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Weekly Torah: Parshat Tazria-Metzora 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Daniel Bloom.

Much of the double portion of Tazria-Metzora deals with the laws governing tzara’at, an enigmatic affliction which takes the form of a skin disease in people, but which can also afflict clothing and houses. Due to its symptoms of skin discoloration and the requirement that the victim be quarantined, tzara’at has often been mistakenly identified as leprosy. However, it is not caused by infection or a biological imbalance; rather, it is the physical but supernatural manifestation of an individual’s spiritual malaise.

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Speak Your Mind: Ma’yan Political Theater Takes the Stage

That’s Not Fair! Virtually everyone has uttered that phrase once before, and likely many times – when someone cuts in line or says something intentionally hurtful; or when a hidden societal injustice gets exposed. Last night, that ubiquitous cry was further illuminated at The JCC in Manhattan during, That’s Not Fair: a performance by The Ma’yan Political Theatre Apprentices.

The cast of eight performers – junior high and high school girls ranging from age 12 to 17 – were in fine form, weaving together theatre, puppetry and music in an ensemble exploration of tough questions surrounding privilege, power and oppression. “Most of the content was taken from things we experience in our every day lives,” said performer, Esther Lenchner. From there, they collaboratively created images and scenes (along with their artistic director, political theatre veteran Jenny Romaine) that educated the audience without forcing them to a particular viewpoint. “We don’t have all the answers,” said Dylan Corn – so we wanted to let the audience draw their own conclusions.

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On Tap: Global Youth Service Day (4/23)

Want to be part of the largest collective service event in the world, or know an amazing kid who does? Invite them to be a part of Global Youth Service Day, an annual campaign that mobilizes millions of youth around the world to improve their communities through a service and service-learning.

According to the organization’s website: “Established in 1988, GYSD…is now celebrated in over 100 countries. On GYSD, children and youth address the world’s most critical issues in partnership with families, schools, community and faith-based organizations, businesses, and governments. [They work with the] media and policy makers to promote and raise awareness of young people as assets and resources to their communities.”

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Tuesday Link Roundup

This past Sunday was Yom Hashoah, also called Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance day. In honor of the day, here are some interesting service and heroism bits from around the web, plus two opportunities to get involved.

Things to Read

  • (JTA) Rumor has it that two of the three leading candidates to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court are Jewish women.
  • (NYTimes) A touching article about a Haitian dancer who lost her leg in January’s earthquake highlights the importance of international charity in Haiti’s recovery.
  • (Mashable) For the first time ever, online journalists received an illustrious Pulitzer Prize for their work. The history-making stories included: a piece on ProPublica about “the urgent life-and-death decisions made by one hospital’s exhausted doctors when they were cut off by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina,” and a series of editorial cartoons on SFGate.com
  • (NY Jewish Week) An article in the Jewish Week reports how many Holocaust survivors in NYC are living in poverty, and often fall below charity’s radar screens. The article also includes resources for survivors and places to donate.
  • (Joshua Venture) The Joshua Venture Group just announced their eight fellows, who will receive funding and support for their groundbreaking programs in social and environmental justice, community building, spirituality, education and the arts. Meet the fellows here.

Things to Do

  • (TED) The inspiring TED Conference, which is dedicated to convening the world’s most inspiring thinkers, is coming to Tel Aviv on April 26. The conference called “Thriving in Turmoil” will focus on the country’s catalysts for innovation and creativity. You can register to attend here (attendance is based on an application), or attend via simulcast here.
  • (Sparkseed) The non-profit organization dedicated to developing the next generation of social entrepreneurs is currently accepting applications for summer interns. Find out more and apply before April 30 here.

Weekly Torah: Parshat Shmini 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster.

