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Repair Interview: Eliza Parad and the Jewish Organizing Initiative (JOI)

Eliza Parad has social work in her blood. Literally everyone in her family – her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brother and even sister-in-law – are committed social workers. And while, like her family members Eliza graduated college with a deep commitment to social change, she found herself growing deeply frustrated with the model of direct advocacy.

This past year through a bit of “right place right time” luck, Eliza became a fellow at the Jewish Organizing Initiative (JOI), a Boston-based organization that runs a year-long fellowship that engages Jewish activists in their 20s-30s in fostering “community organizing as a strategy for social change.” Over the past year, the JOI experience has surprised Eliza in more ways than one, and enlivened her enthusiasm for both her work and Jewish life. Eliza took a moment to speak with me about the importance of building power in a community, finding strength in numbers, and her experience co-leading her family’s seder for the first time.
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Report from the Field: Making the Next Move in Haiti

Micha Odenheimer, founding director of Tevel b’Tzedek, is blogging from Haiti this week for Repair the World. For the past two months, nine volunteers from Tevel b’Tzedek have been working to support the communities devestated by the January 12 earthquake, running the only school in the Petitionville refugee camp. Read the previous post here and check back tomorrow for more.

On the road back from Jacmel to Port au Prince, I talk to Ted, a young man we brought along to translate as we visited rural villages and the earthquake affected area outside the capital city in order to figure out what our next move in Haiti should be. Ted is a Haitian immigrant to the United States—he had a green card, but no citizenship, and moved back to Haiti several months before the earthquake after some trouble with the law.
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 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.

At the outset of Parshat Kedoshim, all Israel receives the nebulous command of “kedoshim tihiyu…You shall be holy, for I am holy; I am the Lord your God.” ((Leviticus 19:2.)) The text then proceeds to enumerate numerous laws appearing to detail the requirements of this injunction.

Within this collection of verses we find an interesting parallel: In Leviticus 19:3, the text dictates that part of fulfilling the commandment to be holy includes the obligation to “… revere [one’s] mother and [one’s] father, [and to] keep my Sabbaths, I am the Lord your God.” ((Leviticus 19:3.)) Toward the end of Chapter 19, a second verse, also linked to holiness, structurally and linguistically parallels 19:3 quite closely. It requires that “you shall keep my Sabbaths and venerate My Sanctuary, I am the Lord.” ((Leviticus 19:30.)) In these two verses, the language of Sabbath reverence is identical, and the word for reverence—tira’u—is used in relation to both parents and the Sanctuary.
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Report from the Field: More from Haiti

Micha Odenheimer, founding director of Tevel b’Tzedek, is blogging from Haiti this week for Repair the World. For the past two months, nine volunteers from Tevel b’Tzedek have been working to support the communities devestated by the January 12 earthquake, running the only school in the Petitionville refugee camp. Read the previous post here and check back tomorrow for more.

The streets of Port au Prince are far emptier than on any “normal” day—there’s a gas shortage, so buying gas means a wait of hours at a gas station, or buying “loose” gallons on the black market for 12 dollars and fifty cents. Still, on the way to a meeting, traffic is slow enough to be startled and delighted by the names the Haitians give their businesses: The Shekhina Food Shop, Adonai hardware and utensils, the El Shaddai School. Biblical language—and especially, apparently, sundry and profound varieties of Hebrew divine names—are burned into Haiti’s consciousness. The Biblical story of liberation from slavery resonates here. I wonder how it feels for my secular Israelis compatriots to see their own religious language—both strange and familiar to them writ large on sign boards in a place so far from home.
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Report from the Field: Tevel B’Tzedek in Haiti

Micha Odenheimer, founding director of Tevel b’Tzedek, is blogging from Haiti this week for Repair the World. For the past two months, nine volunteers from Tevel b’Tzedek have been working to support the communities devestated by the January 12 earthquake, running the only school in the Petitionville refugee camp. Read more about Tevel b’Tzedek’s work in Haiti tomorrow.

The Petionville refugee camp, stretched across what was, before the earthquake, a country club for the Haitian elite, houses some 60,000 people – it’s the largest refugee camp for the earthquake victims in country. Thousands of tents, constructed of red, yellow, blue or orange tarp, cover the rolling hills of the camp like strange plastic flowers; in the distance, you can see the sea. People from all over Port au Prince and from a cross section of Haitian society are living here—some come from crowded slums not much different than the camp, others are middle class families; all of their former lives, and often some of their closest relatives are buried in the rubble of their homes.

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On Tap: Earth Day Turns 40

Tomorrow (April 22), Earth Day will celebrate its 40th birthday.

The environmental movement has changed a lot since 1970 when Senator Nelson decided to throw an annual awareness party for the earth. (Fun fact: Earth Day was founded not by a bunch of hippies, but by a straight-laced Senator from Wisconsin.)

In many ways, the threats of polluted air and water, species extinction, global warming and environmental injustice are just as dire as they were 40 years ago. Meanwhile, some activists suggest that Earth Day has lost its initial power and relevancy, and that focusing the ideas of conservation and care of the planet on one day makes them easier to forget the rest of the year. The very fact that the holiday is reaching middle age while humans’ consumption of fossil fuels remains sky-high is perhaps a case in point.

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In Their Own Words: AJWS Volunteers

Traveling abroad is incredibly rewarding, but it can be frustrating to figure out how to share the amazing, life-changing experiences one has during the trip with loved ones back home. Sure there are photographs, blogs and lengthy group emails, but nothing quite captures the experience like telling someone about it in one’s one voice.

This frustration holds true for any vacation, but feels especially powerful after a service trip. Not only has the participant experienced a new place – it’s culture and people – but they have also made deep, lasting connections with a community and, hopefully, made an impact on that community. More often than not, the participant is often significantly shaped by the experience as well.

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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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