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Spotlight On: Yom Ha’atzmaut’s (Israel Independence Day): Connections to Service

On May 14, 1948, the modern State of Israel was formally established. The day itself, of course, marked the culmination of decades of struggle by early zionist leaders, and the realization of Theodore Herzl’s dream. In the years since Israel’s founding, many Jewish communities around the world have incorporated the corresponding Jewish date (the 5th day of the month of Iyyar) into the holiday calendar. The holiday is preceded by a Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, Yom Hazikaron or Day of Remembrance.

There is not yet a formal, agreed-upon way of observing Yom Ha’atzmaut, though it is a national holiday in Israel, which means virtually everyone gets the day off of work or school. In America, many Jewish communities celebrate by throwing concerts, parades, readings and prayer services, and singing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, to show their solidarity. In 2008, Israel turned 60 years old, which sparked even more celebration and festivals than other years.

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On Tap: National Volunteer Week (4/18-24)

Today is a big day in the world of service: the beginning of National Volunteer Week.

Sponsored by the Points of Light Institute, and running from now through April 24th, ordinary people across the country will be doing extraordinary things to transform their communities.

There are many official events happening in conjunction with National Volunteer Week (and you can learn more about the national movement and projects going on across the country here), but the real point is inspiring local change, home by home, block by block, and neighborhood by neighborhood. Painting a neighbor’s fence, canvassing for a cause you believe in, donating to a charitable organization, helping clean up your synagogue’s library, volunteering for a political candidate, planting a garden, reading to a new friend at a hospitable or home for the elderly, teaching a friend to compost (or learning how to yourself) – it all counts, and it all makes a big difference.

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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
  • (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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