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Hunger on the High Holidays, and How You Can Help

It’s hard to imagine Rosh Hashanah without sweet apples and honey, or a Yom Kippur break fast without savory bagels and lox. But for too many families, these foods won’t make it to the table.

Today, more than 50 million Americans and almost 25% of all Israelis experience hunger, or live right on the edge of being unable to feed themselves or their families. Dealing with hunger is a year-round struggle, but can feel especially painful on holidays like Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, which highlight what can feel like a luxurious time for reflection and bringing people together around a festive meal or a break fast. We sometimes take for granted the ability to fast on Yom Kippur.

The high holidays give us time for introspection and tshuvah (repentance) as we aim to enter the new year with open hearts and strong relationships. They also offer the opportunity for us to think about ways we could be doing more to help our communities grow stronger and healthier.

In the spirit of tikkun olam and of new starts, here are some ways to help stamp out hunger this high holiday season, and to bring some sweetness to others’ new year’s celebrations:

  • Masbia: This New York-based kosher soup kitchen network helps to feed hungry people and families all year round, including on the high holidays. Find out how you can volunteer here, or donate money, food or equipment here. Masbia is also selling Rosh Hashanah cards, the proceeds of which will go to support their work.
  • Mazon: This Jewish hunger organization created a bunch of resources to incorporate the notions of hunger and food security into your high holiday celebrations. Make a donation to support their ongoing work to combat hunger here.
  • Jewish Family & Children Services: Lots of JFCS chapters around the country have high holiday-related programming and year-round food banks you can volunteer with.
  • No Kid Hungry: This national organization fights childhood hunger through advocacy and education. Take their No Kid Hungry Pledge, and get involved here.
  • Feeding America: This national network of food banks helps distribute over 3 billion pounds of food to hungry individuals and families each year. Find out how you can volunteer (sorting, boxing and repackaging donated food) here.
  • Revolution Hunger: Help this national campaign harness teen power to fight hunger and malnutrition around the world. Get involved with the Revolution Hunger Youth Team here.

Find out more about Masbia’s work during last year’s Rosh Hashanah in the video below:

 

Do you know of other organizations that are standing up to hunger this high holiday season? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting @repairtheworld.

Repair Hero: Rabbi Stephen Roberts on Providing Spiritual Service After 9/11

Rabbi Stephen Roberts is a professional chaplain – the person to turn to in a crisis for support, advice and spiritual counsel. But he’s also a deep believer in service, both within and outside his official job description. So when the New York branch of the American Red Cross wanted to build an interfaith team of chaplains to serve New York City residents after disasters, he jumped at the chance to volunteer and organize.

That group, which coincidentally started their official service about one week before the attacks on September 11th, ended up playing a pivotal role in providing spiritual care and comfort during the country’s darkest days. Rabbi Roberts took the time to speak with Repair the World about his commitment to serving others, his definition of the word “mazel” (luck in Hebrew), and the role we all play in rebuilding and looking forward after a tragedy.

A couple of years before 9/11 you’d started to recruit chaplains for the American Red Cross. What inspired that?
It was really a story about paying it forward. A close friend of mine – really more of a brother – was killed in a plane crash close to 25 years ago. When he died, one of the ways I got through it was because of some amazing spiritual care from a Rabbi. It really made a difference in my life. Many years later I heard that the American Red Cross was putting together a team of chaplains to provide spiritual care after aviation disasters. I believe deeply in service, and wanted to help create a core of colleagues to do this work. About 2 years before 9/11 I began recruiting a diverse group of chaplains in New York from all the faith traditions. We had actually just completed our preparatory work a week before 9/11. We had been working as a group for months – we were ready to knock on doors, we even had an application form for volunteers.

Wow, what incredible timing!
You know, we normally think about the Hebrew word “mazel” as meaning luck, but I think there’s something more to it. If you read the word backwards, the letter “lamed” (L) stands for limmud, or study, the letter “zayin” (Z) stands for zaman or time, and then there’s the letter “mem” (M), which stands for makom, or place. The notion is, if you have put in the “time” and the “study” into preparing for something, when you finally arrive at the “place,” you are ready for it. That’s really what luck is all about.

What types of care did your team of chaplains provide after 9/11?
We basically had to ramp up our efforts much faster and larger than we’d expected. When I showed up to the Red Cross they told me, “Rabbi – you’ve done all this planning…well now you’re live.” I got on the phone and called my team in. I said, “We’re live starting tomorrow morning – if you can show up, then show up.” We began screening volunteers – imams, rabbis, ministers, and buddhist priests, men, women, black, white, hispanic. Our team ended up including 800 volunteers.

