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Social Action / Racial Justice

The Social Action Committee’s intent this year is to focus on racial justice programming. We will be working, with guidance and leadership from Rabbi Safman, to develop sustainable initiatives at TBE in conjunction with the Board and other TBE interest areas, including the Religious School, Sisterhood, and Adult Education.  Our first step is to provide education, with the next steps related to action.

Although the focus of our studies and conversations this year will be on racial justice, we also want to explore and take actions in other areas in the future.  In particular are environmental issues including climate change, immigration, and education.  All these areas of interest are interwoven and have tremendous impacts on the issues of racial and economic justice.

We can think of all these as connecting to the teachings and traditions of Judaism, as we try to be stewards of our planet and take care of one another.

—Myra Berkowitz and Liz Hess, co-chairs for 2020-2021, on behalf of the Social Action Committee

Please contact us to tell us your interests!

Artwork by Renee Freed, 2020
Digital composition printed on canvas, 20”x20”

Classes and programs on the topic of racism already scheduled for TBE in 2020-2021

The Adult Education Committee has planned the following classes, and more programming by Social Action and other groups will be announced later.

  • Race in Israel: Mizrahim, Black Panthers and Ethiopian Jews, Professor Deborah Starr, Wednesdays at 7PM - October 14, 21, and 28
  • Authoring and Staging Miss Evers’ Boys: A Conversation with Professor David Feldshuh, TBA Spring 2021
  • Jewish Americans and African Americans: A Critical History, Professor Ross Brann, Wednesdays at 7 PM - January 27, February 3, 10, 17, 24

Activities

For many years, the Social Action Committee has worked on important issues relating to Tikkun Olam.

  • We make lunches for the Red Cross’s Friendship Center.  During COVID, lunches are prepared by volunteers with donated food, using the kitchen at St. John’s.
  • We are represented on the board of Area Congregations Together (ACT).
  • We staff the ACT Kitchen Cupboard once a month.  Kitchen Cupboard distributes approximately 3-day’s food supply to Ithaca residents who are income eligible, on a once-per-month basis.  TBE members volunteer one afternoon per month, and this is continuing throughout the time of COVID.  Members of other faith communities share the volunteer effort, which also includes food collection and stocking the shelves.

Previous activities

  • We supported The Parents’ Circle, an organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis.
  • In 2019 we invited Stephen Yale-Loehr (Cornell law professor and immigration law attorney) and Claude Cohen (longtime TBE member who emigrated from Egypt) to Friday night services to speak to us at an HIAS evening about immigration.
  • We hosted State Congressman Marty Luster as a speaker, as well as TBE member Barry Derfel.
  • Committee members have been involved in “Ithaca Welcomes Refugees”.
  • Along with the Arts Committee, we sponsored a tour about Issues of migration at the Johnson Museum of Art in 2019.
  • We celebrated Jewish holidays at nursing homes and arranged visits by TBE members with seniors.
  • We have raised money for the Abayudaya Jewish Community in Uganda by selling coffee produced by a cooperative of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

