URJ President to Spend Night at Synagogue Homeless Shelter He Founded 30 Years Ago

First synagogue-based shelter in New York City and only one continually operating in Brooklyn

Brooklyn, NY, January 14, 2014 – In 1983, when Rabbi Rick Jacobs was the rabbi at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue (BHS), he had a vision to start a shelter to address the growing problem of homelessness in New York City. Thirty years later, the first synagogue-based homeless shelter in New York City is still responding to the need, run by volunteers from BHS with the support from several local synagogues, schools and community groups.

To mark this anniversary, Rabbi Jacobs – now president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the congregational arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in North America – will spend the night in the BHS Shelter on the evening of Thursday, January 16. He will join the congregation for services on Friday evening, January 17, followed by a congregational community dinner.

Located on the ground floor of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, 131 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY, the Shelter provides a warm, safe place to sleep, a hot meal, and companionship and respect for ten men. The Shelter, which is open Monday through Thursday nights during the winter months, is an entirely volunteer effort coordinated by BHS congregants and supported by members and non-members alike. In 2012-2013, the Shelter provided 135 nights of warm food and safe rest to 566 overnight guests.

“When we opened the Shelter in the early 1980s, we knew that it wouldn’t put a dent in the problem of homelessness, but we felt it a necessary measure as we searched for better solutions,” said Rabbi Jacobs. “Thirty years later, the need for safe Shelter is as urgent as ever. I applaud the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue community as well as all the volunteers that participate in this critical effort.”

The statistics surrounding homelessness in New York City are discouraging. Each night more than 52,000 people – including more than 22,000 children – experience homelessness.

“It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of community action in providing respite and shelter to those in need,” said Rabbi Serge Lippe, Senior Rabbi at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. “As a congregation, we feel a moral imperative to sustain our commitment to this effort, as well as to work with local government and stakeholders to address the causes of homelessness.”

The Shelter depends on more than 250 volunteers a year most of whom reside, attend school, or work in Brownstone Brooklyn. In addition to Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, which houses the Shelter and oversees its operation, other groups that have been formally involved include Kane Street Synagogue (Congregation Baith Israel Anshei Emes), Congregation Beth Elohim, Park Slope Jewish Center, Hannah Senesh Community Day School, the Packer Collegiate Institute and St. Ann’s School.

“Like so many who find themselves homeless today, our guests are a diverse group in terms of age, background and circumstance,” said Andrea Feller, volunteer coordinator of the shelter with fellow BHS congregant Anne Landman. “For example, some men will spend the night in our shelter having been at work all day. If our beds, food and hospitality were not available, many would have nowhere else to sleep.”

Brooklyn Heights Synagogue was a founding member of the Emergency Shelter Network, which grew out of a collaboration between Mayor Ed Koch and religious leaders in 1982. The network includes city-run drop-in centers that connect the homeless to privately run shelters in churches and synagogues, providing an alternative to large municipal shelters. Today, guests of the BHS Shelter come from a drop-in center operated by CAMBA, the largest social service agency in Brooklyn (www.camba.org).

Those interested in volunteering should contact shelter@bhsbrooklyn.org.

About Brooklyn Heights Synagogue

Brooklyn Heights Synagogue is an inclusive, Jewishly diverse congregation dedicated to lifelong learning and to caring for the world and each other. We have shared celebration, learning, service, and worship since our founding in 1960. Today we are a community of over 450 member units made up of families, couples, and singles who live not only in nearby Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods and DUMBO, but also in Lower Manhattan and other neighborhoods throughout the city.

With a small full-time professional staff and an active membership, Brooklyn Heights Synagogue is proud to offer a full calendar of worship services, education programs, special events and opportunities to engage in Tikkun Olam that reflects the diverse interests and needs of this community.

Under the leadership of our Director of Early Childhood Education, our Preschool currently serves 90 children, about half of whom are from BHS families. Our Director of Congregational Learning oversees our Religious School for 225 students in grades K-12 and includes post-b’nai mitzvah study featuring a 9th grade trip to Israel led by our Senior Rabbi and opportunities to learn and socialize with students from other area congregations. Congregational learning extends, as well, to adults of all ages and interests.

Brooklyn Heights Synagogue is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism.

About Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Rabbi Rick Jacobs is president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the congregational arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in North America. A longtime and devoted creative change agent, Rabbi Jacobs spent 20 years as a dynamic, visionary spiritual leader at Westchester Reform Temple (WRT) in Scarsdale, New York.

Prior to his tenure at WRT, Rabbi Jacobs served the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. He was ordained in 1982 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York. Deeply committed to the State of Israel, Rabbi Jacobs has studied for two decades at Jerusalem's Shalom Hartman Institute, where he is now a senior rabbinic fellow.