For the past six months, 13-year-old Jack Foster’s parents have been driving him from their Bedford country home to the Mount Kisco Hebrew Congregation to receive lessons from Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider, in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah.
On his way to the synagogue every Sunday morning, he’d observe a posse of Latino day-laborers, milling around within blocks of the synagogue, in search of work and mostly, not finding it.
The sight moved him deeply, planting in him a desire to reach out to them in some manner.
So, in November, when his rabbi informed him that the UJA-Federation of New York had funds demarcated for various projects as part of the Jewish Social Action Month—an initiative launched by the U.S. Congress and the Israeli Knesset three years ago to promote global social action—Jack’s mind drifted toward the workers.
He was a little too young to either employ anyone, or to direct them to anyone who would, but surely, there were other ways in which he could bring a smile to their faces.
With the help of Rabbi Goldscheider, he wrote a grant proposal to the Jewish federation, seeking funds to provide free meals to those in need, in the areas of Mount Kisco, Bedford, and Chappaqua.
“I thought this was a fabulous suggestion,” Rabbi Goldscheider said.
A grant of $4,000 was awarded, thereby, making possible on the one hand, for a young Jewish man, who’d just celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, to discharge his responsibilities as an active member of the community, and on the other, for the landmark, 102-year-old synagogue to share a uniquely American holiday with a group of newly-arrived immigrants.
“This [was] an opportunity for us to let our neighbors know that we think about them and care about them. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t have got a chance to greet them and shake their hands,” said Rabbi Goldscheider.
“We, as a Jewish community, can relate to how difficult it is to begin life in a new country. We were in the same shoes, not too long ago.”
On Thanksgiving Day, a volunteer brigade, made up of about 70 congregants and Neighbor’s Link—a Mount Kisco-based non-profit—pitched a tent on Columbus Street from where they doled out about 180 bags of groceries and personal care products to the area’s Latino day workers.
The packages, containing an assortment of canned soups, pouches of rice, produce, and baked goods were created keeping in mind the dietary preferences of the Latino community.
While local merchants like Mrs. Green’s, Red Jacket Orchard, and the Flying Pig, pitched in with some goods, the rest were bought with the grant money received by the congregation.
The charity fest was attended by about 150 people.
“The event was a huge success. We distributed [the items] in an hour as there were so many people waiting around the area of Neighbor’s Link. Jack and many other volunteers personally greeted members of the community who, you could tell by their warm smiles and thanks, that they seemed to appreciate the outreach,” said Roni Foster, Jack’s mother.
According to the Neighbor’s Link Web site, the typical day laborer gets two-and-a-half days of work on any given week, with little or no income between the winter months of November and March.
Rabbi Goldscheider emphasized that it was especially important to extend a helping hand to those in need at a time when the flagging economy was adversely impacting their employment prospects.
The seventh-grader, who attends Trinity High School in Manhattan, said that he’d long been interested in the local Latino community and even had a chance to put his working knowledge of Spanish to altruistic use when he tutored the Fosters’ landscaper, a Guatemalan immigrant, in English.