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188 North Prospect Street
Burlington, Vermont 05401
(802) 864-0218

OZ Social Justice Award

In Hebrew, Ohavi Zedek means “Lovers of Justice,” and for the many years since its founding we have strived to live up to that name.  OZ’s recent Imagine 2025 strategic planning process clarified our community’s desire to elevate our focus on Social Justice – and to be a community of social action.  With that in mind, we have launched The Ohavi Zedek Social Justice Award

Each year, this honor will be given to a individuals or group in our congregation who has made significant contributions to the promotion of social justice. The award recognizes those who have actively worked to make our world a better place, and those who have made a lasting impact on our community through their efforts.

The intent of this award is to celebrate and recognize the important role that social justice plays in the Jewish community and to inspire others to join in the work of making a more just and equitable society. 

The 2024 Social Justice Award was presented Saturday, January 20, 2024 during Shabbat morning services. Congratulations to Meaghin Kennedy, award recipient.

Read Jeff Potash's Remarks here

“In 2023, the Ohavi Zedek Social Justice Award was initiated. This award pays homage to the importance we place upon what many scholars call the central command in the Torah, “Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof: Justice, Justice shall you pursue.” And, as our name Ohavi Zedek, “Lovers of Justice” and our origins bear witness, this award underscores our congregational commitment to practice righteousness in the work of fostering a more just and equitable society.


Our first award recipient in 2023, Michael Schaal, was a recognizable choice based on his long history here at OZ, his founding and leadership over decades of OZ’s Social Action Committee, his dedication to fostering interfaith, racial, and ethnic dialogue, and his most recent efforts in preserving and displaying OZ’s cherished Kristalnacht Torah and the Harry and Irene Kahn Hutch.


Today’s recipient presents us with a very different but equally compelling story. Meaghin Kennedy, with her husband Justin Reidy and two boys, Hugh and Abe, only arrived in Vermont in 2019 and joined our congregation in 2021. Shortly after, we caught wind of something we had never seen before: we heard that a parent with two young kids had volunteered to prepare and brought an entire kiddush meal for our preschool community for a tot shabbat gathering.  This parent was Meaghin.  It was a wonderful giving act.  And in the years since then, Meaghin has similarly prepared whole kiddushes for our Shabbat services, as she has done today.


In 2019, Meaghin and Justin created a non-profit called Farm Stand Together, a program aimed at giving gift cards to economically needy Vermonters to provide them access to fresh produce from six area organic farmers.  To date that program has given away $X in gift cards to those in need.  .


In that same spirit, Meaghin agreed to take leadership in OZ’s modest efforts during Covid to deliver Purim gifts and food to OZ elders. Since then, Meaghin has significantly upgraded OZ’s “G’Mach” (short for Gemilut Hasadim, or “acts of loving kindness”) services. Using all natural products from local area farms, she has initiated a three-times monthly G’Mach cooking session with volunteers in OZ’s kitchen to make and give away fresh soups and mac and cheese. As word of OZ’s packed G’Mach freezer have circulated, dozens of recipients have included those within our community in need, others who are recuperating and still others (in the case of extremely busy and sometimes exhausted preschool parents) who are grateful to have a nutritious meal. Arrangements are underway for more systemic outreach to feed needy Burlingtonians residing in temporary pods housing.


Meaghin’s plans continue to expand. Meaghin recently created an initiative for NADAV with Naomi Barrell. It will include visits to Meaghin’s farm where teens will learn about the connection between Judaism and the land and sustainable farming practice. This will be followed by hands-on planting and harvesting work. Teens will then have a chance to cook the vegetables they helped cultivate to make food for the G’mach freezer.


With additional plans to organize drivers and regular deliveries to OZ elders with holiday and other edibles, not to mention undertaking on-site educational garden/farm, Meaghin continues to single-handedly inspire a G’Mach revival on an unprecedented scale and to foster social justice through feeding and caring.


Meaghin’s contributions to our own OZ community and the broader community are nothing short of remarkable.  In all that she does, on her farm and in the OZ kitchen, she models her power and commitment to make the world a better place. She is an inspiration to us all. I couldn’t be more pleased to present our 2nd annual Social Justice Award to Meaghin Kennedy.”

Read Meaghin Kennedy’s Remarks here:

“Receiving this award is a profound honor. Jeff and Brett, thank you both for enabling this journey. This award should include both of you, and include everyone who’s given time in making this G’Mach project happen.


What we’re doing together marks the very beginning of a new chapter in OZ’s long-standing pursuit of chesed, the essence of loving kindness that binds us together.

