At a Lower East Side apartment building run by the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, three families from the Upper East Side spent a few hours putting together and passing out Passover food packages one day last week.
The volunteers, parents and kids had not met previously.
Members of Central Synagogue (Reform), Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun (Orthodox) and Park Avenue Synagogue (Conservative), they were part of a Synagogue Coalition pilot project designed by Met Council to raise money and education about Jewish poverty on an interdenominational basis.
The initiative, the work of the agency’s CEO, David Greenfield, and chief development officer, Reuben Romirowsky, has raised more than $50,000 from the three synagogues for earmarked supermarket American Express cards to be distributed for Passover needs, encouraged educational programs in the three participating congregations and their religious schools, and recruited hundreds of volunteers to collaborate in Met Council activities in the month since Purim.
Met Council chose “high-profile synagogues of Manhattan” to help illustrate the point that Jewish poverty knows no geographic or denominational boundaries, said Greenfield.
According to the agency’s statistics, more than 500,000 Jews in New York City live in poverty, a situation that is exacerbated at Passover when the normally expensive price of kosher food rises by about 20 percent.
“Feeding people is not political, it is nonpartisan.”
“Feeding people is not political, it is nonpartisan,” Greenfield said, calling the project’s interdenominational nature reflective of the holiday’s theme of a disparate people uniting. “We serve everyone … as long as they are interested in observing Passover.”
“Each of these shuls has a ‘pantry culture’” of people who give their time at programs for the homeless and indigent, Romirowsky said. “It’s an organic culture to tap into.”
The agency will distribute more than 1,000 tons of kosher-for-Passover food in the Greater New York area this year, at 120 sites.
The participants in the Synagogue Coalition learned that poor Jews live just blocks away as well as miles away from their affluent neighborhood, Romirowsky said. “Not everyone in Manhattan believes there is poverty in Manhattan.”
Some recipients, said Greenfield, were “pleased and surprised” to see people who obviously have roots in different parts of the Jewish community working together.
The families who volunteered at the Lower East Side apartment building last week exchanged email addresses at the end of their stint, and the youngsters discussed predictable topics like sports and music, he said — they all plan to discuss their experiences at their seders this weekend. “It’s important that they tell this story.”
“KJ and the KJ rabbis have developed a wonderful relationship with Central Synagogue and Park Avenue Synagogue and their clergy,” Rabbi Elie Weinstock of Kehilath Jeshurun said in an email. “It makes sense for us to collaborate where we can for the common good.”
“We look forward to a continued partnership and having our students participate in this effort as well,” said Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue.
Calling this year’s interdenominational project “a tremendous success,” Greenfield said Met Council plans to expand it in 2019 to other congregations, to other Jewish institutions like JCCs, and to areas outside of Manhattan.
Next year in Brooklyn and Queens and the Bronx and …