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On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, among the scriptures read during services is from Isaiah (58:8,10). Isaiah tells the nation that to truly atone: “Surely you should divide your bread with the hungry.” Even greater reward will come “if you offer your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul.”
I believe that what we do, and the way we do it, is a small step in heeding Isaiah’s words.
David Mandelbaum (Judy's son)
In the classic Jewish literature, much ink has been spilled discussing a wide array of primarily theological topics. The have ranged from the philosophical to the eschatological. Is there any efficacy in prayer? Why did God create the world? Why do God's actions seem indiscriminate (the theodicy)? When will the messiah come and why? Will there really be a resurrection of the dead?
Without doubt, these questions are fascinating, and touch on the innate desire of man to connect with and understand his loving Creator. Still, I often find myself returning to one basic and simple question; of what use is all of this inquiry, if it doesn't improve human relations?
Classically, the answer of the Jewish mystics may come as a surprise. None. The entire purpose of our relationship with God, declare the sages, is for us to improve our human relationships. God's creation of mankind is seen as the ultimate act of compassion, and we study God's actions only to imitate what it truly means to love. In this spirit, I am proud to say that Judy's Kindness Kitchen is the most important program in our synagogue, actualizing the lessons of a God who kindly feeds us all, by sharing the gift of delicious food with those in need.
Barry Dollinger, Rabbi
As Providence's Modern Orthodox synagogue-community, the mission of Congregation Beth Sholom is to carry the banner of our particular Jewish commitments while recognizing that we are part of the universal family of humankind. As a congregation we strive for an authentic commitment to Jewish unity and the welfare of humankind. Judy's Kindness Kitchen (JKK), a kosher soup kitchen that is a partnership between our synagogue (where the food is prepared) and Crossroads (where the food is served), has the ability to unite Jews for the welfare of humankind. This is why JKK is core to our identity as an Open Orthodox synagogue-community.
On the simplest level this program has successfully filled the stomachs of the needy since 2004! There is, however, a deeper need and that is for our volunteers and would-be volunteers to recognize that making soup and sandwiches for Providence's hungry and destitute is a theological imperative that is an authentic part of the "Imitatio Dei" tradition that is thoroughly and unequivocally Jewish.
JKK enables people to help in a very meaningful way. They can spend a morning making food in a kosher synagogue kitchen and then take it down to Crossroads to feed the homeless and hungry of this city. Thus, JKK is a great social action program our congregation because of the strong Jewish ethos and content of the program.
It is also our goal to fuse this program with educational programming, thus intertwining the synchronistic energies of Jewish education and social justice We plan to create partnerships with the community's two day schools and other educational entities in Rhode Island. Additionally, this program is accessible to every Jew in RI and, therefore, is an excellent outreach tool. It is our belief that this program will encourage the unaffiliated to feel a sense of belonging to the Jewish community and for those who belong to feel a sense of ownership for the welfare of the hungry and homeless of this state.
Asher C. Oser, Rabbi (2007-2010)
There are an abundance of Torah texts which teach the value and priority of tzedakah (charitable giving). And while there is often an emphasis on extending relief specifically to our fellow Jew, our Torah also calls upon us to resist insularity. We are stirred by the concept of B'tselem Elokim, that all humanity is created in the image of God.
What is the halachic (Jewish legal) basis for Judy's Kindness Kitchen; a social action project that primarily serves our non-Jewish neighbors who are in need? The 4th century Talmud Yerushalmi (Git. 5:9), following an even more ancient source, enjoins that in a city inhabited by Jews and non-Jews we delegate officials representing both groups to collect charity from all of the residents in order to meet the needs of the Jewish and non-Jewish poor alike. From this passage it is clear that in an integrated society we are directed to promote Darchei shalom (Ways of peace) by providing for the needs of the poor, irrespective of whether or not they are members of our religious community.
As the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom, I am proud that my synagogue is home to Judy's Kindness Kitchen. Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information. Thank you for your interest and support.
Mitchell C. Levine, Rabbi (1995-2007)