Our world needs repair on myriad fronts. Families struggle to make ends meet. The environment is threatened by pollution and global warming. Bigotry and prejudice still thrive in places. Too many of us have lost - or never have had - a personal connection to the world.
Part of the mission of Congregation Beth Sholom is to engage in tikkun olam. The Hebrew phrase translates as "repair of the world." We meet this responsibility through our actions, individually and collectively.
Every year, Congregation Beth Sholom bestows the Shining Lights Award on an Alaskan whose efforts, work, and life embody the spirit of tikkun olam. Today, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Hotel Captain Cook, we recognize Michele Brown for her 35 years working to repair the world. Currently president of United Way of Anchorage, Brown has been an effective agent of positive change in human services, environmental policy, oil and gas development and Arctic issues.
At United Way, Brown has championed effective partnerships among nonprofit, public, and private sectors. This has led to success in tackling big social problems such as Anchorage's high school drop-out rate, and established Alaska 2-1-1, the first statewide information and referral phone line and web site for health and social services.
Another new United Way program, Walk for Warmth, raises money to help families struggling to pay heating bills in winter. Under her leadership, United Way of Anchorage has received national recognition for its education programs and its efficiency, accountability, and financial stewardship.
Brown has had a huge impact in the environmental arena, in Alaska and elsewhere. Under her activist leadership as commissioner, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation nearly doubled water and sewer availability to rural villages, developed a system to test the safety of traditional Native foods, and pioneered the strongest legislation in America to prevent cruise ship pollution in Alaska's waters.
As Senior Environmental Advisor to the U.S. Agency for International Development in Moscow, Brown designed and administered U.S. technical assistance for the Russian environment sector. She implemented and supervised projects throughout Russia promoting sustainable natural resources development, managing multiple source pollution, land use planning, watershed protection, and strengthening non-governmental organizations.
Funds raised from the Shining Lights banquet support the Congregation's activities that promote diversity and tolerance in our community. Examples of the Congregation's involvement in the Anchorage and greater Alaska community include:
• The Joy Greisen After-School Program, Pre-School Program, and the Camp Sholom winter, spring, and summer programs. Nearly 35 percent of the students receive some sort of needs-based subsidy. Currently 20 percent of the participants are Jewish and 80 percent are non-Jewish.
• Mitzvah Mall. For the past four years Congregation Beth Sholom has sponsored Mitzvah Mall, the winter holiday bazaar that gives local nonprofit agencies a venue to meet and talk with potential donors. Attendees donate money to their favorite nonprofits, the donations serving as holiday gifts to friends and family.
• Thanksgiving Blessing. Congregation Beth Sholom partners with St. Patrick's Church and Muldoon Community Assembly to provide Thanksgiving dinners for East Anchorage neighbors in need. Food Bank of Alaska organizes this citywide event, held for East Anchorage at St. Patrick's Church. Volunteers from Congregation Beth Sholom help organize the event, and many more work on donation day to provide the dinners.
• Interfaith Council of Anchorage. Congregation Beth Sholom has been involved with the Interfaith Council of Anchorage for many years, starting with its growth from a Christian to a multi-faith organization in the 1980s. The council provides educational events for the Anchorage community to broaden knowledge of the many faiths and diverse cultures represented in Anchorage.
• Congregation Beth Sholom hosts GIFT for East Anchorage, the city-wide program that Food Bank of Alaska sponsors for Anchorage residents not able to purchase Christmas dinners and presents for their families.
• Our Anne Frank Remembrance Fund supports programs that promote awareness of modern-day genocide, encourage cultural diversity and memorialize those affected by the atrocities of World War II.
More information about the Shining Lights Award and Banquet are available at www.shininglightsaward.com.
Rabbi Michael Oblath leads the Congregation Beth Shalom in East Anchorage.
By RABBI MICHAEL OBLATH