Published on March 30, 2011 by Miriam Berk
*Reprinted with permission from the Temple Reyim Bulletin Article, January 2011
There is a very famous saying from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), Chapter 2:16; “…(Rabbi Tarfon) used to say… It is not up to you to finish the task, but you are not free to avoid it”. This has become the basis of B’nai TELEM [program].
Just this past month, the class spent some time talking about Special Needs and viewed the movie, Praying with Lior, about a Jewish boy with Down’s Syndrome preparing to become a Bar Mitzvah. The movie and follow-up discussion helped sensitize them to their site visit at the Charles River Center in Needham to help adults with disabilities participate in an art therapy class. One student remarked as part of the debriefing, “I am not used to being around people with special needs. I thought it would be scary, but it was fun!”
More generally, the students are realizing that their work within B’nai TELEM is helping to make a difference. A student remarked that…”going somewhere for a day can be more valuable sometimes than giving millions of dollars; you can really see the results on the receiving end.” Another student noted, “you don’t have to be a big celebrity to do things to make a difference. You can, say, get your friends together and clean up a certain area and that doesn’t cost anything!” And, “It feels better to come home and know that I made a difference, knowing I did something better than I would usually do, like sit around and play video games.”
Here another student puts it very succinctly: “It’s given me an opportunity to try out new things, like I’ve never visited an elderly home and I’ve never helped disabled adults before. It’s teaching me new things and I’m learning new stuff that I’ve never learned about in Hebrew School, like responsibility, meeting new people, and it helps build community and makes things fun.”
Miriam Berk is the Education Director of Temple Reyim in Newton and a new B’nai TELEM partner this year. She is looking forward to coming back next year, and introducing more students to meaningful community service. For more information or to get your synagogue involved in innovative social justice, visit our homepage, www.telemyouth.org!