Category Archives: Social Action/Tikkun Olam

Support URJ Disaster Relief: Typhoon Haiyan


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Support URJ Disaster Relief: Typhoon Haiyan

Typoon Haiyan, PhilippinesIn the early morning hours of November 9, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines. The equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, the storm displaced hundreds of thousands of people throughout the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and the region’s Pacific Islands. Initial accounts indicate that as many as 10,000 lives have been lost, and authorities and aid groups from all over the world, including North America and Israel, are struggling to deliver safe drinking water, food, and life-saving supplies to disaster zones.
The URJ General Disaster Relief Fund is collecting donations that will be distributed to aid groups working in affected areas. Visit to join this effort.

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What Are We Doing About… Immigration Reform

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Would your family have made it to the United States under current immigration law?

Millions of Jewish American families have a defining family immigration story, but many of these rich histories would not be possible under today’s immigration laws. Try this interactive experience from our immigration advocacy partner Bend the Arc that highlights the significance of immigration system reform for the Jewish community.

Take the Entry Denied challenge|Share

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What Are We Doing About… Economic Justice

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The Farm Bill, which determines most U.S. food and agriculture policy, is making its way through Congress. A current version of the bill proposes $21 million of cuts to vital anti-hunger programs such as SNAP benefits, free school lunches for kids from low-income families, and nutrition assistance programs.

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In the News: Synagogue’s nature space joins honor roll

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 12.42.04 PMSynagogue’s nature space joins honor roll

NJJN Staff Writer

February 6, 2013

Even for kids accustomed to playing in their suburban backyards, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel’s “WonderSpace” is a mind-opener. The outdoor classroom and more offers preschoolers a chance to interact with nature though play, projects, and gardening.

“The WonderSpace does just what is promised,” said Rabbi Ellie Miller. “It activates the senses, rejuvenates the children’s brains, and allows them to enjoy the intrinsic benefits of being outside.”

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And now, a national conservation and education organization agrees. The Arbor Day Foundation, in collaboration with the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, has certified the WonderSpace a “Nature Explore Classroom.” The certification recognizes programs that demonstrate a commitment to outdoor learning through a well-designed outdoor space, staff development, and family involvement.

The South Orange synagogue’s Iris Family Center for Early Childhood Education officially opened the WonderSpace in September. The $20,000 cost was covered by an anonymous donor and with funds raised by parents.

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Carol Paster, the center’s director, came up with the idea. She had seen an outdoor classroom in Dallas and was determined that Sharey Tefilo-Israel should have one, too.

In the space, kids can make art inspired by the nature around them, painting with water on granite slabs, or with regular art materials on easels suspended from a fence. The space includes a little bridge crossing a “stream” of pebbles; there is a jungle gym and other natural and manmade features.

There are places to dig, plant, climb, play music, or simply to have lessons outside in the fresh air, sitting on tree stumps.

“Anything you do inside, you can do outside,” Miller explained. In the cold weather, parents are advised to send their children to school with warm gear, so the space gets used year round.

Sabina Soloway, the nature educator hired by the preschool to facilitate learning, has been planting herbs with the children. Two large wooden barrels stand at the entrance of the space. Every time a class enters the playground, they carefully run their fingers through the herbs and then inhale the tangy citrus scent.

Soloway gathered comments from the children for NJ Jewish News. Jack loves the space because, he said, “I get to plant things and watch them grow.” Ayla said she loves being outside to draw and she likes hearing the wind chimes every time the breeze blows.

Jesse, a student in the Explorers Pre-K Program, looks for the shiny rocks, because “they are filled with magic and everyone wants them.”

Miller said the teachers using the space report fewer conflicts and less need to step in to “correct” behavior.

The playground, she said, is a place where children can counteract “nature deficit disorder by balancing screen time and green time.”


Temple Completes Two-Year Process to Achieve Certification in Environmental Leadership from National Environmental Coalition

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J., April 24, 2012 – Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI) had a special reason to celebrate Earth Day and more this year. TSTI recently became the first reform synagogue in the U.S. to attain certification for environmental leadership from GreenFaith, a nationally recognized interfaith environmental coalition. The temple, located at 432 Scotland Rd. in South Orange, N.J., was named a GreenFaith Sanctuary after completing a comprehensive program of education, action and advocacy.

Two years ago, temple members Phil and Sue Hoch listened to TSTI’s Rabbi Daniel Cohen give a high holy day sermon on Jewish environmentalism, which inspired the Elizabeth, N.J., couple to spearhead the certification process. Over the course of their two-year journey, the Hochs’ efforts and enthusiasm motivated the entire community of temple members and convinced even the most skeptic congregants to get involved. GreenFaith will recognize the congregation for their achievements at a graduation ceremony on May 16.

TSTI’s clergy and congregation have participated in eco-themed worship services, religious education classes on the environment, and interfaith and intergenerational activities. They worked together to “green” their own facility, implementing changes in waste reduction, product choices, and energy conservation that resulted in 20% energy savings. In addition, they learned about environmental justice issues and participated in environmental advocacy initiatives. A member of The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), TSTI was part of a URJ pilot program to help synagogues initiate and achieve certification.

“The Jewish tradition teaches us that ‘the earth is God’s and the fullness thereof,’” said Rabbi Cohen. “Working to attain GreenFaith certification meant that as a community, we accepted our responsibility to preserve and repair God’s world. The program seemed daunting at first, but with commitment and support, the congregation embraced the changes that were required.”

Among the environmental initiatives launched by TSTI is the planning of an outdoor classroom site with the preschool at the temple’s Iris Family Center. “Our children will be planting flowers and vegetables in planters and raised beds in this special landscape, starting this spring,” explained Carol Paster, Preschool Director. “They will learn how to take care of the earth as they create a sustainable garden for all of us to enjoy.”

“We are proud to have been certified a GreenFaith Sanctuary,” said Phil Hoch. “Environmental awareness is now woven into all of our programs and activities. We will continue to expand our environmental efforts as a result of the education and guidance that GreenFaith provided.” Those continued efforts include environmental field trips for both the preschool and religious school, and “green”-themed Adult Education programs.

GreenFaith was founded in 1992 to inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership. As part of its certification program, faith communities across the nation, including Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu groups, are making changes to their worship, education, facilities and social outreach efforts. These involve taking a number of specific steps in the program’s action areas of Justice, Stewardship and Spirit, with an emphasis on interfaith and intergenerational initiatives.

TSTI, Giving Thanks and Doing Good


Some of the groceries distributed to more than 200 clients of IFP the day before Thanksgiving

20121124-161012.jpgIncludes the notes and care packages packed by Religious School.

20121124-161219.jpgDistribution included 200+ fleeces, glove and hat sets, fresh bread, pies and bags of mini-marshmallows, all of which were generously donated by the Bass Foundation. We are also grateful to our IFP partners Panera Bread, Bagel Chateau and Supreme Bakery, who donate breads and pastries on a weekly basis to make our clients lives a little sweeter.

20121124-161425.jpgWe distributed coats and outerwear, including that collected at the recent TSTI Drive, to IFP clients

20121124-161537.jpgThe final piece. – clients get a turkey. We were thrilled to be able to distribute 92 turkeys collected at TSTI Turkey Drive, as well as turkeys donated by Kings and Shop-rite.

Thanks to Lisa Goldberg photos, captions and much much more.

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