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STL Jewish Community Helps #Ferguson


We are at war. Gaza. Syria. Ferguson.


Fifteen days ago this small Missouri town was virtually unknown to the rest of the world.

Today, this North County suburb– headquarters of Emerson Electric and proud to be named a “Playful City USA” community for the fourth consecutive year according to its website—is now on the cover of Time and Businessweek.

How bizarre to see the police chief of Ferguson on CNN, bumping stories about the ongoing war between Israelis and Hamas and continued airstrikes against ISIS militants in northern Iraq.

Ever since August 9, when an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was gun downed by a white officer named Darren Wilson, the eyes of the world have been on #Ferguson.  By the way, when did it become okay to use the words “black” and “white” instead of African American and Caucasion?

I’m out of touch. I must have a sheltered life, with the privileged opportunity to work hard, build a career, enjoy a middle class life with my husband, and provide an education for my two children so that they have the same opportunity to prosper and the cycle of success will hopefully continue. Yes, I’m a minority, a Jew, and I’m horrified of the religious persecution happening around the world. But I’m also ignorant to the war going on in my own hometown St. Louis. Honestly, I can’t relate to the racial tension, poverty, violence, police brutality, political corruption, job discrimination, and educational inequality that are the roots of the conflict in Ferguson.

I sympathize with the community whose children can’t play in their own neighborhood and are forced to miss the first week of school. I’m sorry for all the hard working business owners who have lost their livelihood because looters have smashed and burned their stores. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the citizens who are afraid to come out of their houses after curfew. I’m angry at the outsiders, rioters, and criminals who are destroying the very own people they are trying to protect.


And I’m sickened by the police who threaten even the peaceful protestors with tear gas and rubber bullets.  People are crying out. Their voices must be heard. And we all must listen, try to understand, and do our part to help rebuild a community that has been torn apart.

The famous Jewish saying, “If I am not for myself who is for me?  And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” applies as much today as it did thousands of years ago.

Many people in the Jewish community are living this proverb. They have stepped up to help the community and local police officers who are working around the clock by collecting and delivering food and water. They also donate school supplies, volunteer at local churches, and offer support and prayers. It’s tikkun olam, repairing the world. It’s what we do.

For example, Cyndee Levy, of Traditional Congregation, has started a food drive and delivered food to churches and food pantries in Ferguson. She is also collecting checks and gift cards.

“I usually donate to the Jewish Food Pantry, I know they need help too….but let’s show the Ferguson community that we care,” she writes on her Facebook wall.

“I had a chance to pray with my feet today. My husband Ken and I took collected food and school supplies to Ferguson and worked with community children for a few hours. Beautiful children, we had such touching conversations, some up lifting, some quite sad.”

The worst, said Levy, was when she asked a little boy,  “Can I help you pack up your lunch to take home for later?” and he answered, “No thanks Miss Cyndee. I don’t have a refrigerator at home.”

“Wow…sometimes I must face the fact that I really don’t know so much after all. Lots to think about,” said Levy, who has five children, ages middle school to college.

Jennifer Bernstein, Director of Advocacy and Communications of Central Reform Congregation (CRC), has participated in community wide events at her temple which has been in the front lines of peaceful protests and actions, such as a drum circle that took place across from the Ferguson police station, as well as a March for Peace at the Canfield Green apartment complex, where Michael Brown was shot. Bernstein and her fellow congregants held a food and toiletry drive on Shabbat and took those items to the Ferguson food pantry. CRC also is in alliance with the Jewish Community Relations Council to plan other community wide events.

For more information, contact Bernstein at (314) 361-1564 ext 117 or jenniferb@centralreform.org. Also, the St. Louis Clergy coalition set up a website www.prayingwithourfeet.org that acts as a clearinghouse for information on peaceful actions and events.

For Bernstein, Ferguson represents a bigger problem in our society.

“For one thing, Jews come in all colors. CRC has members of color who live in that area and whose kids are unable to attend school. But in general, as a population that knows all about oppression, it is imperative that we stand up when an injustice has occurred. We can’t live in our own bubbles. To heal one is to heal the world,” said the mom of 5-year-old Ari, a kindergartner at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School.

“Personally, I think the biggest problem is the fact that the leadership in the community is not a good representation of the members of the community. When you have a police force that is overwhelmingly Caucasian, but the municipality is at least 60% African American, that is a problem. There is far too much racial profiling. For example, African American parents have to teach their children, starting at an early age, to never run. Even if they are just coming home from a friend’s house, they can never run. This is not OK.”

“There is also a huge problem of systemic racism that still permeates the St. Louis area. I did not grow up here, and when we moved here the summer before my senior year in high school, I noticed right away how segregated St. Louis was. This was in 1988, not 1958. It was very strange to me,” she added.

Bernstein, like so many of us, wants to make a difference.

“I think there needs to be a greater dialogue between communities and we need to all work together. It’s the 21st century. We need to better address issues of poverty, gun violence, wage inequality, educational inequality and healthcare inequality (for example, the lack of Medicaid expansion). We need to embrace programs like Cultural Leadership. And we need to teach our kids to love and not hate.”