In the first few days after 9/11 we served in front of the family assistance centers – the place where people came to report who was missing, or where biological material was brought to make matches. People stood in line for hours trying to determine if their loved ones were alive or not. So our chaplains wandered the lines and made themselves available. Sometimes, the most powerful spiritual care is about being present. Our presence allowed people to let out their shock and make it through those darkest first days.

How did the work change as the days and weeks went on?
A week and a half or so later, when the memorial services began, we had chaplains there. We handed out water and napkins, and through that work people came to us. We were really a ministry of presence. A month after 9/11 we took over at ground zero, providing chaplains 24/7 in the recovery. We created things like a non-denominational prayer for whenever a body part was recovered. That was for the workers and volunteers – they need a sacred moment, and a reminder that the work they were doing, even if it was happening in the most horrible conditions possible, was sacred. We were there for 9 months until they finally closed the site.

What can rabbis, chaplains and community leaders be doing now – 11 years later – to help their congregations and communities move forward while honoring and remembering?
I co-edited a book with Reverend Will Ashley about training clergy to deal with disaster and spiritual care. I recommend that people read that because it talks about how disasters are a given in life, but what’s most important is how well you’re prepared for them. Our job as clergy is to help the community come back to a new beginning after a tragedy, but really anyone can help facilitate that for their community.

Learn more about the American Red Cross’ work around Disaster Relief, and find out how you can get involved.

Repair the World Staffer Aaron Miner on National Preparedness Month

September is National Preparedness Month – a month dedicated to educating Americans about preparing for natural disasters, terrorist threats and other emergency situations.

It sounds intimidating, but there’s no need for nail-biting here! Repair the World’s very own Aaron Miner, Director of Volunteer Initiatives (and former staffer at Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC Service initiative), shares some tips for getting prepared for emergency situations (like making a “go bag” or emergency disaster kit to have at the ready), volunteering to help other people in your community do the same, and how to pitch in when a disaster strikes.

What and when is National Preparedness Month? Why is it this particular month?
National Preparedness Month has been observed in the US since 2004. The month was chosen as a reminder of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and also because September is typically the height of hurricane season. The month is coordinated nationally by FEMA in conjunction with state offices of emergency preparedness and action, as well as major national emergency organizations like the Red Cross. Throughout the month, events are held that inform the public about how to be prepared in case of natural disasters, localized emergencies like fires in people’s homes, and terrorist acts. People are encouraged – and really should – take time in this month to set emergency plans, pack a “go bag” and make sure that they are aware of their office and town’s emergency procedures.

What are the most important things for people to have in their emergency “go bag?”
A “go bag” is essential to have in any type of emergency. Some of the most important items to have in it include: copies of important documents kept in a zipped plastic bag, enough water for each member of a household to drink for three days, non-perishable food with a handheld can opener, snacks like granola bars, nuts, and dried fruit, a first aid kit, hygiene items like soap, a toothbrush, and toothpaste, a flashlight with operating batteries, a whistle, and a battery-operated radio. People should also keep their cell phones charged up in case they have to run for awhile without electricity to recharge them. They should also have blankets and layers of clothes ready depending on the time of year.

You should check your go bag’s preparedness every 6 months. Change the batteries in your smoke and CO2 detectors, and then check to make sure your go bag is in order. You’ll always be prepared if you follow that schedule.

What are some ways that people can volunteer, formally and informally, to help their neighbors prepare for an emergency?
Many cities have their own offices for emergency management and have programming that uses volunteers to help teach the public about emergency awareness. You can hold a go bag kit stuffing party at your school, or with your friends, and deliver them to home-bound seniors. Talk to friends and distribute a “kit 411” to friends via email. Even something as simple as checking on your own family members to make sure that they have what they need can help.

What about volunteering after an emergency or disaster strikes?
Check out organizations like American Red Cross, NECHAMA, and JDRC to assist in emergencies. The National Civility and Community Core often activates their volunteers to help after an emergency.

Where can people find out more?
To learn more, including a list of things happening in your area and tips for preparedness in all types of emergencies, visit ready.gov.

And for more information, check out this short video on being prepared:

Shabbat Service: Revealing Our True, Authentic Selves

Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:

The story: This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Ki Tetze, contains an unusual commandment (actually it contains 74 commandments, but this one is particularly noteworthy): “A man’s apparel should not be on a woman, and a man should not wear a woman’s clothing, for whoever does these things is an abomination before Adonai your God.” At first glance it’s a confusing and rather offensive commandment, especially for people who identify as transgender.

But as this week’s AJWS dvar tzedek author, Sigal Samuel, writes, “according to rabbinic interpretation [however], this law is not about preventing people from wearing clothes traditionally associated with another gender. It is about preventing deception—the veiling of our true identities—and the harmful results of gaining access to restricted spaces by means of that deception. Read in this light, the verse urges us to ensure that we create spaces that are safe, appropriate and consensual for everyone.”

