer hours working at the store. A local family now runs the store.
  3. Grandparents Reading Program: A group of retired congregants organized the Grandparents Reading Program to help local children develop reading skills, since many of the children do not live with adults who can read. Many families also contributed to the project on the occasion of their children’s bar or bat mitzvah. Several families opted to use baskets of books, games, toys, or clothing as centerpieces for their parties, which they then donated to the project.


Congregants developed personal connections with the community. The local children benefited emotionally and academically from the mentoring provided, and the community benefited from the success of the thrift store.