By Bruce Wahle
WORCESTER – IHN of Greater Worcester opened its doors in November of 1997 as the Greater Worcester Interfaith Hospitality Network. The former Temples Emanuel and Sinai immediately answered their call for help. In those days, IHN travelled from one house of worship in central Massachusetts to another, where it would move families, beds and household goods, and set up temporary housing in classrooms, board rooms or whatever rooms were available, and the IHN families would live there until it was time to move to the next location.
Temple Emanuel Sinai has continued the tradition of its predecessors and will be “hosting” IHN this year from December 14, 2014 through January 4, 2015. But IHN no longer moves from place to place. Since November 2012 IHN has occupied its own static address, a multi-family home located at 91 June St. in Worcester. TES congregants have volunteer opportunities which range from dinner/evening hosts to overnight hosts to shopping and providing household supplies including baby formula and diapers.
According to IHN Director Joanne Alley, since its inception, IHN has housed over 340 families and just shy of 1,000 individuals within those families. In its current model IHN relies on approximately 25 volunteers every week. Many TES volunteers have been working with IHN since it began. The current Temple Emanuel Sinai IHN Committee members are Mark Birnbaum (co-chair), Ronna Cuker, Susan Hayes (co-chair), Wendy Rickles and Lynne Silver.
Rabbi Valerie Cohen is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel Sinai. She and her family have often reflected on how they – or someone they love – are just one health crisis away from homelessness. “In an American society based on the idea of freedoms and rights, we as Jews focus on the responsibility of ensuring those rights.” says Rabbi Cohen. “We are commanded to take care of our neighbors, for everyone deserves food and shelter, joy, self-respect, and more.”
It made sense that a synagogue would volunteer to host IHN during the Christmas season, particularly when the families were physically moving from synagogue to church every couple of weeks. Now the TES volunteers share the holiday season with the IHN families at the house on June Street.
Susan Hayes, one of the TES IHN Committee co-chairs, has been working with IHN for many years and shares her perspective: “IHN provides a unique opportunity to support and directly engage with local families. My family and I have been participating in IHN for the past 10 years. We find volunteering to be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. I am grateful that, over the years, support of IHN during TES the hosting period has expanded to include Jewish community organizations and unaffiliated families who are eager to participate in this important and meaningful mitzvah.”
For more information, contact the members of the TES IHN Committee by email at TESIHN@gmail.com or through the Temple office at 508-755-1257. Monetary donations may be forwarded to the Temple office as well, marked “IHN Fund”. For more information on IHN, you may visit their website at IHNWorcester.org.