Since 1874, Temple Beth-El has had a long-standing history of fighting for social justice and equality throughout the state of Texas and across the nation.
Whether it’s through direct service or advocacy work, Temple Beth-El continues to create progressive social change and positive impacts for congregants, neighbors, and community.
“Temple Beth-El has demonstrated to me that social justice is an important and integral part of our Jewish history and tradition. Imparting the concept of tikkun olam and the value of g’milut chasadim to all who wish to make our community and world a better place is a legacy that will last forever.”
– Mina Lopez, Former Co-Chair of the ACT Committee
Through the years
- Since 1874, Temple Beth-El has had a long-standing history of fighting for social justice and equality throughout the state of Texas, and across the nation. As a founding member of the Union for American Hebrew Congregations, Temple has always placed a great deal of pride in social justice work and ethical practice. Whether it’s through direct service or advocacy work, Temple Beth-El continues to create progressive social change and positive impacts for congregants, neighbors, and community.
- 1897 to 1920: Rabbi Samuel Marks became an active participant in civic activities across the state.
- 1923 to 1942: Rabbi Ephraim Frisch was a prominent activist who supported the teaching of evolution in schools, opposed the state poll tax, and advocated for workers’ rights. Rabbi Frisch would also criticize police raids and the arresting of labor protestors.
- 1942 to 1976: Rabbi David Jacobson chaired a San Antonio commission examining the city’s economic and social issues. Rabbi Jacobson became a persistent advocate of racial desegregation throughout the city.
- 1976 to 2002: Rabbi Samuel M. Stahl was deeply committed to enhancing interfaith relations. He is the first Jewish leader to receive religious leadership awards from the Texas Conference of Churches and the San Antonio Community of Churches.
- 2002 to 2013: Rabbi Barry Block was known for his interfaith advocacy and promotion of immigration and LGBT+ rights.
- 2009: Temple Beth-El received the Irving J. Fain Award for Social Action by the Religious Action Center for our “Darfur Calls” program.
- 2013: Temple Beth-El received the Irving J. Fain Award for Social Action by the Religious Action Center for our “Food & Fun Summer Day Camp” (now called CreativKids SA).
- Since 2014, Rabbi Mara Nathan has continued to maintain Temple Beth-El as a contemporary and welcoming place of worship. Together with Rabbi Marina Yergin and Cantor Julie Berlin, Temple Beth-El remains one of the very few Reform temples with all female clergy.
- Since 2017, Rabbi Marina Yergin has integrated a community organizing and small group structure into our social action and social justice activities. We encourage lay leaders to learn about and engage with community issues about which they are passionate.
- In 2018, Temple Beth-El created the position of Social Justice Fellow to amplify and further develop unique direct service activities, ongoing volunteer opportunities, and advocacy efforts. Our first Social Justice Fellow Ross Halfant has created many programs including NEFESH, and developed family mitzvah days for our religious school families.
- In 2019, Temple Beth-El received the Union for Reform Judaism’s Belin Award for Audacious Hospitality for our NEFESH program. Additonally, Temple Beth-El joined the Religious Action Center Brit Olam – Covenant of the World.
- As of 2020, the new position of Social Justice Coordinator continues to organize programming involving community service and advocacy.
- Created in 2021, the ACT, Advocacy Combined with Tikkun Olam, Committee merges previous work through the Social Action Committee, H3 (Head, Heart, & Hands), the Nonpartisan Civic Engagement Campaign, and other legislative endeavors.
- Later that same year, Temple Beth-El joined a pilot program called Act Against Antisemitism with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Anti-Defamation League. Temple created a committee and programs through the cohort to engage our community in this issue. The following year, Temple joined the program’s official launch, renamed Kulanu.
- As of 2022, Temple Beth-El continues “green” initiatives by updating its recycling program, which includes paper, broken-down cardboard, and clean glass and cans. Temple also prioritized diversity, equity, and inclusion by publishing and adding to the many ways we fulfill b’tzelem Elohim.
The Temple Beth-El Advocacy Combined with Tikkun Olam (ACT) Committee welcomes Temple members interested in making a difference in our congregation, city, nation, and world. ACT meets monthly on the second Tuesday of every month at 6:30 PM. At meetings, members discuss our congregation’s advocacy work (tzedek tirdof), volunteer opportunities (g’milut chasadim), and educational forums (limud) within and outside of our community.
Advocacy has always been central to both Reform Judaism and Temple Beth-El. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism states that “our democracy is strongest when everyone has the opportunity to participate,” and it’s important for Temple Beth-El members to partake in local, state, and federal elections. Regardless of political belief, voting is central and a non-partisan issue that our congregation can get behind. To help Temple Beth-El become a 100% voting congregation, click here.
Texas’ new law, Senate Bill 8, restricts a woman’s right to choose and fundamentally makes abortion illegal. As Reform Jews, reproductive freedom is rooted in our tradition, and as a community, Temple Beth-El remains committed to advocating for these beliefs. Click here to view Temple Beth-El’s response to this issue, as well as resources and how to take action.
- Click here for Midterm Election information
- Read Rabbi Mara Nathan’s High Holy Day Sermon, “The Right to Choose is a Jewish Value“
- Watch Rabbi Mara Nathan’s High Holiday Sermon here
For any questions, please contact Ross Halfant at gro.asle-hteb@ssor.
Temple Beth-El Helps Make the World a Better Place.
Temple has many different community service programs and events throughout the year. From Tzedek Thursdays to Family TzEDek Days to Mitzvah Month, make sure to read weekly announcements and Temple social media to stay up-to-date on the most recent ways to help.
Did you know Temple Beth-El has a year-round food pantry? Our pantry is open during the week and is available to all who need food. Donations are welcome and always needed. Food items needed are soup-to-go cups, tuna pouches, microwavable bowls, peanut butter, and other portable meals. For any questions, please contact Ross Halfant at gro.asle-hteb@ssor.
The ACT Committee is responsible for two Shabbat educational forums, Spring and Fall, that will showcase a variety of social action issues.
Each month, Temple Beth-El’s program NEFESH (Neighbors Elevating Faith, Education, Service and Hope) raises awareness and educates members about various marginalized groups and social justice issues, which impact these groups in our national and local communities. Our NEFESH (Hebrew for soul) entries provide a wide variety of educational resources, cultural materials, and how you, individually and communally, can make an impact within and for those communities. Click here to see past month’s toolkits.
Temple Beth-El’s Legislative Handbook was a tool that helped you learn more about the 87th Texas legislative session, how to safely lobby, and the issues and bills that were addressed. Co-sponsored by RAC-TX, this was a working document, that is now retired.
In 2020 and beyond, Temple Beth-El remains committed to racial and social change:
- Statement by Mara S. Nathan, Senior Rabbi and Amy C. Benedikt, M.D., President
- Antiracism and Allyship Educational Resources for Temple Beth-El
Banned Books Week
- The American Library Association states that Banned Books Week is “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools.”
- Temple Beth-El firmly believes that education and freedom of speech are imperative to a healthy democracy. You can learn more about Banned Books Week by clicking here.
A project of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, RAC-TX is locally-led and collectively organizing the Reform Jewish Movement state-wide to build a more just and compassionate society for all Texans. Founded in 2018, RAC-TX has seen successful campaigns regarding school finance reform, democracy protection, reproductive freedom, and immigrant rights. Click here to learn more and get involved.
Want to find a way to make systematic change?
Temple Beth-El has always supported important social justice causes that align with Jewish values.