JTS and ICC Join to Feed the Hungry

Students, and faculty members of The Jewish Theological Seminary, including JTS Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen, joined with imams and congregants from the Islamic Cultural Center (ICC), New York City's largest mosque, on March 9 to help feed the hungry at the acclaimed "gourmet" soup kitchen, operated by Broadway Community, Inc., at the Broadway Presbyterian Church.

Part of an ongoing social-action program between JTS and the ICC, the program is designed to benefit the community while strengthening ties between JTS and Muslim worshippers and promoting interfaith dialogue. "This ongoing project showcases the commitment of our student body to social action and interfaith dialogue. It is one we are proud to be a part of," said Tani Schwartz, coordinator of community outreach for the Va'ad.

The March 9 event involved serving a four-course meal to those in need. "There is a lot of interest in both the interfaith and social-justice aspects of this project," said Elie Lehmann, the volunteer coordinator for JTS's Va'ad Gemilut Hasadim: Susan and Jack Rudin Center for Community Outreach.

The strong relationship between JTS and the ICC began with a spring 2008 meeting spearheaded by Chancellor Eisen and JTS professor and rabbi Dr. Burton Visotzky that led to Imam Shamsi Ali and Dr. Visotzky trading pulpits, with Imam Ali giving a sermon at Minhah services at JTS, and Dr. Visotzky offering a brief sermon at Friday services at the mosque.

"After Chancellor Eisen and Dr. Burt Visotzky initiated a relationship with the ICC, we thought a good way to strengthen that bond would be to do something together," Schwartz notes.

Today, the relationship continues to flourish, with the two communities getting together to work side by side at the soup kitchen and participate in programs such as the recent Midnight Run, in which volunteers distributed clean clothing, nonperishable food, and toiletries to New York's homeless.

In addition to forging bonds between religious groups, soup kitchen participants from JTS also make use of the lessons learned inside the classroom. As Lehmann said, "This program actualizes the values and ethics we have learned at JTS, and we don't have to go very far to find people in need; just by spending an hour or two, we can have a big impact."