JTS Joins White House Interfaith Initiative on Student/Community Dialogue

Gardening Project Will Advance Food Justice and Benefit a Neighborhood

Press Contact: Eve Glasberg
Office: (212) 678-8089
Email: evglasberg@jtsa.edu

October 11, 2011, New York, NY

The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) is taking up the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, partnering in a yearlong gardening project in Harlem that will provide fresh food and advance “food justice,” tackling hunger by exploring its underlying political and social issues.

The White House initiative invites institutions of higher education to commit to implementing a specific interfaith and community service project on campus during the 2011–2012 academic year. This programming encourages diverse campus groups to work together and to join with local religious groups. The best examples of students coming together to help those in need will be recognized by the White House in summer 2012.

The gardening and food justice project with which JTS is involved brings together four institutions based on New York City’s Upper West Side, along with many affiliated individuals:
  • Union Theological Seminary (Serene Jones, president; Dr. Su Yon Pak, senior director and associate professor, Integrative and Field-Based Education; and Piper Dumont, director of UTS’s Edible Churchyard program) is involved in every aspect of the project, with student participation.
  • St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on West 126th Street (Rev. Dr. Earl Kooperkamp, rector) will provide the growing space and congregants’ labor.
  • The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood (Imam Talib) has members with professional backgrounds in architecture and urban design who will provide expertise and labor.
  • The Poverty Initiative, whose mission is “to raise up generations of religious and community leaders committed to building a movement to end poverty, led by the poor.”
  • JTS is providing funds, organizing skills, and labor. It is represented by Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen; Dr. Burton L. Visotzky—director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies and director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue—is liaison to the initiative. JTS students and alumni, including Yael Hammerman (RS ’14), Shuli Passow (RS ’14), and Nathan Schumer (LC ’09, GS ’09), are participating.

The initiative is also receiving support from New York City government and GrowNYC.

JTS will host the initiative’s first event—Justice in the Sukkah: An Interfaith Exploration of Food and Social Change—on Sunday, October 16, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Participants will discuss the relationship between faith and food and how to get involved in the Harlem community. Suggested donation for the evening—which includes a light dinner in the JTS sukkah—is $10. Email Shuli Passow at shpassow@jtsa.edu for information.

The partnership’s “official” inaugural event of worship, work, and celebration will be held on Sunday, October 23, at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 521 West 126th Street in Manhattan. The day will begin at 10:00 a.m. with an interfaith service, and will be dedicated to clearing the garden at St. Mary’s for the gardening project that will be a focus of the initiative. Attendees are asked to bring a food dish for the potluck meal—vegetarian, if possible.

For more information about the White House initiative or the inaugural event, and to RSVP, contact Dr. Burton Visotzky at buvisotzky@jtsa.edu or (212) 678-8989.

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