Since the massacre in Pittsburgh, much has been written about how the Jewish community is coping with this horrific event. One article stuck in my head, as it shared a comment from a child who found inspiration from red Rogers, commonly known as Mr. Rogers of the still-popular Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers, who died in 2003, was the voice of children for decades, but his words resonated after the massacre because Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh was Mr. Rogers’ real neighborhood. The words that inspired the boy were not written for this tragedy, but in response to other acts of violence. Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
These are scary times for us all, and it will be particularly hard for many to find joy in the coming holiday season. While we gather with families and friends this Chanukah, there are many who will never have that joy again as their lives are forever changed by the loss of someone who was murdered because of hatred and violence.
This Chanukah, I want to salute these helpers, who are part of our community action efforts. As we use the Shamash candle to light the candles on the Chanukiah, have these helpers in mind. Their good deeds help bring light in a world that can be a dark and scary place.
I did not have to look far to find the helpers in B’nai B’rith, involved with programs that B’nai B’rith helped make possible. Here are some highlights of the activities of these wonderful people, who have made a difference in their community and show the spirit of helping.
This summer, we saw 100 helpers who were participating in the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) Fraternity’s Hineni program at their international convention become volunteers for the Sojourner Center in Phoenix, Arizona. These young men helped move and transform the center’s warehouse and facility that assist women who need shelter and others dealing with difficult life situations. The organizer’s message says it best: “Please share our gratitude with the volunteers one more time. Let them know that everyone was impressed by them, their interest in what we do, and their work ethic. They truly will be change makers in the future. I hope they are able to keep a meaningful conversation going about how we treat each other. As young leaders, they have the potential and the power to lessen the amount of domestic violence we see in our communities”.
The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund supported a community ravaged by wildfires with a donation to the Idyllwild Help Center. The center also had help from volunteers from the AEPi staff and the AEPi chapter at Pomona College to help them with their fire abatement clean-up. These volunteers also learned that helping makes a difference and is greatly appreciated. With the assistance of B’nai B’rith funding and hands on hard work, this small community shared its thanks and learned that there are people who care.
This fall, I had the honor to speak at the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Conference about community service projects that help provide food to people in need. Other speakers provided insight into how they engage volunteers and how the B’nai B’rith housing facilities provide the support residents need to access healthy food. Sharing insight into food collection programs, members of the B’nai B’rith Bagel Brigade described how the dynamic team of volunteers from the Greater San Fernando Valley Unit collect and delivers day-old baked goods to schools and shelters every day of the year.
Six years after Super Storm Sandy devastated parts of New York City, there is still a need to help families that have not been able to repair their homes after the damage. In November, young leaders from the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Network in New York joined forces with the organization SBP-New York to help with this need. The young leaders worked on a renovation of a basement and garage, assisting with the demolition needed. They were guided by an AmericCorps team of experts, who helped with the renovation. The volunteers’ efforts helped the homeowner repair their home without the need to pay expensive fees for a contractor and helped move recovery ahead.
This year, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as has been done for decades, volunteers will visit veterans’ hospitals to bring some holiday cheer for the patients and thanks for the nurses on duty. There will be B’nai B’rith volunteers at other community care facilities to fill in for the volunteer posts that need coverage so that regular volunteers can be at home with their families.
There are countless other programs and volunteers who make helping others in their community a priority. In each and every community, there are B’nai B’rith volunteers who continue to fulfill the mission of our founders to care for those in need as they have done since its founding 175 years ago.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai brith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. This June will mark her 38th anniversary at B'nai B'rith. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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