Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Jewish Community Serves Christmas Meal to Mentally Ill

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Jewish Community Serves Christmas Meal to Mentally Ill

Article excerpt

Those of the Jewish faith don't celebrate Christmas. However, for roughly a quarter-century, the congregation of Temple Beth Sholom has helped make Dec. 25 a little brighter for a segment of the population in need of some holiday spirit.

Again this year, 20 to 25 members of the congregation have signed up to help prepare and serve a Christmas meal for members of the Breakthrough House Clubhouse. Breakthrough House provides services, support and opportunities to those recovering from mental illness.

Rabbi Debbie Stiel, of Temple Beth Sholom, and Bob Harms, a temple member who coordinates the clubhouse lunch, spoke about why it's important for them to share the yuletide joy for a holiday they don't celebrate.

Q: Some people may be surprised those of the Jewish faith would choose Christmas Day to reach out to those with special needs. Why that day?

Harms: It's a way of giving back to the community and, since we don't celebrate Christmas as a holiday, most of us are available that day.

Q: Why the Breakthrough House?

Harms: It's an opportunity to connect with a pretty much forgotten minority. The mentally ill have a harder time advocating for themselves, although they're very much like the rest of us with the same desires and disappointments. They just have the burden of mental illness.

Q: When did you start this annual tradition?

Harms: Carolyn Litwin, a member of the congregation, originally came up with the idea of serving Christmas lunch to the Breakthrough House about 25 years ago. We do other things throughout the year, but this is the most intense community service.

Stiel: And our most beloved project. There have been years when it's been so cold outside and people are waiting for the opportunity to come in on Christmas Day. It's so nice to be able to welcome them in and serve them a really nice homemade meal ... turkey especially prepared for this and all the side-trimmings. Members go around and serve them pie. It's always a joyful event, and we always get so many thank-yous from the people at Breakthrough House. …

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