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Love flows across city bridge

Synagogue members volunteer at nearby church's Christmas luncheon

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The Maryland Bridge that connects Shaarey Zedek Synagogue to West Broadway Community Ministry has regularly undergone renovations and expansion.

Although that construction has often delayed traffic, it has not stopped Shaarey Zedek congregants from traversing the bridge every Christmas for the past 12 years to provide support on one of the church's busiest days.

Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, Winnipeg's oldest Jewish congregation, has been at its location on Wellington Crescent since 1950. West Broadway Ministry, a social justice ministry sponsored by the Anglican and United churches, opened on Maryland Street in 1970. Both institutions cater to the spiritual needs of their congregants and offer cultural and educational programming and support services.

West Broadway caters to a much more diverse and considerably more marginalized community than Shaarey Zedek.

As the church's community minister, Lynda Trono, explains, many of the people who West Broadway serves are unemployed, relying on social assistance and struggling with mental-health issues and disabilities. Many of them are seniors.

Throughout the year, West Broadway keeps it doors open to them for pastoral care, referral and advocacy services, lunches and opportunities to participate in programs and socialize. During the Christmas season, the church's efforts are enhanced by a variety of other local organizations that step forward with donations of mitts, toques, toys, sweets and entertainment. Many of these groups also sponsor holiday meals.

The church's annual Christmas Day luncheon usually feeds about 200 people.

"They are mostly people from the community who don't have anywhere else to go at Christmas," says Trono. "They are people who are alone, people who need food and who are looking for a special way to mark the season."

That lunch is prepared and served mainly by members of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. This Jewish volunteerism reflects the conservative congregation's commitment to tikkun olam, the concept of repairing the world first articulated in the rabbinic teachings of the Mishnah.

Glory Fleisher was chairwoman of the tikkun olam committee when the synagogue's relationship with West Broadway was first forged. Inspired by a rabbinical sermon, she placed a call to West Broadway and asked how her committee might be of service.

"I felt it was important to reach out to the community and fill a need during the holiday season," she recalls.

That first year, Shaarey Zedek donated cold-weather gear, candy and pastry to the church's Christmas festivities. The next year, the synagogue members became more proactive, arranging for most of the food donations from local suppliers, preparing and serving the meal and cleaning up after the meal.

Shaarey Zedek member Rick Lee has often been the volunteer responsible for making the arrangements with the suppliers and picking up and delivering the food to the church. He also helps set up the luncheon and with food preparation. He and his wife, Laurie Shapiro, have been volunteering at West Broadway for 10 years.

"When we first started volunteering, our children were still at home and we encouraged them to volunteer with us," he says. "We thought it was a good opportunity for them to learn the importance of volunteer work in the community and also to understand that there are many people who are much less fortunate than we have been."

Scott McWilliam and his wife Riva share that sentiment.

"We volunteer on Christmas Day because it's the right thing to do," McWilliam says.

"The help is needed and appreciated. Because I converted to Judaism and no longer celebrate Christmas, it seems fitting to try and help others enjoy their Christmas."

"Certainly, repairing the world calls for us to get involved with the broader community to offer assistance to those with greater needs," Lee says.

Trono, who has dedicated her career to a Christian version of tikkun olam, agrees. She is well aware of how important the Christmas luncheon is to her congregants and how much they appreciate the interaction, generosity and compassion extended to them by volunteers on the holiday.

"I think compassion lies at the heart of all faiths," says Trono. "Working together on a common cause is important, because doing so, we find that the key thing we have in common is our humanity."

schisvin@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2012 J16

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