Synagogues bring Christmas joy to people at shelters

December 30, 2013
By Eric Hal Schwartz
Staff Writer
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There were sounds of happy conversation and the smell of good food at the Harriet Tubman

Serving Christmas dinner at the Harriet Tubman Shelter in Washington, D.C. with other Tifereth Israel and Adat Shalom volunteers are, from left to right: Melanie Greenfield, Jaymie  Epstein, Emma Karlin and her mom Karen Karlin.  Photos by Jeff Peterman/Tifereth Israel

Serving Christmas dinner at the Harriet Tubman Shelter in Washington, D.C. with other Tifereth Israel and Adat Shalom volunteers are, from left to right: Melanie Greenfield, Jaymie Epstein, Emma Karlin and her mom Karen Karlin (Photos by Jeff Peterman/Tifereth Israel)

Emergency Women’s Shelter on Wednesday afternoon of last week as volunteers organized by Tifereth Israel and Adat Shalom Reconstructionist congregations helped serve a Christmas lunch to the dozens of women in attendance.
Coming forward a few at a time to get heaping plates of turkey, salad and plenty of side dishes and desserts, the women in residence at the shelter in southeast D.C. chatted with the volunteers and each other while a cellist related to a volunteer performed classical and Christmas pieces.
“I was here last year, and it was really good of all of them to come,” said one woman who requested not to be named. “The food is even better this year.”
The Tubman Center was one of four shelters that the synagogues had gone to serve the home cooked meals for Christmas.
“There’s an enormous amount of preparation required,” said Martin Kessel, of Tifereth Israel and one of the main organizers for the event.
At the Tubman Center, the entertainment included not only the cellist but also tap dancers, and the residents as well as the volunteers all seemed to be having a good time. Many of the volunteers were children who came with their parents to help.
“The young children help wrap and give out the gifts we bring for the people here,” said Gail Robinson, one of the co-captains organizing the volunteers at the center.
The gifts, often warm clothes and toiletries, also serve as a way to get the children to meet the residents and talk to them, helping them feel comfortable with people whose experiences may be very different from their own, Robinson said.
“It’s the beginning of them being committed to social action,” she explained.
The synagogues, separately and in partnership with each other and area churches, have been involved in Christmas meal programs for almost a decade. Over the years there have been additional locations added, an expansion Robinson credits Kessel with handling.
“He really brought the thing to scale,”
she said.
This year, in addition to the Harriet Tubman Center, volunteers went to the John Young Center for Women, the Adams Place Emergency Shelter for Men and the Open Door Women’s Shelter.
“It’s always touching to see other people’s responses,” said Susan Morse another organizer from Tifereth Israel. “There’s so much enthusiasm.”
More than 100 volunteers participated this year, and more wanted to do so but could not due to lack of room.
“Suddenly the week before we get a lot of volunteers,” Robinson said.
Twenty jumbo turkeys and hundreds of pounds of side dishes went into making the meals. Adat Shalom provided the pies, but all of the organizers were quick to say it’s the teamwork of all the people involved that makes the event possible.
“The music is nice, I like hearing the carols,” the Tubman resident said.
Although there will be a formal debriefing and discussion of how the event turned out and where there is room for improvement, the general sense is very positive, according to Morse and Kessel.
“From feedback I’ve gotten from the four shelters it went very well,” Kessel said. “I consider it a big success.”
And while there’s always room for improvement, Robinson said she was confident that what they were doing was helping give a good Christmas to those in need and encouraging people to help out in the community.
“I always feel grateful for this chance,” Robinson said.

Peeling yams at Tifereth Israel for the holiday dinner for the homeless are, from left, Renee Brachfeld, Ivy Bier, Lisa Traiger, Brad Brooks-Rubin, Kaziah Brachfeld, Adiv Brooks-Rubin and Rabbi Julie Gordon. Photo by Jeff Peterman/Tifereth Israel

Peeling yams at Tifereth Israel for the holiday dinner for the homeless are, from left, Renee Brachfeld, Ivy Bier, Lisa Traiger, Brad Brooks-Rubin, Kaziah Brachfeld, Adiv Brooks-Rubin and Rabbi Julie Gordon.
Photo by Jeff Peterman/Tifereth Israel

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