by Dorothea Greulich
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series written by students in Dr. Rebecca Glazier’s International Religious Freedom class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in spring, 2020. The students studied how learning positive things about religious minorities could help break the cycle of social hostilities and government restrictions on religious freedom. Each student contributed a story to this series as their effort to that end.
Little Rock is a diverse city with many different congregations that all serve the community in various ways. Today, I want to spotlight Congregation B’nai Israel.
As part of the International Religious Freedom class taught by Dr. Rebecca Glazier at UA Little Rock, I reached out to Congregation B’nai Israel. Unfortunately, I could not attend the congregation due to the coronavirus, but I was able to talk to their religious leader, Rabbi Barry Block.
B’nai Israel is a Reform Judaism congregation that has been here in Little Rock since 1866. The Reform Judaism movement is distinguished by its inclusiveness and openness to people from many backgrounds and they fight for equality and against discrimination. They welcome people from interfaith families, people of color, people with disabilities, as well as people from the LGBTQ community. Today, they worship and practice their religion in their West Little Rock temple.
Serving the community plays a very important role in the belief of Congregation B’nai Israel. “In Judaism, the purpose of life is about how we can transform the world into a better one,” said Rabbi Block.
That is why the members of the congregation are engaged in many different projects to serve the Little Rock community. One of them that Rabbi Block highlighted is their project partnered with Our House. Once a month, members of the congregation go to the homeless shelter for people that are working or actively looking for work and serve food for them. The project has changed due to the current circumstances. Instead of cooking and serving the meals, the congregation is delivering the meals to the guard shack in respect of the coronavirus regulations established by the shelter. Nevertheless, Congregation B’nai Israel tries to find ways to serve the Little Rock community even in difficult times of a global pandemic.
In another project, the congregation provides school supplies and backpacks for students that attend Little Rock Public Schools that could otherwise not afford the items. Moreover, every year in the fall, congregants prepare Thanksgiving baskets for families that are in need in Little Rock.
Congregation B’nai Israel serves and interacts with the Little Rock community in many ways to make the Little Rock community a little bit better every time.
“This is our job,” said Rabbi Block.