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Our Social Action Focus: In Our Neighborhood and In Our World

 “If I am not for myself, who is for me?

  And if I am only for myself, what am I?

     And if not now, when?”

                                                                                                      —Hillel, Pirkei Avot, 1:14

The pursuit of social justice and social action is a cornerstone of Bethesda Jewish Congregation’s (BJC) philosophy. By working together as a community, we fulfill our mandate of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness) and to make a difference. 

BJC shows it cares in multiple ways and encourages members to get involved. We focus on efforts that we believe will make a difference in our community, our nation and our world.  Your ideas and your involvement are a significant indicator of our ability to be a part of that difference. 

BJC has ongoing initiatives that we hope make our neighborhood and world a better place. And, BJC has always welcomed new ideas and opportunities for our congregation to get involved.  If you would like to get involved with an existing social action project, help start a new initiative, or would like to join the SAC, please contact our committee chair, Karen Levi.  

BJC is building bridges, locally, nationally and globally with a long commitment to several organizations in our community. We often work in partnership with members of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church (BHPC) and  our Muslim brothers and sisters from neighboring mosques. Among the endeavors by which you can connect with our BJC family and the greater community are our Interfaith Partnerships (click here).

The following are some of our current initiatives:

National Center for Children & Families (NCCF)

NCCF provides shelter, food, clothing, and counseling for homeless families in our community. The shelter is on Greentree Road, literally our backyard. 

Each year in the late summer, we sponsor a Back to School supply drive for the National Center for Children and Families(NCCF) —helping their students get ready for back to school. This family shelter has a large student population in all grades, and the families have limited resources for school supplies—which have only gotten more expensive.

Additionally at Thanksgiving we work together with Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church and the mosques to build holiday baskets with homemade treats and the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal.

We have had other projects with NCCF, such as working on reading programs for school-age residents

Manna

Manna's mission is to end hunger in Montgomery County. During High Holy Days, BJC members and the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church Nursery School fill grocery bags with healthy food for Manna Food. BJC and Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church donated over 2149 pounds of food to support the important work of Manna in 2023.

We would welcome someone to help us work with Manna at the High Holy Days and throughout the year.

Bethesda Help

Another way we help address food insecurity is by working with Bethesda Help. There is a shopping cart near the office for donations, which a member of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church takes to the food pantry. BJC members volunteer to deliver food to county residents in need, usually making deliveries of food and gift cards about twice a month. In addition to food and gift cards, Bethesda Help assists with some medical/vision related needs and utility payments. Others with Bethesda Help take calls from clients and organize the following day delivery lists and bag the groceries at the pantry.

Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones is a shelter committed to “Moving Families Forward” and provides emergency food and shelter to Montgomery County families experiencing homelessness, and has been doing so for 40 years. BJC has a long history of providing meals once a month for the residents.  Picking up pre-made food or putting together an easy dinner for about 8 adults and 17 children is a great way for an entire family to get involved in act of Tzedakah. (And, students can earn up to 3 SSL!) Information about this program is here: https://steppingstonesshelter.org/how-you-can-help/make-a-meal/ To learn more about BJC’s dinner effort, contact our coordinator, Terri Reicher. She will provide all the instructions on the easy-to-do task to help others.

At the end of 2023, BJC conducted a very successful coat drive, collecting almost 70 coats, hats, gloves, mittens, and scarves.

We will continue to look for opportunities to support Stepping Stones. 

Gun Violence Prevention

After the Sandy Hook shooting of Dec. 2012, interested BJC and BHPC members joined forces to participate in interfaith programs, protests, and communications with elected representatives regarding the full range of gun violence prevention. Since March 2017, BJC has participated in an interfaith communications network of synagogues, churches, and mosques in the Washington, DC area focused on the issue of gun violence prevention. The network facilitates sharing information with interested BJC members on recent legislative developments and opportunities for action on gun violence prevention in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC.  

Contact Barbara Faigin  to add your name to the Gun Violence Prevention Interest Group, to receive information and action updates. 

The Natural Environment

Protecting our planet is one of the most urgent and complicated issues we will face in our lifetimes. As Jews, we have been connected to the earth for millennia, reflected in our holidays, festivals, and practices. Part of our focus is understanding invasive species. We welcome ideas about how our community can get involved. If you have questions, concerns, or suggestions for activities, please contact Bill and Rochelle Banta at WCBanta@american.edu

Good Deeds Day

BJC joins with The Jewish Federation and the Greater Washington community, along with over half a million volunteers from around the world, for this fun and meaningful day of service. At BJC, we work to involve our Religious School in our annual project.

Stopping the Genocide of the Uyghur People

The Uyghurs are Muslim Chinese, belonging to one of the 56 officially recognized ethnic groups of China. They live in Xinjiang Province in Northwestern China. For the past few years, the Chinese government has been committing genocide against the Uyghurs.

Each month, there is a protest outside the Chinese Embassy (meet at the corner of Van Ness St. NW and International Place NW Washington, D.C.) To learn more, get in touch with Karen Levi .

Note: Be careful where your fish comes from. Uyghur and other forced labor is essential to China's seafood industry and fish processed in China finds its way into the U.S.

Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC): Protecting Historic Moses Cemetery

Hiding in plain sight on River Road in Bethesda is the Macedonia Baptist Church, once a hub of a thriving African American community that experienced harassment and displacement over the decades. Since the early 1900s, the grounds near the church and across the street constituted the Moses African Cemetery where members of the community buried their deceased. 

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) is fighting back against the building of apartments, fast food restaurants and self-storage facilities on the site. For example BACC is requesting that a memorial be established commemorating the historic African American community and cemetery.  

Jews have experienced the erasure of communities and the desecration of cemeteries. We should stand in solidarity with BACC. To help: reach out to BACC and offer to volunteer on their projects. For more information, click here to connect with the BACC or here to connect with BJC member Josh Silver.  

Julius Rosenwald Schools National Parks Campaign: Recognizing a National Treasure

“All the other pleasures of life seem to wear out but the pleasure of helping others in distress never does.” ~~ Julius Rosenwald

During the pandemic, BJC had a wonderful program about the Rosenwald Schools and the initiative to create a multi-site U.S. National Park to recognize the life and generosity of Julius Rosenwald.  BJC is one over 200 organizations that wrote in support of recognizing this important Jewish philanthropist who was so committed to educating Black students in the South. Contact Helen Dalton for more information. Learn more at www.Rosenwaldpark.org 

Fri, February 23 2024 14 Adar I 5784