Temple Adas Israel’s Social Justice Committee Builds Community Bridges In Time Of Pandemic


The Social Justice Committee of Temple Adas Israel, which has been busy during the pandemic helping to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and mentor at-risk students, is continuing its efforts to “create bonds and strengthen community” into the new year, according to co-chairwoman Alyssa Peek.

On Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, which is observed on January 18 this year, the committee, in partnership with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork in Bridgehampton, will present a panel discussion following a screening of the film “Shared Legacies: The African American-Jewish Civil Rights Alliance,” over Zoom.

The discussion will take place at 7 p.m. on January 18, but the film, which explores the once strong but now frayed ties between African Americans and Jews, will be available for screening during a 72-hour window beforehand, starting at 7 p.m. on January 15. (The Zoom link can be obtained by sending an email to sjc@templeadasisrael.org.)

Panelists will be Rabbi Daniel Geffen of Temple Adas Israel; the Reverend Kimberly Quinn Johnson of the Unitarian congregation; Andrea Klausner, co-chairwoman of the social justice committee, and Peter Geffen, Rabbi Geffen’s father and a veteran of the civil rights movement.

“There was once a strong alliance during the civil rights era,” Ms. Klausner said. “We want to resolve, at least locally, what is holding us back today from being allies in the strongest sense of the word.”

While some Jews think the Black Lives Matter movement is anti-Semitic, some Blacks believe that Jews don’t understand their struggle for equality, she said. “Let’s talk about what we had because we are stronger when we all work together,” she said, adding it was essential “in this age of divisiveness and tribalism.”

“We have much to learn from our friends and neighbors,” said Rabbi Geffen, who added that “becoming engaged and trying to listen and learn” are key steps to creating a more just society.

Ms. Peek said it was important to point out that the social justice committee was not just for members of the Adas Israel congregation. “We are here for the whole community,” she said. “We find so many people who want to give back to the community and do good.”

In addition, she said, the committee does not try to reinvent the wheel. So, when it comes to working with the homeless, the committee has thrown its support behind Maureen’s Haven, the inter-faith shelter network that is shared among several East End houses of worship.

Similarly, to combat food insecurity in the community, the committee has worked with other groups. Committee members volunteered, for instance, to do weekly shopping for families who had come to the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA) seeking help to feed themselves. Likewise, gleaning outings to local farms to collect left over produce in the fields resulted in a bonanza for local food pantries.

“We want organizations that are doing good in the community to come to us, so we can try to provide the volunteers,” Ms. Klausner added.

The committee is successful because “it has a group of people who are doing the actual work and organizing and putting the love into it,” Rabbi Geffen said. “This doesn’t happen by magic. It happens because they are dedicated.”