05 November 2011

Freeing the Captive

When the Danken Auto Parts company caught fire in late September, word traveled fast up to CBE by several people who were walking past--mostly because of the large number of engines and firefighters needed to stop the blaze. Besides the 8 firefighters who had to be hospitalized for smoke inhalation, the other major damage occurred next door at C.H.I.P.S., a local soup kitchen and shelter for 9 women and their children, which has been feeding the poor residents of Brooklyn since 1972--about 65,000 meals annually.  That's a lot of good to do in the world.  People have been diligently working to re-open by Thanksgiving.

Around the same time, I ran into one of our members who invited me to a meeting over in Crown Heights with a local minister and some young men who were working very hard to not only keep guns off the streets of the neighborhood but to mediate potentially violent conflicts among gangs that are forming in the surrounding areas.  Save Our Streets Crown Heights is an inspiring organization.  Here's their mission statement:
Save Our Streets Crown Heights (S.O.S.) is a community-based effort to end gun violence in our neighborhood. S.O.S. works closely with local organizations, neighborhood churches and pastors, community residents and the individuals most likely to commit a shooting. S.O.S. Crown Heights provides immediate intervention whenever a shooting occurs in the neighborhood, reaching out to the victim, friends, and family to ensure that a retaliatory shooting does not take place. S.O.S. Crown Heights works closely with neighborhood leaders and businesses to promote a visible and public message against gun violence. The goal is to end the spread of violence by encouraging local voices to articulate that shooting is an unacceptable behavior.

Works for me.

I was finally able to get over to S.O.S. a couple weeks ago and met Program Manager Allen James,  Outreach Worker Supervisor Lavon Walker, and Outreach Worker David Bookhart.  I was joined by Reverend Kevin Jones, another member of the S.O.S. Faith-Based Leadership Team.  I heard incredible stories of bravery and heroism as these men described the interventions they carry out each day in response to bring peace to people's lives one moment at a time, and help prevent the catastrophic choice of violence that only leads to more violence.  In the months ahead, I hope to find some constructive ways and opportunities for our community at CBE to support this important work.  You can start by signing the Covenant for Peace and Action HERE.

Last week I learned something interesting.  After a couple years of hemming and hawing, we finally got around to counting the change from tzedakah boxes that members had been dropping off at the Temple for the last couple of years.  Small accumulations of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters that, over time, actually grew into a weighty collection of charitable efforts.  The 7th grade Bnai Mitzvah Class made a first-rate effort of counting the coins and organizing them into neat little paper rolls, but the work was endless and boring.

"This is like prison," one of them said.

"Well, that's what Hebrew School is!" said another.

Since it's a mitzvah to "free the captive," we finally let them go and I promised to redeem their efforts.  It turns out that TD Bank, on the corner of 5th Avenue and 1st Street, offers the use of a free change counting machine if you open an account at the bank.  And so for a minimum of $100, I did it on Wednesday before rushing off to a funeral.  Bank management was warm and helpful as we filled bag after bag with loose change.  After some minutes, our total came through--and it was more than $1000, a decent sum indeed.

We walked back to CBE with cash, deposited it, and issued checks to C.H.I.P.S and Save Our Streets Crown Heights so that they can continue to do their good work.  This Tuesday the Bnai Mitzvah class and I will learn together about these worthy organizations and their tirelessly devoted efforts.  

So while captives have been freed from Hebrew School (and the tzedakah boxes free from their change-filled, bloated state) I'm also gladdened to know that we've done a small part toward freeing captives from poverty, hunger and violence.  One coin at a time, good things can happen.

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