Holiday projects meld ritual and outreach
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Holiday projects meld ritual and outreach

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Part of the ‘Heart and Sole’ holiday publicity campaign launched by the RA and TOMS Shoe Company.

In a project that effectively addresses two mitzvot at the same time, the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly has partnered with a shoe company to facilitate the observance of Yom Kippur while helping the needy.

According to an RA statement, the group became aware this year of TOMS Shoes, which not only carries a line of non-leather shoes but gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold.

By urging movement members to buy their footwear from TOMS, the RA is seeking to “link … ancient cultural traditions to current issues,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, RA executive vice president, citing the rabbinic injunction against wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur.

Leviticus 16:29-30 says that “on the tenth of the month [Tishrei], you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all.” Traditionally, the rabbis have interpreted this to mean, among other prohibitions, that one may not wear leather shoes.

Commentators suggest a variety of reasons for this restriction. One view holds that since leather shoes protect the feet and provide comfort, we refrain from wearing them in order to forgo this comfort. In addition, since leather shoes in biblical times were expensive and considered a luxury, we don’t wear them on Yom Kippur in order to demonstrate humility.

Dubbed “Heart and Sole,” the RA project is being been publicized through the schools, synagogues, and organizations of the Conservative movement. In addition, TOMS has created a special Web page (www.heartandsole.net) dedicated to the initiative, with comic book-style artwork by Jordan Gorfinkel of Avalanche Comics.

According to TOMS’ Website, the company, founded in 2006, has given more than 140,000 pairs of shoes to children in need around the world and “plans to give over 300,000 pairs of shoes … in 2009.”

In a letter to the RA membership, Schonfeld noted that, “by wearing non-leather shoes that also allow a child elsewhere in the world to walk to school with shoes on and to live free of the diseases caused by going barefoot, a ritual mitzvah becomes an ethical one as the goal of tzedekah is also being fulfilled.”

Several area rabbis noted that while their congregations will not be participating in the “Heart and Sole” project – some because they did not learn of it in time to implement the program – they nevertheless endorse the idea.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, religious leader of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, noted that while the synagogue is not “officially plugging” the program, “we are in full encouragment of [it].”

He said that his synagogue will be engaging in community outreach, however, urging members to bring in canned food to donate to the needy.

“We have an ‘extra push’ for the food bank on Yom Kippur as we talk about people who are hungry every day, versus our one day of the year – and ours is optional/voluntary and their hunger is something they cannot get out of.”

Other synagogues are also stepping up food collection efforts for the High Holy Days.

Rabbi Kenneth Berger of Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Sholom said his congregation participates in the United Synagogue’s Project Isaiah, collecting food items that are later donated to the Center for Food Action.

“We have done it for many years,” said Berger.

Rabbi Ronald Roth of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel, which also participates in this program, said his synagogue “gives out the bags on Rosh HaShanah with a list of foods to bring in on Kol Nidre eve.”

The American Jewish World Service has created yet another Yom Kippur-related way to give tzedakah.

According to a statement, the group has issued an appeal asking supporters to donate the money they would have spent on food – were they not fasting on Yom Kippur – to AJWS-supported communities building local farming capacity in the developing world.

The appeal urges, “This year, bring the Yom Kippur liturgy to life by donating the ‘cost’ – we suggest $36 – of your fast for people in the developing world for whom hunger is an ongoing reality.”

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