Celebrating the Risk of Caring: One Congregation's Holiday Project

Inside Leadership

Celebrating the Risk of Caring: One Congregation's Holiday Project

Happy children and adults with a shopping cart inside a Kohls

They were at-risk youth, searching for something new and not risky, to clothe them and keep them warm.

We were comfortable suburbanites, seeking something meaningful and momentous, to clothe us in compassion and warm us from the chill of indifference.

They were sweet youngins, trying to find a way out of the ever-present threat of gangs and incarceration, drugs and alcohol, and academic indifference.

We were the privileged, looking for way into the all encompassing danger of doing nothing and caring less, of escaping the prison of our privilege and encountering the privilege of personal one-to-one interaction.

They were not Jewish – an amalgamation of Catholics and other Christians, with a few other faiths mixed in – each seemingly wanting to believe that the color of their skin, the beauty of their background, and their uniqueness from these people of faith would matter less than it usually does in their interactions with their world.

We were Jewish – an amalgamation of believers, be-doers, and bagels-and-lox-ers – each hoping that a few Sunday afternoon hours would return us to our cherish values: the belief that we are all created / b’tzelem Elohim / in God’s image, that we each / kedoshim tehiyu / are inherently holy, and that this matters way more than the difference between the color of our skin and theirs. Or the weight of our purse and theirs.

One Sunday morning, 50 Congregation Or Ami families hosted 50 New Directions for Youth for lunch, shopping, and connection for Holiday Childspree at Kohl’s, an annual tradition of tzedakah (charitable giving) and gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness).

We celebrate with Laurie Tragen-Boykoff’s moment and memory:

As I was walking out of Kohl’s today with Dominique, the young, quiet boy I was escorting, he turned to me and said “This bag sure is big.” I replied, “Yeah, it’s got a lot of cool stuff in it!” He raised the Kohl’s bag to his chest and put his arms around it saying, “I just want to hug it.” My heart was full knowing how much this package/experience delighted him.

They left with new running shoes, clean underwear, beautiful blouses and embracing sweatshirts. Oh, and the sense that yes, there were people who cared.

We left buoyed by beautiful smiles as we risked embracing the risk of running back toward ourselves. No longer sweating the small stuff, we saw how much we cared. Really cared.

For Holiday Childspree 2016, we thank our project chairs Lucille and Amy; all those who donated the $100+ for each child’s shopping spree; everyone who gave so they could enjoy a tasty lunch; all the staff from New Directions for Youth; and each person – adults and teens – who came to host, chaperoning grateful children on a shopping spree. And we thank 50 kids from New Directions for Youth, and their leaders, who reminded we hosts that hope is just one simple act of kindness away from transforming the world. And ourselves.

Our differences disappeared. We were just a bunch of people, filled with appreciation, for the lessons learned and the love shared.


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Rabbi Paul Kipnes the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. He serves as rabbinic dean at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, and as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights). He also co-edited a national CCAR Journal issue on New Visions for Jewish Community. Under his leadership, Congregation Or Ami has won national awards for social justice programming, for innovative worship programming, for outreach to interfaith families, and for engaging family education, and for best overall use of technology in a synagogue. Or Ami also wins the hearts of its families for its Henaynu caring community, which reaches out during times of need. He serves on the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education clinical faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His writings can be viewed on his blog, Or Am I? He tweets @RabbiKip.



Rabbi Paul Kipnes

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