At this year’s JCPA Plenum in Washington, DC, we were excited to present the St. Louis and Portland Jewish Community Relations Councils with the Award for Community Program Excellence! The award honors exemplary, outstanding, and innovative community programs that advance the goals of the Jewish community relations field and serve as models for other communities. Winning programs encourage new ways of thinking and energize the local Jewish community.
Portland won for their “Hand to Hand” program. Last October, for the second year in a row, Portland held this unique interfaith community resource fair co-sponsored by over a dozen faith-based agencies and local congregations. Spearheaded by the CRC and Community Warehouse, an organization that collects kitchen appliances and furniture for low-income families, Hand to Hand was attended by approximately 400 people of all faiths and 42 non-profits. Participants brought donations of clothes, coats, school supplies, cell phones, and food to join with joined local non-profits dedicated to helping low-income people marginalized by the economic downturn.
“Hand to Hand” has helped expand the CRC’s agenda from one of primarily public affairs advocacy to one of social action. The event was organized by an interfaith committee that included synagogue, day school, and Jewish Family and Child Service representatives and brought together over 100 volunteers, many of whom were young adults and high school and middle school students. By connecting people with non-profit agencies and collecting an enormous amount of donated items, the CRC and Federation have become seen as valuable partners in the struggle against poverty and hunger in Portland. The Mayor of Portland has event expressed his support for continuing the event, part of the JCPA’s “Fighting Poverty with Faith” campaign, next year.
The second program was St. Louis’s Sidney and Anna Frager Jewish/Muslim Teen Dialogue group, more fondly known as “JAM” - Jews and Muslims. JAM has developed into a deeply rooted collaboration between the St. Louis JCRC and the Islamic Foundation of St. Louis. Flowing from its mission of promoting a “just, democratic, and pluralistic society”, the St. Louis JCRC initiated this new program in 2006 to open lines of ongoing contact and communication between teens in the Muslim and Jewish communities. The program engages the diverse group of teens in meaningful interaction to develop understanding, spark dialogue, reduce prejudices and develop future leadership with the skills to collaborate.
The JAM year begins in September with a Sunday retreat for participants. Parental engagement increases the reach of the program into the adult communities. The teens’ retreat includes an introduction of goals and basic listening and dialogue skills; a discussion of general dialogue guidelines that are determined by participants; getting-to-know-each-other activities; and an introduction to the other’s religion and culture through presentations given by some of the previous year’s participants.
Monthly JAM sessions are, for the most part, held at participants’ homes. They provide an opportunity to explore family traditions, religious intolerance, experiences as members of minority religions/cultures in America, stereotypes, women’s issues, religion and politics, the Mideast conflict—all topics are determined by the participants.