Beth Chai: The Greater Washington Jewish Humanist CongregationBeth Chai: The Greater Washington Jewish Humanist Congregation

Social Action at Beth Chai

At Beth Chai, social action is considered an integral — rather than ancillary — congregational program. This is in keeping with our humanist values:

“The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.” 

Our rabbi, through his moral leadership, as well as our Sunday School staff, through teaching about tzedakah and tikkun olam in the classroom, are directly involved in social action issues and activities. As an independent, relatively small congregation, Beth Chai approaches social action as an opportunity to make various projects and activities available throughout the year for members to participate in. All members are encouraged to participate, and new project ideas are always welcome. For information or questions, please contact current Social Action Chair at socialaction@bethchai.org A summary of annual, current, and selected previous activities follows.

ANNUAL PROJECTS
During the High Holy Days, we collect grocery and prescription cards, as well as non-perishable food items, for distribution through the Jewish Social Services Agency. Each year, we hold a Community Work Day. This event gives members the opportunity to take part in a variety of activities which have included:

  • Cleaning up Sligo Creek in Silver Spring, MD
  • Making gift baskets for Revitz House, a residence for seniors and people with physical disabilities adjacent to the Jewish Community Center in Rockville
  • Making trail mix for the DC Central Kitchen Healthy Returns program, a program that brings healthy meals and snacks to agencies serving low-income children and at-risk youth throughout the Washington DC area, as well as teaching children the skills that will enable them to make healthy food choices throughout their lives
  • Making get well cards for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center
  • Knitting and crafting warm afghans and scarves for various charitable organizations
  • Summer and fall gleaning at local farms
  • Making project bags for the Thoughtful Treasures Mailbox program for the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health, a residential "place like home" for sick children and their families who come from across the country and around the world to receive groundbreaking medical treatments at the NIH, the world's leading biomedical research center

KING DAY PROGRAM
At our Adult Education sessions on Martin Luther King holiday weekend, we present a special program dedicated to the importance of working, as a congregation and as individuals, toward a more equitable and just society. Speakers for this event have included Florence Isbell, former colleague of Rev. King and mother of Beth Chai member Peggy Robin; Juanita Evangeline Moore, whose parents, statewide Florida civil rights leaders, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1951; Daryl Davis, a local civil rights activist who successfully “converted” Ku Klux Klan leaders away from their racist views; and various Beth Chai members active in civil rights initiatives.

ANTI-DISCRIMINATION PROJECT
Consistent with Beth Chai’s emphasis on being an inclusive, egalitarian community, we participate in efforts to combat discrimination and exclusionary policies wherever they appear in the Washington metropolitan area. We have sent letters of support, given legal advice, and raised funds for targets of racially and religiously motivated vandalism, including an African-American church in Charles County, Md.; a synagogue in the District of Columbia; and the Washington Area Jewish Council. Beth Chai has also worked to fight anti-Hispanic prejudice, which has risen with the anti-immigration wave in our community. As we recite in our Kol Nidre service:
“You shall not wrong the aliens who reside within your land, but shall treat them like the native-born, for you yourselves were once strangers in a foreign land.”     —  Leviticus 19

ISSUE ADVOCACY
Because of our status as a non-profit, religious organization, Beth Chai does not take part in electoral politics, legislative lobbying, or related activities. We do, however, take stands on issues in accord with our fundamental belief in humanitarian principles.  We have collected signatures on petitions to the White House supporting an aggressive American position against genocide in Darfur. We also signed on to an international petition calling for a ban on torture, in addition issuing our own statement:
“We oppose the use of torture of any kind, and call upon the President, the Attorney General, and all world leaders to treat all prisoners humanely.”

OTHER PROGRAMS
In past years, the congregation has undertaken emergency efforts to aid resettlement of Hurricane Katrina evacuees in the Washington area; provided educational and financial assistance to immigrants from former Soviet Union nations; donated much needed funds to the Israeli firefighters during the 2010 wildfires near Haifa; and other action as needs have arisen.