Christmas Dinner project

Volunteers preparing Christmas Dinner for 1070 people

For the past 33 years, my synagogue, Temple Israel of Hollywood, has served a full Christmas Dinner to the poor and homeless of Hollywood. We distributed this year toys, children’s books, hygiene products, blankets, and sox to more than 1000 people. We began the project in the mid 1980s to relieve our Christian brothers and sisters of the responsibility of helping the people in their neighborhood so they could celebrate their holyday with their communities and families.

The Hollywood United Methodist Church has graciously offered their facility at Highland and Franklin (a block north of the famed Hollywood-Highland Center and Academy Award Theater) these past 28 years. This year Temple Israel co-sponsored this effort not only with the Church but with the ILM (Intellect, Love, and Mercy) Foundation which has roots in Islam. Umar Hakim (the ILM Director) and the Reverend Cathy Cooper Ledesma (HUMC’s Senior Pastor) joined me as “siblings in faith” from the three great monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

This is the largest interfaith Christmas Dinner in Los Angeles County.

Volunteers served over 100 roasted turkeys with stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, and a number of desserts. Retirees, homeless, working families with young children, and other hungry and needy individuals and families came to eat and enjoy their holiday.

Our congregation (Temple Israel of Hollywood) signed a Brit Olam, “a covenant with our world,” via the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. to address the epidemic problem of food insecurity (40 million people in America) who do not know from where and when their next meal is coming. The problem of hunger is particularly acute in the closing days of the month. The number of homeless individuals in Los Angeles (though down 4% this year due to an aggressive effort by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to house homeless individuals) still hovers around 45,000 people of whom 1/3 are children.

Shelter Partnership provided us with blankets, hygiene products, toys and socks. NBC Universal and Big Sunday provided toys. The Book Foundation provided 250 contemporary books for children. Big Sunday (originally a project of Temple Israel and now its own 501C3 non-profit organization serving the greater Los Angeles area 365 days a year) connected us with a number of non-profit organizations to get the word out to the community that this dinner welcomed everyone.

The chairs of this year’s effort are Temple Israel members Ilyse Pallenberg, Sophie Grossman-Sartain, and Ken Ostrove. They led nearly 300 volunteers for the past few months culminating on Christmas Day.

I was asked by the media at the event why we Jews were doing this. I told them two things; first, there is the dire challenge of hunger that we all have to address actively in projects like this and in advocating public policy efforts in local, state and national government, and second, this co-sponsored dinner is a powerful response to the toxicity and polarization that has infected America in the last several years since President Trump began his presidential campaign of hostility and division pitting one group against another to inspire fear and hate.

Good people, I said, can bridge differences, reach across divisions in class, race, ethnicity, religion, and national origins and reaffirm the oneness of humankind and the principle that we are accountable to and responsible for each other, that walls should be torn down and paths forward together be forged.

That is what we did together yesterday. One interviewer asked me if this was a reflection of the spirit of this season. I responded “yes” but also that this is what we all ought to be doing 365 days a year.