At home these last few months, my husband and I have spent a lot of time talking about “G’Mach”.  What G’Mach ingredients do we need to get? Who’s cooking for G’Mach today? How’s the G’Mach freezer looking? A couple weeks ago, my seven year old son Hugh interrupted one of these many dining table conversations with a question: “what’s G’Mach”?


But answering his question just gave way to more questions. G’Mach is acts of “chesed”. But what’s “chesed”?


We usually translate “chesed” as loving kindness. But it’s more than loving kindness, as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of blessed memory — one the greatest influences on my own Jewish journey – states in his book ‘How to Heal a Broken World’.   Chesed is not love as an emotion or passion but “love expressed as a deed”.  And as Jewish scholar Avivah Zornberg adds, every act of chesed is imbued with both “courage and imagination”


Chesed encapsulates a covenant among people, a social contract to help each other and to give oneself fully with love and compassion. And the G’maCh freezer project, as humble as it is, demonstrates all of the facets of chesed. Over the past four months, the freezer at the end of the hall has been cleared out and restocked by a group of volunteers who come in to the OZ kitchen once a month to cook seasonal soups, full of nutritious vegetables.  These soups are placed in the freezer and available to all.


Rabbi Sacks wrote many books and articles about the ethics of responsibility, calling it “one of Judaism’s most distinctive and challenging ideas.”  The God who created the world in love calls on us to create in love; the God who gave us the gift of freedom wants us to use that freedom to honor and enhance the freedom of others.


As Jeff, Brett and I discussed revitalizing our Gmach efforts, food came to mind first – which, if you know me, probably wouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Food seems to always be on my mind, whether in my own cooking and baking, my love of cookbooks, or thinking through what my son Abe will eat at his next, as he calls it, “yummy time”. Food justice is also a core part of my identity, both in the gleaning farm I’ve started on our property, and the nonprofit I created with my husband, Farm Stand Together, which is on a mission to eliminate the barriers preventing rural eaters from enjoying nutrient dense food.

Across all these efforts and passions, I’ve learned that what we eat and how we eat it is steeped in personal beliefs, emotions, and recollections. Food can serve as a unifying force as well as a source of division. Even the idea of taking soup from the freezer can be a hurdle.


This is why Gmach is meant to be a mutual convenant.  Every soup that comes out of the kitchen is a demonstration of a commitment from an OZ community member to another community member.  The soups aren’t purchased at a discount and put in the freezer-they’re cooked here.  We come together around the large metal tables, we chop, we cook, we challenge ourselves with unfamiliar kitchen equipment and recipes, we learn.  On the other end, members slowly begin to understand about a program that’s not for some imagined idea of who “deserves” the soup. The soup is for them – it’s for anyone.  You grab a soup, you take it home, you heat it up when you need it.


From the earliest origins of the Jewish people, food has been at the center of religious and ritual relationships, and at the core of relationship between God and humanity. Cain and Abel, the first generation of humans, sought to demonstrate their gratitude to God with a gift of food. Whether in the sacrifices at the Temple, or the laws of kashrut, or the blessings at Shabbos dinner, food imbues the most physical aspects of our lives with the transcendent and the holy.


In today’s modern world, many people’s connections with food have degraded to be purely utilitarian—food is calories, food helps us look a certain way, food is a status symbol.  Our culture has lost the understanding of the depth of interconnectivity that food provides.


But Jewish ritual provides a different path. Whether we’re gathering around a table for Kiddush lunch, singing songs after a meal, whether we’re blessing the challah at our table at home or eating specific foods during specific holidays.  Food can be the great re-joiner, the great equalizer.  It doesn’t have to be the polarizing—and demoralizing— force it often is today.


Food connects us to God and to each other. In the Ethics of Responsibility, Rabbi Sacks writes that “societies are only human and humanizing when they are a community of communities built on face-to-face encounters – covenantal relationships”.


Here at OZ, I see the G’maCh freezer acting as a springboard for greater connection amongst each other and as a way to communicate and connect with communities outside of OZ.  Already, a group from OZ has shared soup with the family members of the Palestinian men who were tragically shot in November.  Already, a box of soup has been dropped off at Elmwood (shelter).  Already, I’ve seen Hebrew School parents and Full Circle parents and staff members open up the door to the freezer, browse the options and take a few home.  As Rabbi Sacks writes, “we never know, at the time, the ripple of consequences set in motion by the slightest act of kindness.”


GMach is a cyclical relationship.  One day we find ourselves on the receiving end of help, another day, we are the ones offering help.  This is why loving-kindness is meant to be mutual.  Loving kindness is for the rich and the poor and everyone in between. It moves beyond the concept of charity firmly into a mutual convenant between all people.


