At the Peninsula Jewish Community Center (PJCC), our work aligns with all of the value propositions outlined by Rabbi Sid Schwarz. The entirety of our work can be encapsulated in the four proposition though it is most closely aligned with the values of tzedek (social justice) and kehillah (community).
Our Gan Tzedek (Justice Garden) program teaches children and adults about the importance of taking care of the community around them – not just the Jewish community – but anyone in need. The produce we grow supports a nearby homeless shelter for children and families. Parents have opportunities to show their children the importance of caring for others and to work alongside them in the garden, tending to vegetable beds. Families learn about social justice through a Jewish lens through text study and activities and are able to be engaged and connected Jewishly while also doing good in the world. As a community, our garden helps us publicly proclaim our commitment to care for others in need and teach the children of our community what it means to take responsibility for helping others. Our programming allows us to connect the rhythms of Jewish agricultural holidays to the value of tzedek, which draws in families who might otherwise not be interested in being connected Jewishly. For Jews who have a deep connection and commitment to social justice – as a part of their Judaism or otherwise, this program allows them to hold both at the same time. For young parents who are seeking meaningful ways to share their values and their Judaism with their children, the Gan Tzedek project is an easy way to do both.
As an agency, PJCC is very focused on kehillah, helping people find meaningful connections, get support when they need it, and develop life-long friendships. Here are a few examples of our programs that are centered around the value of kehillah:
Our Get Up and Go program serves adults in our community who are still living at home but no longer able to drive. We provide rides to medical appointments and grocery shopping and other necessities, as well as rides to the PJCC for our Senior Friendship Club and other social programming. This program helps seniors remain as independent as possible while also helping them stay social and develop friendships. Many participants join the program after being widowed and describe it as a “lifeline” to life after a significant loss. The program fills a need that extended family may have filled in other generations. We know that as families become more and more geographically spread out, the safety net for seniors gets smaller. A participant who attended the program for many years with his wife recently died and she asked if his memorial service could be at PJCC. Our staff worked with her and her family to plan his service in our garden. This program gives seniors in our community a “congregation” to belong to, a community to be a part of, and support in happy and difficult times.
The Nest is an initiative we are in process of launching to support couples about to enter parenthood and to support post-partum mothers. The program will offer classes for expectant parents on how to bring Judaism into their home life as they welcome their child. This class will be deeply informed by Jewish wisdom and its connection to modern life and parenting, so it is connected to the Schwarz’s theme of chochma. The program will also offer support groups, drop-in social groups and Jewish programming for mothers with infants. The first few months of the post-partum period is a very vulnerable and often lonely time for parents, especially mothers. We see our role in the community as a place to create connections for Jewish parents, to ensure they have adequate support and resources, to celebrate milestones together, and to build friendships that we hope will continue as their children grow. We believe that by bringing people together during a vulnerable time and providing support and resources, we can create deep and lasting community and a sense of place and belonging.
The value of kehillah is central to the PJCC – community is a part of our name and it is at the heart of everything we do. As an organization we strive to create connections for people in our community, as well as with the larger community around us and be a place where everyone who enters feels welcomed, celebrated and valued.
Stephanie Levin oversees the Gan Tzedek/Justice Garden at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City, CA. Stephanie is passionate about relationship-based programming especially within the areas of Jewish Family Education, Special Needs Education and Inclusion, Service Learning and Early Childhood Education.