For more information, contact Bernstein at 314-361-1564 ,ext 117 or at jenniferb@centralreform.org. The St. Louis Clergy Coalition has also set up a website www.prayingwithourfeet.org that will act as a clearinghouse for information on peaceful actions and events.

Robin Jo Rickerman, director of Food Service at the St Louis Jewish Community Center, has helped store owners clean up their business and worked at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, in Ferguson, to reach out to the community.

“There are several restaurants and groceries that have been closed because of looting. The seniors and young families would frequent these businesses because of convenience. They no longer have this luxury/convenience,” she said. “Please remember, the people doing the looting are not the people who live in the area. The Ferguson community is working very hard to redevelop and make it a better place to live.”

Find out how you can help support a food pantry by contacting Sister Cathy Doherty, Pastoral Associate of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, at irishssnd@juno.com, or call  314-522-9264.

“We too have been put into positions because of who we are.  I again, feel terrible for the small businesses that have been there for the community, to make it a better place, and how they have suffered…they did not ask for this. There needs to be communication and education…we all need to be on the same page,” said Rickerman, who was invited to a church picnic at Wabash Park in Ferguson. “What a experience. The conversations that I had with African Americans, whites and Mexicans gave me little hope that this will end soon. They need more. They are afraid. Their neighborhoods, that they love, have strangers walking the streets, unfamiliar faces…and such disrespect.”

For Andy Brown, director of Camp Manitowa, the most tragic event about Ferguson is the children, whose summer was cut short by violence and who were forced to miss a week of school, and whose lives are inevitably changed forever.

“We at Camp Manitowa believe that these kids deserve a positive and memorable start to their school year. Along with the help of our friends at Central Reform Congregation we are offering to provide a free camp experience to young people from North County,” he said.

So Brown started #CampFerguson, which is scheduled October 24-26, and will provide bus transportation, food, lodging and camp activities and programming for up to 100 kids. They also have an entire staff of counselors who have offered to donate their time to provide supervision and specialty staff for lifeguarding, climbing course, and other activities.

Brown is looking for a church, school, community group, or other organization from the Ferguson, Riverview, Jennings area to help coordinate logistics and identify the kids and families. If you or anyone you may know has connections to these kids please contact 314-591-7771 or email campmanitowa@gmail.com.

“We are also looking for about 10 volunteers, age 17 and up, who would be willing to spend this weekend at Camp Manitowa as counselors to kids from Ferguson. This is a wonderful opportunity to help these kids, who have been unable to go to school, enjoy a weekend in the great outdoors. We are also looking for games, and art supplies,” said Brown on his Facebook page.

Andria Simckes, of B’nai Amoona, is usually more observant than outspoken in social media. Until now. As an African American and a Jew, she has a lot to say about the crisis in Ferguson, which represents a crisis in our country.

“Jews are also a minority and far too often, the only way a minority is heard is when that minority is joined by other minorities to become more of a majority with more power and sway,” said Simckes, who has delivered cases of bottled water to Ferguson and participated in rallies, such as the National Moment of Silence Rally held downtown near the Arch.

“Furthermore, Jews have past experiences and lessons learned that could be beneficial to both sides of this issue.  Specifically for African Americans, Jews could work with the community and its leaders and provide some best practices for how Jews work with and support one another and how we continue to persevere in Israel and throughout history,” said Simckes, who writes about her viewpoint in the St. Louis Jewish Light and serves on the boards of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, and Black-Jewish Dialogue Group.

“Racism and segregation are the fabric of St. Louis culture and American culture.  And until people realize that this isn’t an US versus THEM issue, but instead a human issue, more and more “Ferguson’s” will happen.   It breaks my heart that the death of Mike Brown was the impetus for a community and a nation to galvanize our energy and frustration to unify and say “enough is enough” and stand together to finally acknowledge, discuss, and God willing change the discrimination, brutality, and racism that permeates our nation.  Coupled with that is the need to enact legislation to address the militarization of our police force and to require that local, state, and maybe even national government and law enforcement be required to consist of members that our representative of the specific community and/or live within the community,”  said Simckes, who has met with elected officials and clergy to discuss the next steps and the nationwide impact of Ferguson.

So, how can YOU help?  In addition to contacting your temple to find out what they are organizing to help Ferguson, here are FIVE more ways to do a mitzvah and show you care:

The Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry will collect nonperishable foods at 10601 Baur Blvd, Creve Coeur, to deliver to food pantries in the Ferguson area. Hours are M-Thur 8:45 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Fri 8:45 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

The Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, is accepting drop offs of dry goods at the Aroma Coffee Lounge. For more info,  call 314-442-3168.

The Fenton Fire District #1, 845 Gregory Lane, in Fenton, is collecting energy drinks,
 Clorox anti-bacterial wipes, 
sunscreen, grab and go food such as, beef jerky, sunflower seeds, trail mix, protein bars, individual bags of chips, gum, etc.
Also, food gift cards, such as Subway and Pizza Hut, are suggested.

To donate money, go to feedthestudents.org or feed-the-students-of-ferguson.

Spread the word–if you have other ways we can help our fellow citizens of Ferguson, please list your ideas in the comment section below.