Rabbi David Wolpe recently observed that “we read daily of brokenness, tragedy and pain and all are real, [but] what we do not read about are the equally real ‘Best parts of a good [person’s] life; [the] little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love’ that [people] perform for one another every blessed day.”


These little acts of kindness and love make a difference. We each bear the responsibility to perform these acts for as long as it takes, to ensure that the lonely are not alone and, as Rabbi Sacks so eloquently writes, “the cry of the vulnerable is heeded and those who are wronged are heard”. But as Rabbi Wolpe noted, these acts are not just a duty, they’re “the best part of a person’s life”. Every act of chesed breaks down barriers to accepting help and creates a culture where both asking for and receiving help is a given.


We often think of soup as “healing,” but it’s not just the nutrients that heal us. It’s the love we feel in the care that’s given to us, a care that nourishes both the individual and the community. The Gmach freezer program is loving kindness delivered in soup form, and yet chesed can be delivered in so many other interconnected ways.  I’m excited about the future of the Gmach committee at Ohavi Zedek and am invigorated by how quickly we’ve been able to transform the freezer into a vehicle for connection.


So the next time you walk by that humble freezer, go ahead and pick up a soup. It’s not just good for you – it’s good for all of us.


Thank you!”


The 2023 Inaugural Social Justice Award was presented Saturday January 21, 2023 during Shabbat morning services. Congratulations to Michael Schaal award recipient.

Read Jeff Potash’s Remarks Below

In Hebrew, Ohavi Zedek means “Lovers of Justice,” and for the many years since its founding we have strived to live up to that name. OZ’s recent Imagine 2025 strategic planning process clarified our community’s desire to elevate our focus on Social Justice – and to be a community of social action. With that in mind, we are proud to share the start a new tradition: The launch of The Ohavi Zedek Social Justice Award. Each year, this honor will be given to a individuals or group in our congregation who has made significant contributions to the promotion of social justice. The award recognizes those who have actively worked to make our world a better place, and those who have made a lasting impact on our community through their efforts.

The intent of this award is to celebrate and recognize the important role that social justice plays in the Jewish community and to inspire others to join in the work of making a more just and equitable society. Michael Schaal is the first recipient of this honor. The son and grandson of German Jews who nearly all managed to escape the Holocaust’s ‘final solution,’ Michael was born in England in 1946, arriving in America with his parents the following year. A licensed independent clinical social worker, he co-founded a private psychotherapy practice with his wife, Judy Breitemeyer, who later worked as a school counselor. While Michael still works part-time, Judy has retired. They have two daughters and five grandchildren. He has been a regular Shabbat services attendee for many years.

Michael believes his family’s experience in World War II shaped his world view. “Tikkun olam is not a once-in-a-while thing for me,” he says. “It’s my guiding principle in life. It guides my family, my work, my volunteer choices. It’s how I see the world.” Committed to the necessity of respecting individual and human rights, he has always been actively engaged in Jewish and interfaith issues in both the local and larger communities. In the period after September 11, 2001, observing the discrimination of the Islamic of community, Michael became inspired to do ad hoc interfaith and intercultural volunteer work with the OZ community. In 2012 he serving as chair of OZ’s committee focused on interfaith and social action, a role he shared with others through 2022. Among other things, he collaborated with fellow volunteers, staff and clergy to reach out to Vermont’s Islamic and African American communities, participated in the committee’s Stopping Stones project that raised awareness of the lives of enslaved individuals here in Vermont and across the US, and confronting issues of poverty, war, hunger and inequality.

Michael also served as president of Ohavi Zedek in 2015 and 2016. Because the Holocaust experience still informs much of his life, Michael has been an active member of the advisory board of UVM’s Holocaust Studies program for many years, through which he spearheaded several multigenerational gatherings of Holocaust survivor families. At present, he is excited about a new Holocaust-related project through our synagogue that will launch shortly.

The Social Justice Award will be presented during Shabbat Morning Services on Saturday January 22, 2023, and will be followed by a vegetarian kiddush meal. This event represents an expansion of OZ Hebrew School’s long-standing annual Mitzvah Day event, which takes place Sunday January 23. That event includes a guest speaker and group action project, but the highlight of Mitzvah Day is the presentation by our b mitzvah students of their individual “Mitzvah Projects.” They each will share how they are taking action to make the world a better place. Naomi Barell, Director of Youth Education, describes Mitzvah Day as the most important day of the Hebrew School year, when our students share how they turn learning into action. It is truly inspiring to seek the work of these young adults.

The Social Justice Award combined with Mitzvah Day is sure to be an inspiring weekend!

Read Michael’s remarks here.

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