By Michael Saxe-Taller
It was culture shock. Julie and I had just moved to New York City (Brooklyn to be specific) for her to begin Rabbinical School and we had gone to the local supermarket to buy food. What we found was a small produce section where the fruits and vegetables were not fresh and many were individually wrapped in Styrofoam and cellophane. We were not in Berkeley anymore and we knew we needed another alternative.
We were soon introduced to the Park Slope Food Coop, a small, bustling food market a couple of neighborhoods away in Brooklyn. When we went for a tour we could see that the food was fresh and prices were good. But what had me cautious was the requirement that every coop member work three hours a month in the store. I was already struggling to figure out how to live and work in New York City and the idea that I had to work at the store seemed overwhelming.
Our need to eat fresh produce won out over my worries, and soon my 5:30am Thursday morning shift unloading crates of produce became a highlight of my months. I showed up ready to work rain or shine (or snow), soon after Sam was born and even in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. I made friends with my shift mates and the staff, I got physical exercise and I left with the satisfaction that I had contributed (and with one of my favorite tofu knishes!).
I share my reminiscences about my shifts at the Park Slope Food Coop because those experiences frame how I think about Avodah, the volunteer commitment that we ask of every Kehilla member. I don’t actually know the specific history behind Kehilla’s Avodah requirement, but I do know that Kehilla was formed and has grown because of the volunteer contributions of hundreds of Kehilla members over the past 35 years. We would never have become the large, thriving congregation that we are without these efforts.
Even as our staff continues to grow, we depend on the work of our congregants for the successful functioning of our complex community. We therefore ask that every adult congregant volunteer for at least 10 hours each year on tasks related to the work of Kehilla community. This can mean working on a Kehilla committee, taking a shift at High Holy Days or another Kehilla event or program, doing a particular task or working in the office. We are always looking for people with specific skills like graphic design, data management (we use Salesforce), painting, gardening, lawyering and more. You can support our justice work in the broader community and you can care for the needs of your fellow congregants and the Kehilla building itself (like being one of our Kitchen Angels).
As I learned at the food co-op, volunteering at Kehilla can give you the chance to get to better know other folks, the opportunity to work your mind and body, and the satisfaction of knowing that you are contributing to this community that you care so much about. It can also be super fun – and you don’t need to get up at 5:30am to do it!
Let us know if you have ways you want to contribute. Please contact Maya Joshua (firstname.lastname@example.org), our Program and Communications Manager, with any ideas or questions or go to our website where you can report the completion of your hours or learn of new volunteer opportunities: https://kehillasynagogue.org/volunteer/.
Thanks for making it possible for Kehilla to be the community that it is.
We continue to make steady improvements to our Grand Avenue home. In December, we installed a new drainage system in our courtyard that will ensure that we don’t have future flooding into the ground floor of the building. We have done a series of small but significant actions to increase the fire safety in the building, and during February, we are installing an air conditioner in the sanctuary, so we hope that those sweltering summer services in the sanctuary will become a thing of the past.