More social action initiatives of TBE members

  • Myra Berkowitz—I have been coordinating TBE volunteers at Area Congregations Together (ACT) Kitchen Cupboard for the past 25 years.  I have attended many workshops and programs on racism and I’m participating in a community book group (summer 2020) on How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi.
  • Renee Freed—In the late sixties, I taught English to young Tibetans in Ithaca who escaped Tibet with the Dalai Lama.  For two decades, I taught American History and Government at Ithaca High.  At BOCES, I directed the Gifted and Talented Program, where we collaborated with Judge Betty Friedlander on a pilot course that analyzed a case heard in the Supreme Court, and we went Washington to hear the case.  At TBE, I worked with and learned from other amazing individuals (Jaime Hecht, Charlotte Fogel, Michael Faber, Ingrid Kovary) to welcome newly arrived Russian immigrants.  Since the nineties, I've been active on the Social Action Committee, organizing nursing home visits and planning Friday night speakers.  I represented the Social Action Committee on Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, worked with the Parents Circle of bereaved Palestinian and Israeli parents, and supported fundraising for Kulanu's outreach to Uganda Jews.  I have been spending time during the pandemic working on art related to Social Justice, and I'm helping with a planned digital exhibit of immigration in the history of TBE members.
  • Liz Hess -- Since 2015 I have been involved with an interfaith, interracial, social justice organization called the Fellowship of Reconciliation and was on its Board for 3 years.  During this time I realized my ignorance and need to tune in to racism in its historic and current pervasive, systemic, subtle, and personal forms.  Mostly I have done this through reading and workshops, mostly with other white people. This is a complicated and sometimes uncomfortable process, where I have learned that it is the responsibility of white people to deconstruct racism.  Racism is not our fault personally, but because of history, it is our responsibility. It is not the responsibility of people of color to tell white people how to do this.   I am only now beginning to be able to speak the language of antiracism and slowly learning what it means to be a white ally. I can now recognize racism in places that used to feel “race neutral”.  It is only by dealing with the discomfort in myself and confronting the denial of racism in our societal structures that anything will change. This is the work that needs to be done by each individual, each family, each school, each congregation, each business, and each government for there to be true equity in our society.  I recently joined the Tompkins County chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice). TCSURJ is a part of the national movement SURJ, a white ally movement that works to support the Movement for Black Lives.  There is a lot going on at SURJ, and they have great resources, supports, and energy. In summer 2020 I have facilitated a discussion group on “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, through  Mutual Aid Tompkins. I am excited to work on this committee and to share, learn and act in pursuit of true social equity.
  • Barbara Nosanchuk— I was always interested in political science. One of my first jobs was at the University of Michigan International Center, where I worked with foreign students and visitors from the State Department.  In Rochester, I was co-chair of the Russian Resettlement program of the National Council of Jewish Women. As a librarian in the ICSD I participated in many workshops and courses on racism and invited speakers on diverse issues. With faculty and students, my family and I inaugurated the annual David Nosanchuk Memorial Lecture Series, which held week-long talks on social action topics. This series lasted 30 years and had a great impact. My husband and I brought faculty and students from IHS to Washington D.C., and the Museum of Jewish Heritage and Ellis Island in NYC. We hosted several Rotary Exchange students, as well as German and Chinese exchange teachers, who lived in our home.  We were a host family for Humphrey Fellows at Cornell (Fulbright exchange program) for twelve years. I arranged for Holocaust survivors to speak to students and teachers in both the Ithaca district and the BOCES area, and gave state and national workshops for teachers and librarians about books and materials to teach about the Holocaust.  In the last ten years I worked with a committee of the IAUJC to bring Holocaust speakers to the schools.
  • Kay Wagner—As I have worked on voter and census issues, environmental issues, and the environmental causes of many of the emigrations from Syria and Central America, I find that it all ties in with racial and economic justice.  As co-president of the League of Women Voters of Tompkins county (and also chair of the LWVTC committee on natural resources), my time has been focused on getting everyone in our community counted in the census and those who are eligible registered to vote.  On the environmental front I am trying to get a better understanding of the ways in which pollution is often concentrated in lower income communities and communities of color.  Let’s raise a glass to toast that after many years of the LWVNY and various environmental groups pushing for the fracking waste bill in NYS, it just passed in the NY senate in July 2020! This will classify fracking waste, which is highly polluting, sometimes radioactive and comes in from Pennsylvania and Ohio, as hazardous, so it is not spread on roads and put in landfills.

Many TBE members are highly involved in social action and racial justice,
 in the Ithaca community and beyond!
Please feel free to share your story, as an inspiration to all.

Multimedia collage by Renee Freed, 2020

Selected Resources

Mon, September 28 2020 10 Tishrei 5781