The Social Justice Vision at Stephen S. Wise Temple

Our congregation will see Social Justice as a calling that derives from our sense of God and the imperative of Jewish Tradition. The Stephen S. Wise Temple community will use our influence, power and compassion to be a force for positive, meaningful and effective change in the quality of life on behalf of all the citizens of Los Angeles and the world.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Eve Update

Strange to hear my post framed that way but I've discovered that as my contact with pastors, priests and parishioners of other faiths continues and grows I gain a deeper sense of my own Jewish spirituality. Last night (Christmas Eve), my family and I headed down to the Dolores Street Mission at Father Scott Santarosa's invitation. They have a Christmas Eve dinner for their 60 homeless men and Scott thought we might appreciate the experience. He was right. One woman and her family take responsibility for the whole dinner. Patti runs a home day care and is a resident of the community and for twelve years she has been calling upon her neighbors to help her cook and serve the food for this Christmas dinner. It was a traditional Latino spread with moles, Mexican punch (non-alcoholic), and all kinds of other dishes. The guests were mostly Latino and deeply appreciative of the food. Padre Scott opened with a prayer and asked me to offer an English/Spanish version of the Motzi before the meal. We served the men and sat at the tables with them to eat. They sang, rapped, told a few jokes -- all in Spanish so we understood little. The vast majority of the men were itinerant workers, few had the appearance of homeless people, many if not all were undocumented immigrants.

We were surprised to run into Mike Gagerman and his wife Cynthia Sanchez and their infant daughter. Cynthia runs the Social Service center at the church called Proyecto Pastoral. She brought her family to share Christmas Eve with the homeless of Dolores Mission as well as some of the staff who work at the center. Mike, a screenwriter, grew up at the Temple, his father is a past president. There were many places they could be besides this basement cafeteria, but clearly Cynthia's commitment to her work runs deep and Mike is at her side.

Watching the hostess Patti and her family give of their Christmas Eve to feed the homeless, listening to Father Scott's prayer (translated by another priest for us), watching the men show their profound appreciation for the meal and the coats that were handed out touched us all deeply. My daughter, Ellie, said: "I'm really glad we came. This was a special night."

As we left, we noticed that Father Scott had "disappeared". Looking for him, we found him sitting in the stairway with a homeless man who appeared to be troubled and more down on his luck than the others. Sitting there in the unlit, cold stairway, Scott was clearly counseling a wounded soul. Father Scott grew up in Sacramento in a comfortable middle class family. The pictures in his office show married siblings who are of a different world than the one where he has chosen to devote his life. Seeing him give of himself so generously with love and caring to these men who are at the fringes of society is inspiring. It doesn't take long to see the love he feels for them and to be taken in by his warmth and quiet charisma. As we got in the car, my wife said: "He's on our list for next Passover!" Watching Scott open his heart to so many, it will be our honor to open our home to welcome him to our seder. And, I believe that he'll elevate our seder by his presence just as he did for our souls this past Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Our Visit to Dolores Mission Church

Jews return to Boyle Heights! On Monday (December 1), Jennifer Bernstein Smith and I went to the Dolores Mission church. This church will become our major partner if our Jewish Community Foundation grant is approved for our Stephen S. Wise, Boyle Heights partnership. It was pretty amazing to find ourselves in an island of peace in the midst of a violent neighborhood. The church serves as a homeless shelter during the night, runs a wonderfully equiped school, pre-school and community empowerment center. Father Scott Santarosa is a bright, committed young Jesuit priest who leads the church. He clearly has the respect and admiration of the community. We learned that there is no way to engage this large Latino community without recognizing their strong Catholic identity. While there, Jennifer Smith (who is 6 months pregnant) received a blessing from a Honduran woman who rises every day at 2:00 a.m. to cook breakfast for the men at the homeless shelter. Though bleary-eyed at our 6:30 p.m. meeting, her "mission" is to transform her community for the better. She seeks to end gang violence, strengthen education and reinforce family ties. The congregational organizing of the church helps her achieve her goals.

One of the key activities used by the church to revitalize hope is the wall of stars. After each one-on-one is completed the dreams of the participants are written on the stars placed near the altar of the church. Just as we do at our house meetings, this action records the dreams of the participants for a different LA and gives them a direction for their work. Imagine what we can do for LA if we partner with these hard working, determined folks to change the face of Boyle Heights?

We hope that we'll be able to have one of our Leadership Meetings with the Church Community in Boyle Heights soon. Though language presents a barrier I believe that you will be deeply inspired by the experience!