Temple Emanuel’s Tikkun Olam Program ‘Loosey-Goosey’ but Effective

by Kris Oser

Tikkun Olam means "repairing the world" in Hebrew. This program is a big deal at Temple Emanuel (TE), and the turkey drive is one of those many programs.

Each year a few weeks before Thanksgiving, congregant Peter Stolzman arrives at Friday night service wearing a turkey hat (actually a chicken if you look closely). He invites everyone to donate a turkey or write a check to the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.

The shtick works, bringing in up to $1,000 and 60 birds. Two years ago, a 10-year-old TE member contributed four turkeys. “He had dipped into his savings and took up a collection among neighbors,” Mr. Stolzman said. “I was really touched.”

This child’s initiative and warm heart personified what the TE’s Tikkun Olam program is about.

“We are a kind of ‘loosey-goosey’ congregation where people do what they like to do,” Dr. Will Sherman, a Tikkun Olam co-chair said. “We have no committee meetings, but we have a year’s worth of activities.”

TE’s program includes more than a dozen projects, some have been running for decades. This does not include TE’s membership in the Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement (JCARR) or in Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT).

“Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is a key principle of the modern Reform movement,” Rabbi Michael Farbman said. “Engaging in this holy work through deeds big and small, we articulate our Jewish values, making the world a better place one mitzvah at a time.”

Many congregants are involved with charities and nonprofits and they “bring that involvement with them,” said Dr. Sherman, a retired psychologist.

Members approach the Tikkun Olam committee to add their projects. The person who suggests a project usually leads it.

“We don’t have to create activities and convince people that it is a good thing to do,” said Sherman.

Activities include a High Holy Days food collection to benefit both Jewish Family Services and the Town of Orange. Last fall, congregants donated $3,300 and half a ton of non-perishables.

There are also annual drives for diapers, kosher-for-Passover foods, and boxed pasta that TE children donate (after using them as noisemakers at the Purim celebration).

At Hannukah, TE’s religious school students and their parents create hundreds of gift baskets for children at Jewish Family Services, Fairhaven Community Health Center, and others.

“The children learn what our tradition teaches us,” Dr. Sherman said. 

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