Tzedek is the Hebrew word for justice. Our monthly Tzedek Tzpotlight highlights the incredible work Temple Beth El congregants, lay leaders, clergy, and staff do to help to make the world a more equitable and just place.
Temple Beth El's Journey with Sterling Elementary by Ruth Pordes
As part of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools house of faith partnership initiative, Temple Beth El began collaborating with Sterling Elementary School, a Title I school, over ten years ago.
The relationship remains strong, overcoming the hurdles of the pandemic period. Activities include direct student support, helping teachers in their classroom, tutoring through Heart Math Tutoring, Read Charlotte HELPS, and the Augustine Literacy Project. Periodic donations of requested, and desperately needed, resources and services are made possible through funds collected by SPICE, Temple Beth El’s seniors’ program, as well as family holiday gift bags through the annual Giving Tree initiative.
Volunteers also help with back-to-school materials, working to get information packets together for families so teachers can focus on their classrooms and curriculum as well as supplying teacher appreciation meals and support.
But it is the direct interaction and service to students that brings the most enthusiasm and satisfaction for our volunteers. “For me, there’s never a day that I am in the classroom that I do not learn, not only from the teacher but also from the students,” says longtime volunteer Sara Friedman, who volunteers in a third-grade class. “I leave knowing that I both have helped and received.”
Volunteering in schools only heightens appreciation of the work and excellence of the teachers. TBE congregant Jenn Sawyer reflected on her time in the classroom, noting that the “teacher is so adept at handling her large brood. Each day, the students rotate through stations practicing decoding, handwriting, rhyming, etc. I leave every day with a smile on my face!”
Volunteers each contribute about an hour a week during school hours and help 2-3 individual students during that time. For the upcoming school year, Sterling is looking to increase their in-class volunteers and Heart Math Tutoring is hoping to add to the number of math tutors as they transition back to in-school learning.
As our volunteers have shared, the work is fulfilling, bolstering the learning of the students, helping the teachers in an overworked system, and providing volunteers with the opportunity to connect with and learn from the students as they work together.
A Message from Nicole Sidman, Director of Congregational Life
They say change is scary and normally I agree. But when it comes to my career at Temple Beth El, the changes have been anything but scary. As Social Justice Outreach Coordinator, later Associate Director of Social Justice and Outreach, I was given an opportunity to transition my love of volunteering in the community into a profession and now, in my expanded role as Director of Congregational Life, I am faced again with an exciting change that feels anything but scary. Because change is also exciting, and, without change, there is no growth. I am excited to help shape the congregational experience that was so pivotal to my family when we arrived here six years ago and empower every congregant to feel the joy and belonging that we experienced. But, even in the midst of transitions, some things never change, and I want to be clear; social justice will continue to be part of my portfolio and I will support and collaborate with you all in the work I have been doing for the past two years.
I am so proud of what we have accomplished together. Just in the last year alone we created robust Social Justice & Action TriBEs, passed a Board Resolution supporting reproductive justice, and strengthened our interfaith relations through both our MeckMin partnership and collaborations with various churches on topics such as gun violence, parole reform, and candidate forums. Congregants have enhanced their commitments to helping the community by volunteering at Sterling Elementary, providing care and refuge for the homeless through Abraham’s Tent supporting Shalom Park’s Freedom School programming. We hosted a community event screening of The Janes followed by an impactful panel discussion moderated by Rabbi Erdheim and wrote an impressive number of postcards to our elected officials letting them know how we feel on issues from abortion access to gerrymandering to funding the Board of Elections. At every turn, this congregation has heeded the call of justice.
Social justice remains an essential part of the work of this synagogue, interwoven into our beliefs and teachings, and an essential part of my job here at Temple Beth El. Please continue to contact me on these matters, just as you always have. With growing attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, increasing calls for book banning and censorship, and shocking restrictions on both reproductive rights and access to the polls, this work is more important than ever. And my passion and commitment to TBE’s social justice work is one thing that will never change.
Criminal Justice Education Series
In April, Temple Beth El joined with our interfaith partners, St. Paul Baptist Church, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church to present a four-part series exploring the unique aspects of our criminal justice system. The various topics included reform of the prison system, the particular experiences of Black men in the criminal justice system, probation, and gun violence in the schools. We heard from a myriad of participants within the system: law enforcement, probation officers, probationers, legal experts, judges, school personnel, and politicians.
At TBE’s hosted session, congregant Eli Timberg drew on his legal experience within the justice system to ask probing and pertinent questions of the panelists that included an attorney, probation officers, and a probationer. It was an excellent and informative program on a subject many of us know very little about.
Rabbi Erdheim opened the TBE session with a teaching from the Talmud that spoke of a disagreement among Rabbis as to the priority of study or action. The Talmud teaches that the rabbis agreed that study is more important since study leads to action. The four sessions were most informative and thought provoking and led us to wonder how we, in the TBE community, can begin to address some of the many consequential issues presented.
Stay tuned to learn more about this interfaith partnership and next steps in exploring criminal justice issues.
Fran and Barry Friedman
Congregant Reflections on Abraham's Tent
Over the past months, the Abraham’s Tent TriBE, led by Patti Torcellini, joined other community members to provide an overnight respite for our unhoused neighbors. Two volunteers from Temple Beth El reflect on their experience:
Jenn Sawyer – Several times this winter, my family and I have volunteered with Abraham’s Tent. This is a wonderful program, led by Patty Torcellini, that provides a hot, delicious dinner; a warm, safe place to sleep for the night; and a warm breakfast to our Charlotte neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. Many TBE volunteers come together at the Belk Chapel at Queens University to share their time and talents to make our neighbors feel comfortable and welcome. There are many opportunities for individuals and families who either want to donate much needed items, cook and drop off food, set up cots, serve dinner and/or breakfast, stay overnight, and just visit with these incredible folks. It not only gives us a chance to connect with neighbors that we might not otherwise have met, but also to practice and pass on to our children our Jewish values, such as tzedakah (justice/ some think of it as charity), gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness), and hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests). My family and I are looking forward to volunteering again next winter!
Chloe Pfeffer (Age 12) – This past winter my family and I volunteered at Abraham’s Tent. We decided to do this project because helping the homeless is very important to my family and we wanted to participate in an activity together. Abraham’s Tent impacts the lives of homeless people around Charlotte. During the Winter season, six people are welcomed to Queens University for a night of food, shelter, safety and comfort provided by volunteers in our community. Through this project, I learned how much I enjoy giving my time and effort to people in need. It feels better to give than to receive because I have been very fortunate to always have everything I needed in life.
TBE Lobbies for Reproductive Justice
Congregant Phyllis Betman reflects on her time speaking with legislators about how her faith informs her commitment to reproductive justice:
This past February 28, people of various religious backgrounds gathered for Planned Parenthood’s first Faith Leaders’ Lobby Day. Rabbi Erdheim, Nicole Sidman and six Temple Beth El congregants drove together from Charlotte where we met up with groups from Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Carolina Jews for Justice and other faith groups and leaders. Our group met with North Carolina legislators of both parties in Raleigh to advocate for women’s reproductive rights by sharing our stories, concerns and our Jewish beliefs about reproductive justice as taught in the Torah.
In smaller teams, we met with representatives to educate them on our religious beliefs regarding abortion, including when life begins, and that the health of the mother, both physical and mental, is of utmost importance. My team had appointments with Rep. Frances Jackson, Rep. Laura Budd and Rep. Diamond Stanton-Williams. None of them were aware of the Jewish perspective on this issue. All three were very receptive and appreciative that we took the time to enlighten them, giving them a greater understanding of our faith.
We felt we had a very productive and positive day.
In the wake of the tragic earthquake in Syria and Turkey last month, the Social Justice and Action Committee voted to donate $1,000 total to Jewish organizations on the ground helping those impacted. $500 each went to IsraAid, an international non-governmental humanitarian aid organization based in Israel, and The Joint Distribution Committee, the leading global humanitarian organization, from our Disaster Relief Fund.
The Janes and A Conversation About Reproductive Justice
Last month nearly 100 people gathered in Temple Beth El’s sanctuary for an impactful night of community and reflection on the progress and struggles of the reproductive justice movement. After a viewing of the documentary The Janes, Rabbi Erdheim led a thought-provoking panel discussion with Diane Stevens, one of the original “Janes”, and an abortion rights activist in Charlotte, Shannon Bauerle, the Executive Director of Charlotte for Choice, and Calla Hales, co-owner and Executive Director of A Preferred Women’s Health Centers.
Diane spoke about her time in Chicago before Roe v. Wade and what parallels could be drawn now in a post-Roe world. Calla reflected on her family history supporting abortion access and the risks and physical violence and threats that come with that position. And we heard from Shannon about the landscape of abortion care in Charlotte and how it feels to protect women as they try to access healthcare. The panelists spoke about the influx of patients coming into North Carolina as neighboring states outlaw medical procedures, and the importance of destigmatizing and understanding abortion as healthcare. They also expressed that events like ours are a bright light across a dark landscape and Shannon shared her appreciation, stating that she and her volunteers “rarely have a chance to be in as welcoming and open a [religious] space as Temple Beth El and truly feel like we are being seen and heard.” Rabbi Erdheim closed the evening with a powerful prayer that resonated throughout the sanctuary.
Thank you to congregants Caroline Biber, Karen Maniloff, Tracey Lederer, and Barak Francis, who worked hard to bring this important program to TBE.
On the Blog: This Group of Congregants is Bringing a Better Understanding of Social Justice to TBE
On the Blog: This Group of Congregants is Bringing a Better Understanding of Social Justice to TBE
After the recent weekend of reflection and exploration with our scholar-in-residence, Dr. Betsy Stone, Temple Beth El continues our commitment to mental health and support of those who suffer from burnout and trauma. Mental health is not just a personal issue, it is also a societal and justice issue. When working to help and connect with communities, we must first understand ourselves and those we seek to serve. One important step in this understanding is to explore and learn the science and physical reaction to experiencing trauma. Please join us at our Annual Justice Shabbat on Friday, January 13 at 7:30pm with special guest, Vernisha Crawford, CEO of Trauma Informed Institute, who will discuss this topic and how becoming a trauma-informed community will enable us to address these issues, both internally and externally – continuing the work of making the world a more just place.
TBE was introduced to Ms. Crawford by a group of dedicated lay leaders who have continued to explore the subject of Trauma Informed Learning, especially as it related to education. They share their journey and information about future training opportunities being offered at Temple Beth El.
The Giving Tree
We are overwhelmed by the generosity of our congregants! Each year we partner with Sterling Elementary School to provide their students with gifts for the holidays. This year, thanks to the tremendous efforts of congregant Beth Lewis and the SPICE Girls TriBE, we committed to helping 25 families with 52 children, and our congregation delivered! The families at Sterling were gifted 80 coats and articles of clothing, 60 books, and 178 toys and craft items. Additionally, each family was provided with a gift card to help purchase items for their holiday dinner.
“I am humbled by the generosity of our community and by the patience and appreciation you all showed to me as I stressed that we wouldn’t have it all in time! Once again you more than delivered and my thanks and the thanks of our Sterling Elementary families go out to all of you. When you put your head on your pillow tonight, please picture the smiling faces you have all helped create!” – Beth Lewis