Marin synagogues offer dinner, shelter

Hanna Stern could have been at home texting her friends or watching Sunday night TV, but the 14-year-old Mill Valley resident chose instead to help serve food to the homeless.

“Giving back to the community is important because I am doing it directly with our Jewish community,” said Stern, a freshman at University High School in San Francisco.

Volunteers Phyllis Cantor with daughter, Shoshanna, light Chanukah candles at the shelter. photo/steve friedman

She and 20 other kids from Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon, along with their parents, volunteered at the Marin Emergency Winter Shelter by serving a meal to 27 homeless men.

The Dec. 13 program was co-hosted by Kol Shofar and Westminster Presbyterian Church.

The Winter Shelter program was launched late last winter after budget cuts sent Marin County into scramble mode in an attempt to locate shelter for 40 men each night, said Hagar Ben-Eliezer, director of programming at Kol Shofar.

The Marin Interfaith Council issued an appeal to synagogues and churches to host the men one night a week during the last few weeks of the cold and rainy season.

Kol Shofar responded, but since the call went out so late, only a handful of members were able to help, Ben-Eliezer said.

“This year we got more organized,” she added. “The program has been announced many times from the bimah, and the response has been amazing. We also assigned each Sunday school class a night to volunteer.

“We are filled with volunteers until the program ends in March.”

The emergency shelter began Dec. 6 and will run until the end of the March. Kol Shofar and Westminster will host Sunday nights at the church (which the two entities are sharing while Kol Shofar’s new building is under construction), and Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael will host the men every Wednesday.

Although plans for a permanent shelter in Marin are under way, it will not open in time for this winter, noted  Moji Javid, Rodef Sholom’s director of community connections. “Congregation Rodef Sholom is proud to be one of the many faith communities in Marin filling this crucial need in our county.”

Javid said that 10 volunteers serve food on Wednesdays and that another 10 are involved in preparation.

What makes the program unique, Ben-Eliezer said, is that “we encourage volunteers to eat with the men and make the meal feel like a normal dinner. We have children as young as 3 volunteering.”

Julie Rosenberg of Mill Valley, an attorney with the Municipal Transit Agency in San Francisco, volunteered Dec. 13 with her three children: Reuben, 7; Ari, 9; and Joelle, 12.

“We want to help people in need,” she said. “We live in a society where it is so materialistic and so many Marin kids want more and more and don’t always appreciate what they have.”

Rose Barlow, a Kol Shofar member, came Dec. 13 to show her daughter, Rachel, 14, how important it is to perform a mitzvah face to face.

“I want her to understand the needs of the community,” said Barlow, who has another daughter, Hannah, who is involved in community service projects through Jewish Family and Children’s Services. “And then she can make a small contribution in alleviating the suffering. So I am here to support her.”

For those who cannot volunteer directly, said Tracy Rice, coordinator of teen education and programming at Kol Shofar, “They can help make bag lunches for the men” to take with them when they leave early the next morning.

Rabbi Lavey Derby, Kol Shofar’s senior rabbi, said, “Serving food here tonight is part of what it is to believe in God.

“We are all connected by being God’s creations. And we are all obligated by the Torah to take care of others.”

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.