This weeks marks the one year anniversary of a remarkable collaboration at the Town Square Food Pantry, which is jointly operated by Temple Beth Zion and Catholic Charities at the Town Square Center for Aging.
There is a lot to love about this pantry. First and foremost, it provides food for those who are hungry in a dignified fashion. Even more, our specially trained volunteers care for the overall well-being of our clients by learning about their specific needs and connecting them to relevant community resources. Second, the pantry brings Jews and Christians together to serve God by serving humanity. This initiative is building bridges not only between the Jewish and Catholic communities, but within the Jewish community by bringing Reform and Orthodox Jews together. In addition, a growing number of greater community organizations have gotten involved, creating a ever widening scope of services including transportation and fresh produce from two community gardens. Finally, our wonderful volunteers have discovered that doing this holy work nourishes not only the hungry, but the souls of those who serve: it has brought them closer to our clients, to each other and to God.
There is so much to celebrate, and I offer my heartfelt gratitude and congratulations to everyone who is involved!
Here is what others are saying about the project (from the Buffalo Jewish Journal):
Rabbi Adam Scheldt - Temple Beth Zion
“It has been incredibly amazing to see the Town Square Food Pantry blossom and flower over the course of the year. Supporting and watching our volunteers not only embody, but enjoy the amazing Jewish values that underpin so much of what the Pantry is and does is an amazing gift. Their efforts and the pantry itself truly bring light to dark places and can inspire us all.
Amy Schaefer – Temple Beth Zion Lead Coordinator
We are excited about our successful collaboration with Catholic Charities and the broader community. The Food Pantry will continue to look for opportunities to expand its outreach to serve more clients.With over 20 volunteers who come on a regular basis and more who have helped with holiday food preparation and collections, we are very pleased to celebrate the first anniversary of the Town Square Food Pantry together.”
Jen Scheibner, Community Assistant at Catholic Charities.
“The Town Square Food Pantry has been a wonderful addition to the community. We are delighted to be a part of this operation in helping those in need,”
Currently the Town Square Food Pantry is serving nearly 175 families and about 40 residents at the Jewish Federation Housing unit and also reaches out throughout the zip codes of 14221 and 14068 in Amherst, New York region. Town Square Food Pantry located just west of the Weinberg Campus in Amherst welcomes donations or if you are in need of their services please call 716-391-2921.
I am writing about the core narratives in Judaism and Christianity as reflected in Psalms 105:26-45 and Acts 2:22-24 respectively. I am comparing and contrasting these scriptures. To me, they are simplistic yet complex in nature as they explain the underlying narrative of each religion.
Thank you for exploring these questions, and especially, for your service to our country.
Your question deserves a nice Jewish answer - so I have one for you: yes and no.
To explain my answer, I first need to define what I mean by the Exodus, and how I understand your question. The story of the Exodus from Egypt begins with Exodus 1:1 and ends with the last verse of Deuteronomy - and contains everything in the middle. As you thought, that narrative is the central and defining narrative of Jewish tradition.
In your question, you describe the Exodus as "God's plan for the redemption of his people." That is not the way I generally think about it. Yes, the text specifically says that this is all according to God's plan. However, for me, it is more about our experience (in which God of course is the driving force) of moving from Egyptian slavery through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness towards the Promised Land. In other words, my response is less theological and more humanistic (although I am not a humanist, but a religious Jew). I do not think that the Exodus went the way God planned, because we Israelites had a way of stubbornly getting in our own way over and again. So, for example, in Psalm 105 there is a reference to God providing quail - but that happened two times, and the second was actually a punishment for how we complained that we were tired of manna and had better food in Egypt - so that the quail came until it was coming out of our nostrils (Num. 11:1-20).
What I am trying to express is that the Exodus, as the primary narrative of the Jewish people is less about God's plans and more about the nexus where we and God meet. It is about God's extraordinary generosity, and reliability. It is about remembering that we have humble origins, that our successes are tied to God, and that in turn helps to remind us to be humble, to look after each other (and not just other Jews BTW), and most especially those who are most vulnerable in our community. It connects us to God intimately and profoundly, and it connects us to each other. As the genetic descendants of the Israelites, it is also our family story and we read it as such.
Before I ramble on any further, let me try to reel this in with a more concise frame. The story of the Exodus (as I define it), is in my opinion the central and defining narrative of Jewish tradition - everything else that follows is in some way connected to this story. However, the Exodus itself is predicated on another, more theological frame, which is the covenant between Israel and God, as first expressed by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Exodus is definitive because it demonstrates God's fulfillment of the covenantal promise and reminds us to make sure to do our part. However, it is one moment in time, and the story is repeated in one way or another in each generation. My teacher Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman writes that Jewish spirituality can be summed up as the repeating cycle of exile and return. The Exodus was the first great return from exile, and most dramatic. Yet for us as individuals and as a people, this is a recurring experience. In other words, it is not just that the Exodus is what we build everything on, but rather something we are still experiencing.
I hope this helps. Good luck with the paper!
Rabbi Gary Pokras
This afternoon 75 people from four congregations - two Jewish and two Presbyterian - got together to speak honestly and directly with each other about Israelis, Palestinians and peace. Our time together was divided into three parts - a continuum exercise (more on that in a moment), small group conversations and then lots and lots of food for our shared picnic dinner.
The background for the gathering is this: last year the Presbyterian Church USA narrowly voted to divest from three companies that do business with Israel in the West Bank. The decision was widely seen in Jewish circles as supporting the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanction) movement. This is problematic for many Jews because significant elements of the BDS movement seem stridently anti-Israel, and more recently have even taken positions that are anti-Jewish. Because Temple Beth Zion, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Congregation Shir Shalom and North Presbyterian Church have a grassroots history of neighborliness, we thought it important to have a conversation together. Our purpose was to better understand each other in order to strengthen our communal bonds and also to solidify our commitment to a secure and lasting peace. We did not seek to create a joint policy statement, but rather to listen and learn from each other.
We began with a continuum exercise, in which participants were asked to line up between two poles to physically demonstrate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a series of progressively provocative statements. After each statement, a few individuals from different places across the continuum were asked to explain why they held the positions they did. Anyone could change their position at any time if they were moved by what someone else shared.
Here are just a few of the lessons we learned from each other today:
1. Presbyterians are split on how to understand this issue
2. Jews are also split on this issue
3. There are many thoughtful nuances to the various positions we have taken
4. Many of us are passionate in our concerns for Palestinians, Israelis or both
5. There are two competing narratives that frame either Palestinians or Israelis as 'bad' or 'evil.' This viewing each other as 'other' creates an enormous barrier to developing the trust that is necessary to eventually achieve peace.
6. We don't know as much as we think we do.
This is only the beginning of our conversation. We plan to invite several scholars and academics with expertise to share their broad perspectives with us over the course of the year. And with a little luck, we hope to travel together to Israel -- to meet with Israelis and Palestinians, and to deepen our geopolitical understanding -- and also to experience the land that all three Abrahamic traditions hold as holy,
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras