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Repair Hero: Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) is best known for a walk he took in Alabama on March 21, 1965. Linked arm and arm with civil rights leaders (including Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.), he became an iconic figure of Jewish social justice. Afterwards, he would write the famous words: “For many of us, the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

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Wednesday Link Roundup

Check out these inspiring bits and headlines from around the Jewish service blogosphere. In the post: three links about amazing service work by teenagers, and a not-to-miss pre-Passover read…

  • Remember the Chase Community Giving contest that was all over your Facebook feed a few months ago? Now JChoice, a great social networking site for young Jewish giving, is offering a similar contest to let you vote for your favorite Jewish charity and win a free gift card. Check it out here. [JChoice]
  • Speaking of young Jewish giving, here’s a sweet article about how Tulsa’s teen community (Jewish and not) are pooling their resources to make a powerful philanthropic impact. [Tulsa Kids]
  • On the eco-front, kids in San Francisco are using eco-rap as an empowerment tool. [Sundance Channel]
  • Looking forward to Passover (which starts at the end of the month)? Read Dara Horn’s great book, All Other Nights, that weaves the story of the Exodus together with a tale of slavery in the American South. [My Jewish Learning]

From The Field (Avodah): Learning from Diversity in the Big Easy

Avodah is one of the pioneers of immersive Jewish service-learning. Since 1998, the organization has enabled 20-somethings to engage in anti-poverty work from a Jewish perspective. Participants, called Corps members, live together in one of four communities – New York, Chicago, Washington DC and New Orleans – and spend a year working for a local non-profit organization.

Not surprisingly, Corps members tend to have a transformative year at Avodah – both from the work they do, and also through the experience of moving in together with a diverse (Jewishly and otherwise) bunch of strangers. In New Orleans, Rachie Lewis and Jordan Aiken turned the challenge of navigating their strikingly different backgrounds into an opportunity for learning.
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Repair the World announces Global Citizen Year scholarships

Repair the World is excited to announce a new partnership: we’re working with Global Citizen Year to give young Jews from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to participate in a “bridge year” of international service before college.

Our new collaboration builds on Repair the World’s commitment to making service a core part of the American Jewish experience and on Global Citizen Year’s leadership in global service-learning. Together, we are working to connect graduating high-school students with a chance to live and work as apprentices in Asia, Africa or Latin America, and to use their skills and passions to make a difference.
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Debate Over the Purpose of Jewish Philanthropy

Should Jewish philanthropy focus more on helping needy Jewish people?

Jack Wertheimer, a history professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, raises this question in an opinion article in Commentary magazine.

“At a time when Jewish communal institutions are failing to attend to the needs of Jews at home and abroad, the hot trend in Jewish philanthropic and organizational circles, incredibly, is to channel ever more of their resources to nonsectarian causes,” he writes.

In particular, he criticizes Repair the World, an organization started last year to encourage young Jews to help others, though not specifically other Jews.

“No one in a position of responsibility in Jewish organizational life has suggested that Jews should be indifferent to the plight of their fellow human beings, and all the evidence suggests that American Jews engage actively in civic and philanthropic activities,” he says. “Why, then, the incessant barrage of exhortations to do more for the world, even as Jewish needs go unmet?”

Jon Rosenberg, chief executive of Repair the World, defends the work on his organization’s blog.

He says the professor “fundamentally misunderstands and mischaracterizes our mission,” saying that the group works closely with Jewish charities and does promote service opportunities to help disadvantaged Jews.

“His broader theme—that service outside the Jewish community is in some way illegitimate, and that we should instead be focusing all of our service inward—sells short a substantial part of Jewish tradition,” Mr. Rosenberg writes.

What do you think of the debate? Should Jewish philanthropic efforts be more focused on helping Jewish communities?

Weekly Torah: Parshat Ki Tisa 5770

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

The detailed description of the building and consecration of the Tabernacle, which spans several parshiot (Torah portions), is framed by a pair of financial appeals. The opening appeal, in Parshat Terumah, speaks to the generosity of the people—“Take for Me contributions from those whose heart moves them…” ((Exodus 25:2.)) Chapters later, in Parshat Ki Tisa, the description closes with the injunction that every member of the community over the age of 20 donate a half-shekel annually, in order to pay for the ongoing service in the Tabernacle.

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Repair Hero: Betty Friedan

March is National Women’s History Month – and in 2010, the month’s celebratory theme is: writing women back into history. On that note, I can think of no better person to honor as this week’s Repair the World hero than Betty Friedan (1921-2006), whose writing forever shaped the feminist movement, and the country’s very understanding and estimation of women:

When Betty Friedan (nee Bettye Goldstein) graduated from Smith College in 1942, women’s rights and opportunities in America were severely restricted. Despite a stunning academic record and a degree in psychology, she spent many years suppressing her professional ambitions to live out the suburban homemaker’s life, so typical of post-WWII society. But Friedan would ultimately grow beyond her limited surroundings.
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2010 Grants for Immersive Jewish Service-Learning Programs

Repair the World is pleased to announce the availability of funding to support Immersive Jewish Service-Learning programs in 2010–2011 for North American Jewish young adults ages 18–25. Repair the World is utilizing a two-stage process to solicit new grant applications, beginning with a Letter of Inquiry (LOI). This LOI process is very competitive, and only those organizations whose programs fit most closely with Repair the World’s programmatic goals will be invited to submit a full proposal in the second phase of the application process.
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Chile and Volunteer Fatigue

When an 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January, it seemed like the entire world jumped up to help. As the media swerved its attention to the devastated country, donations poured into relief agencies via websites and text messages, volunteer medical teams and people wanting to help flew in, and stars like Wyclef, Justin Timberlake, and Alicia Keys headlined high profile benefit concerts, all in support of Haiti.

The global response to last week’s earthquake in Chile, in contrast, has been rather muted. There have been no flashy benefit concerts and far fewer volunteers and donations funneling to the area. One tragedy captured the world’s heart, while the other seems to have fallen just below the radar screens.

And it got me wondering, have we been overcome by volunteer fatigue (and its cousin, donor fatigue)?
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Responding to Jack Wertheimer

In an article published in the March 2010 issue of Commentary, Jack Wertheimer, professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, provides a thought-provoking critique of the high cost of a committed, traditional Jewish life in America. But after laying out his case at length, he takes an awkward and confusing turn, focusing his attention on our new organization, Repair the World, taking our founders to task for believing in the value of service, and questioning our rationale for existing.
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