The “takeaway”: Put simply, the commandment can be read as a biblical encouragement to be our full, authentic selves – whoever that is – and not be afraid to share that with other people. Around the world, however, GLBTQ people have faced a great deal of discrimination while simply attempting to be who they are. Sigal writes, “For many transgender and gender non-conforming people across the globe, particularly in developing countries, this translates into crippling social and economic hardship. India, for example, is home to approximately one million transgender people. Because the majority of them are denied access to job, education and housing opportunities, they are forced to inhabit slums and engage in sex work to survive.”

And yet slowly, gains are being made – like Burma’s first International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which was held this past May.

The “to-do”: Support a world where everyone feels comfortable sharing their true and full selves, regardless of who they are or how they identify. Support the work of transgender advocacy organizations in America (like these) and abroad (like these).

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.

Mission Continued

What do you do when you get back from a life-changing trip to Israel and there’s not enough time left in the summer to do anything — but too much time left to do nothing? High tail it to Detroit to volunteer with your friends and make new ones. Such was the consensus among the 40 strong who wasted no time getting involved upon their return from the Sue and Alan J. Kaufman Family Detroit Federation’s 2012 Teen Mission (TM12).

As part of Repair the World’s ongoing youth enrichment efforts in Detroit, the teens hooked up with Summer in the City to spend some quality time with elementary school students participating in Project Play programs.

“At Summer in the City, every camper gets a volunteer buddy, so you really get the chance to get to know someone and brighten everyone’s day,” said Shane Perlin, one of the volunteers. “It’s a really fun, inclusive environment, where we get to meet all sorts of people AND enjoy the summer weather.”

Summer in the City provided youth programming for over 150 campers daily, including academic enrichment, arts, athletics and field trips — all powered by energetic volunteers from the city and suburbs.

As Shane describes it, TM12 involved service in Israel, including volunteering with Muslim kids in a Druze village. “The great thing about the experiences in Israel and Detroit is that you forget about all your differences and get to focus on the things you have in common. Everyone loves soccer.”

What did you do this summer? Tweet us about your summer volunteer experiences or post on our Facebook wall!

 

Repair Interview: Brian Hertz on X-Out Drunk Driving Day

Brian Hertz is what you might call an “accidental service leader.” Before his sophomore year of high school, the Los Angeles native had never been particularly into volunteering or service work. But a class on Judaism and civics inspired him to co-found X-Out Drunk Driving Day, an initiative that encourages students to draw an “X” on the back of their hands as a pledge to “not drive under the influence,” and prevent others from doing so as well.

Hertz has already received some shout outs for his work. He was recently featured in a Jewish Journal article on “shining stars” from the class of 2012. Hertz, who will attend UCLA this fall, took some time out of his summer to talk to Repair the World about X-Out Drunk Driving Day’s impact on his community and beyond.

Tell me about your service journey!
My interest in community service work started recently. As a high school sophomore I took a class at Los Angeles Hebrew High School called Jewish Civics Initiative, which looked at tikkun olam and advocacy through a Jewish lens and included a leadership seminar in Washington DC. This class helped me begin to see and understand some of the conflicts in the world and inspired me to be more active in fixing problems that I personally observe. Since then, I have tried to do exactly that.

What inspired you to start X-Out Drunk Driving Day?
In my Jewish Civics Initiative class, we were asked to bounce around ideas of a community service project our class could become involved in. Some of my classmates wanted to raise money for the American Cancer Society, while a few of us wanted to do something else. A student from another school in our community had recently been killed in a car crash due to careless driving. Though no alcohol was involved in that particular incident, it inspired us to do something to fight reckless driving. Drunk driving felt like a huge issue to us, and so X-Out Drunk Driving Day was born.

What impact have you seen from the program since it started? Any specific stories of people who were touched by it?
The program has been successful in its first three years. On Facebook, we had nearly 4,000 people click to attend an X-Out event. We know that more people tend to x-out their own hands when they see others doing it too. I’ve personally worked to prevent people from driving under the influence, and believe that taking the X-out pledge has given other people that same voice in their head that encourages them to do their best to stop others from making bad decisions.

Do you connect your community service work and your interest in helping your community with your Jewish identity?
I definitely do! I have always felt a strong connection to my Judaism and love the sense of community that it provides. It truly inspires me to help others.

Do you think you’ll take X-Out Drunk Driving Day with you to college? Or another initiative?
I definitely hope to take the program to college because I think it can have an even bigger and broader impact there. As for another initiative, I will definitely be involved with a lot in college, so who knows? Maybe I’ll have another cool idea in the future!

Find out more about X-Out Drunk Driving Day here.