A baking project that raises funds for the hungry has earned Temple Har Shalom national recognition.
The synagogue in Warren is among nine Reform congregations from across the country selected to receive this year’s Irving J. Fain Award for outstanding social action programming.
Recipients of the award, established 30 years ago, were honored in late April at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s biennial Consultation on Conscience in Washington, DC.
Dr. Rachel Ostry and her fellow congregants at Har Shalom were inspired to start their “Knead to Feed” program by a sermon given by the congregation’s leader, Rabbi Randi Musnitsky, about hunger and food insecurity in New Jersey. For the past two years, they have been coming together once a month to bake.
“We bake a total of about 100 hallahs and hallah cakes, and anywhere from 15 to 30 mandelbread loaves,” Ostry told NJ Jewish News. “Currently our hallah flavors are: plain, chocolate chip, and seeded varietal, but we often add seasonal specials and will do different ‘flavors’ of hallah cakes as well.”
The baked goods are sold on-line, by word of mouth, and at the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum JCC of Bridgewater. They also do special orders for bar and bat mitzva celebrations. Volunteers are still welcome; they can get information, and orders can be placed, by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
The profits go to various organizations — Jewish and secular — that feed the hungry, including Jewish Family Service of Central NJ and the Hillside and Somerset food banks. To date, the congregation has raised nearly $10,000.
“As our reputation has grown, so has our customer base,” Musnitsky told NJJN. “This is exactly what I challenged the congregation to do in my Yom Kippur sermon.”
In a joint statement, Susan Friedberg Kalson, chair of the Fain Award Committee, and Barbara Weinstein, director of the URJ’s Commission on Social Action, said, “This year’s Fain Award winners are a powerful lesson in how congregations around North America can engage in the critical issues that confront us as Jews and global citizens. They are an inspiration to the Reform movement and beyond.”
One other NJ congregation was among the honorees — Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, which won for an eight-week dialogue program for teens from different faiths. Other winning programs addressed issues from racial justice to safety. For example, one in St. Louis focused on community relations in Ferguson; another, in Seattle, dealt with gun responsibility.
Har Shalom has been exploring additional ways to combat hunger and involve more congregants in the effort. Suggestions include inviting the students of the temple’s Hebrew high school to help with the baking as an elective, and encouraging families of seventh-graders to bake hallahs themselves, to feed the guests at their bar and bat mitzva parties.