This year’s Genesis Humanitarian Award goes to Rabbi Josh Whinston.

Christine Modey, Murray Rosenthal, Rabbi Josh Whinston, the Rev. Anne Clarke

The Genesis Humanitarian Award promotes recognition of people and organizations whose actions exemplify the Genesis Vision and Spirit, that by embracing mutual trust, respect and appreciation of all people, and living the ideals of faith and inclusiveness, together we work to heal a broken world.

Over the years, some among us have stood out by devoting countless hours toward improving the Genesis relationships with which we are now blessed. Still others among us are deeply involved in a wide variety of social justice activities or are tireless volunteers in community service organizations. Out of the many worthy individuals in our community and our congregations, we seek to recognize those who inspire us all for the future which lies ahead. In the past, the Genesis Humanitarian Award has been presented to\ Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County, Refugee Services Department (2018), the Back Door Food Pantry (2017), Bob Milstein (2017), Irene Butter (2012), Richard Bailey (2010), James Schairbaum (2007), Sandy Elden (2005), Phil Bowen (2003), Jackie Moore (2001), Rabbi Bob Levy (1999) and The Rev. Doug Evett (1997).

This year’s Genesis Humanitarian Award goes to Rabbi Josh Whinston.

We can think of no better evidence for honoring Rabbi Whinston than the humanitarian acts, which were driven by Rabbi Whinston, and were described in the nominator’s documents.

Rabbi Whinston moved to Ann Arbor in the summer of 2016 and in the wake of the injustices that we saw happening at the southern border of our country in 2017, he asked the Temple Beth Emeth community to speak out and use our collective voice to effect change.

When prompted by a congregant to re-read a NYT article about the separation of children from their families he realized the tragedies taking place at the border could not be ignored. Rabbi Whinston’s courage, clarity, and conviction inspired many to take up the effort to make a change.

In the Summer of 2018, Rabbi Whinston helped a woman find her family by driving her to Pittsburgh. Ms. Gonzalez, a Guatemalan woman, had been separated from her children at the U.S. Border in Texas. Weeks later, in the aftermath of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Whinston reflected on living up to his religious values. In his own words, ““We take our own values seriously. We take care of the stranger. It is our Torah and our values, especially given our history.”

Rabbi Whinston became an instrumental leader in organizing an Interfaith “Let Our Families Go” action in Tornillo, TX. The campaign was formed by Rabbi Whinston, Rabbi Terlinchamp (Cincinnati) and ‘Faith in Action.” The campaign organized rallies across the nation with religious leaders and communities. Joining forces with congregations across the country and activists, reformers and organizations working tirelessly at the border, Rabbi Whinston and the Social Action Committee of Temple Beth Emeth were able to bring further attention to the inhumanity at the border. The campaign protested and raised awareness about hidden suffering experienced by thousands of families like the Gonzalez family.

In the Fall of 2018, a caravan of God’s people headed to the Tornillo detention center near the Texas/Mexico border. This pilgrimage raised national awareness about three humanitarian crises:

  1. Asylum seekers languishing on the El Paso-Juarez bridge,
  2. Teenagers confined to a tent city surrounded by barbed wire in Tornillo,
  3. Humanitarian crisis in El Paso, Texas, where immigrants and refugees are randomly released with no access to support or resources.

Once in Texas, the humanitarian protests and religious activism occurred just outside the detention facility. The protesters also volunteered and served meals at ten U.S. border shelters for asylum seekers. The protests were reported nationwide, and the work of the “Let Our Families Go” Campaign continues to be a source of humanitarian inspiration. For example, it was relied on as support for a Rabbinic Resolution on private prisons in the U.S.

In addition to his humanitarian work, Rabbi Whinston is the rabbi of Temple Beth Emeth, is a Brickner Fellow at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, serves on the board for the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, and is a fantastic husband to Sarah and the attentive, involved and supportive father of three growing children.

Rabbi Josh leads by example. He works selflessly to heal the world. Although also selfless, Genesis is being selfish in presenting this award. We are selfish because the Genesis Humanitarian Award charges us recognize those who inspire us all for the future which lies ahead. Therefore, we selfishly charge Rabbi Josh with continuing his inspiring work and leadership. A personal story that I [Murray Rosenthal] have about Rabbi Josh is that, just after he arrived in Ann Arbor as our Rabbi, I heard him cautioning against overburdening our volunteers. He said that there is a limited amount of volunteering that people will tolerate. Being a scientist, I question all unproven theories. I know of no scientific studies that have measured the limits to the volunteer work that people can tolerate. Let’s prove this theory wrong. The next time you are asked to help out, by Rabbi Josh or Reverend Anne or anyone else who is asking for your help to heal the world, follow Rabbi Josh’s example. Say yes, volunteer, help out. Act to heal the world as this Genesis Humanitarian Award has inspired you to do.