Beginning Again: Justice Work Is a Forever Project by Nicole Sidman

This blog is part of Temple Beth El’s Elul Blog Project. Read more about this year’s project. 

The grocery store was dangerous. It was a hotbed of germs. Sanjay Gupta was showing us how to clean our groceries.  I was terrified to shop. Having spent the better part of my adult hood in New York City, ordering groceries was not new to me, but I had never done it in Charlotte. At a friend’s suggestion, I downloaded the Instacart app and began shopping.  The first thing I noticed was that everything was out of stock.  The second thing I noticed was that everything was dramatically marked up from normal grocery prices.  Finally, when I checked out, I saw the delivery fee, the tip and the all-in price.  I had recently bought a color printer for less than this grocery bill.  But my family and I were safe.

I couldn’t say the same for the frazzled woman texting me from the store to approve various substitutions and apologizing for her delay. Or for the cashiers being asked to enforce mask rules.  Or for the stock workers being harangued because there was no toilet paper. I got my groceries that day, but I never used Instacart again.

Throughout the pandemic I experienced a country divided between those who could afford to protect themselves and those who couldn’t.  Those whose jobs permitted them to work from home and those who needed to support their families by being on the front lines – the restaurants, the grocery stores, the health care workers and the innumerable people who make this city run.  And, as schools moved online and day care centers closed, I read story after story of children left alone and left behind.  Without the internet and sometimes without grownups that could stay home.

We often hear about how few paychecks away many are from homelessness, but last year we all saw it with our own eyes.  And there was no way to look away, no calendar filled to the brim with activities to distract us.  My family is not more deserving of health and safety than any other, my child no more entitled to an education than anyone else’s.  And as the disparities became clearer, I felt my inaction and complacency was only contributing to the inequity.  So, I started doing what I could.

First, it was from the safety of my home.  I packed lunches and bought groceries for the JFS food drive.  Then, I ventured out of the house a bit. During the summer, my family, fully masked, marched through the streets of Charlotte protesting the murder of George Floyd.  I served meals to the unhoused who were residing at hotels across the city, helped set up apartments for incoming refugees and volunteered at Second Harvest.  And all those actions drove me to more action.  Because none of it was enough.

And then, two days after I revised my resume to apply for a job with a national non-profit organization, I saw a posting for a job to work for the betterment of my community.  Even better, it was with my community.  When I saw Temple Beth El was looking for a Social Justice Outreach Coordinator, I knew it was b’shert (meant to be).  By the time that national organization had called me back to set up an interview I had already accepted my dream job with Temple Beth El. Perhaps I have always been an instrument of justice, but somehow, I feel like the work is just beginning.  We hope you will join us.

Nicole is TBE’s Social Justice Outreach Coordinator. She has been part of our Temple Beth El community since 2017 when her family moved to Charlotte from New York. Among her other roles, she has served as a volunteer attorney for the New York Civil Liberties Union and helped found the social justice committee at her previous synagogue in New York. She also has experience working in the political realm, serving in 2018 as campaign manager for former NC State General Assembly member Christy Clark. She has served on numerous boards in leadership positions, has led many fundraising and listening campaigns, and has managed significant volunteers corps.