In a world of endless choice, why should we place limits on what we can have? One Jewish response is found in Parshat Shmini, which contains the core of Jewish limits on food consumption with a series of laws concerning permitted and prohibited creatures. ((Leviticus 11: 1-43.)) It is from these laws that Jews have come to exclude pigs, camels and rabbits from our diets, along with shellfish, lizards, most insects, and birds like eagles, ostriches and ravens. While the Torah further refines some of these categories (for example, animals must chew their cud and have split hooves), there are no overarching, theoretical criteria for the limits on the Israelite diet, except to suggest that most tasty things that are not plants are forbidden from our plates.

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Repair Hero: Theodore Bikel

“Who, day and night, must scramble for a living / Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers? / And who has the right, as master of the house, / To have the final word at home?” – Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof

In 1967, a 43 year old actor and singer, Theodore Bikel, helped to immortalize the barrel-chested, booming-voiced character Tevye in the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof.

Bikel would go on to play the role more than 2,000 times – more than any other actor – but his career did not begin or end there. Born in Vienna in 1924, his family immigrated to then-Palestine after the Nazi’s occupied Austria (Bikel was 13). He started acting as a teenager, relocated to London to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and moved to America in 1954.

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Photo Journal: In the Fields with Jewish Farm School and Hillel

As promised, here is a photo diary of the Jewish Farm School/Hillel’s organic farming alternative spring breaks.

These pictures, which were taken by NYU student Amalyah Oren, highlight her group’s 6-day food and farming adventure at Tierra Miguel, an 85-acre, non-profit educational farm and foundation in Pauma Valley, California. Like all of the trips co-organized by the Jewish Farm School and Hillel, the group at Tierra Miguel volunteered in the fields, learning valuable skills in sustainable agriculture, and also engaged in text studies and discussion about everything from Jewish agricultural laws, to medicinal herbs, to global food security.

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On Tap: Alternative Breaks with The Jewish Farm School

Calling all Jewish farmers, farmers-to-be, and food enthusiasts: The Jewish Farm School, in partnership with Hillel, is offering two sustainable agriculture-based alternative break programs this summer:

May 23-30: Urban Agriculture and Food Justice break in Philadelphia
June 15-22: Sustainable Agriculture break at Oz Farm in Northern, California

Since 2006, The Jewish Farm School has, “fostered opportunities for Jews to reconnect with the process of working the land and growing food…[while staying] rooted in justice and Jewish traditions.” They teach and speak about agriculture in communities across the country, run multi-day, land-based workshops on organic gardening, Jewish sustainability, permaculture, and food access, and organize alternative break programs that leave participants ecologically and Jewishly empowered and inspired.

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Weekly Torah: Parshat Tzav 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Guy Izhak Austrian.

Hundreds of young Mayan students gathered with their teachers and a small group of New York Jews, standing in a wide circle as we observed an astonishing spectacle. Rivulets of bubbling candle wax streamed onto the ground. Flowers withered and crumpled in smoke and flames. A priest of the Maya Achi tradition presided over the enormous, smoldering sacrifice of candles, flowers and grains which he had spent hours laying out on the ground in traditional colors: red, black, white and yellow for the four directions of the compass; blue and green in the center for the sky and the earth.

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Spotlight On: Passover’s Connections to Service

Passover is the Jewish calendar’s most popular holiday. Whether religious or secular, Sephardic or Ashkenazi – about 90% of Jews celebrate the holiday at a Passover seder.

The seder itself is a mixture of food (traditional favorites like matzah ball soup usually reign), singing (dayenu anyone?) and storytelling – particularly the telling of the Exodus story, which recounts the Israelite’s journey from slavery under Pharoah to liberation.

It doesn’t take much digging to uncover Passover’s compelling connections to service. The Exodus story itself offers endless starting points to discuss the personal and systemic oppression our friends, families, communities and world face today. Jews are told to tell and understand the Passover story as if it recounts their own Exodus from Egypt. As Rabbi Jill Jacobs wrote for My Jewish Learning, “During the seder, we can fulfill the double command to show and to see ourselves as having come forth from Egypt by retelling the story in our own words and through the lens of our own experience…by using the story of the exodus as a framework for exploring our own personal liberation struggles or current political struggles, we can come to see ourselves as participants in the continuing journey toward freedom.

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