Repairing the World, One Park at a Time
Submitted by Kathi Edelson Wolder
Temple Emanu-El of Westfield has long been more than a place of worship; at its core is a socially conscious, multi-generational network of members devoted to giving back to the surrounding communities. With an army of passionate volunteers, the synagogue embarks on a multitude of social action and community projects throughout the year, and on Tuesday, March 30, in celebration of Passover and the onset of Spring, 25 volunteers wearing rain boots and work gloves descended on Nomahegan and Lenape Parks to help clear trash from these cherished recreation spots.
Rabbi Victor Appell of Temple Emanu-El brought his 16-year old son Lev to help out. “We are here because it is part of our obligation. An integral part of our faith is what we call “Tikkun Olam,” to work in partnership with God to “repair the world.” One way we do this is by helping to take care of public spaces like this, to make sure that they’re clean, to protect their natural beauty, so that everyone can enjoy them. We’re glad that we are able to be here to do this.”
Also on hand was the Baum family of Westfield, who came out in full force to help with the cleanup. “Rabbi Appell suggested we do this,” says Wendy Baum. “Our son Noah helped clean up Tamaques Park for his Bar Mitzvah project and he really enjoyed doing it. That was a couple of months ago, so we thought this would be a good opportunity for us all to do it together, so here we are!”
Many of the synagogue’s volunteer activities are organized through its Tikkun Olam Committee, formed in 2005 to identify ways in which temple members can “lend a helping hand,” particularly through social action projects that are intended to make life better for others in the community and beyond. In addition to environmental projects, the Committee conducts emergency food drives, houses the homeless, crafts handmade “blankets of love” to provide comfort to children and teens with cancer, and even grows vegetables in their own “mitzvah garden” that they donate to the Westfield Food Pantry.
The project was overseen by Betty Ann Kelly, Environmental Specialist for Union County Parks & Recreations; and Daniela Shebitz, Ph.D., Executive Director/Associate Professor at the School of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences at Kean University. “One of the most important parts about being Jewish is to understand the beauty of our environment and the importance of people as the protectors of the environment,” says Shebitz. “I think that events like this, that bring our congregation together with our community, are really what helps me to express my role in life as a Jewish person.”
For more information on Temple Emanu-El, or to volunteer, contact Jackie Grussgott at firstname.lastname@example.org.