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Archive for : Featured

Get Your Book On: Inspiring Summer Reads

There are exactly 39 days of summer left this year. That means, it’s time to finally brush off those dusty book covers or Kindles and dig into the summer reading list you’ve been putting off since Memorial Day. Aside from finishing up the Hunger Games series (for the second time) and catching up on the classics, now is also the perfect time to read up on volunteering, service role models, finding inspiration and changing the world.

The following collection of books was pulled directly from Repair the World’s bookshelves and given enthusiastic thumbs up from the staff here. There are a lot of inspiring words and ideas just waiting below.

Hearts on Fire
Hummingbird, 2011
This book by Jill Iscol and Peter Cookson shares the powerful stories of twelve different visionaries who managed to ignite their “idealism into action” and changed the world for the better in the process. If a dozen inspiring stories of true-life heroism and community action aren’t enough to convince you to pick up a copy of this book, the foreword by former President and current do-gooder extraordinaire, Bill Clinton, seals the deal that it’s an absolute must-read.

Living Proof: Telling Your Story to Make a Difference
Granville Circle Press, 2012
Have you ever wished that you could use the power of your words and story to move people to make a difference in the world? Written by John Capecci and Tim Cage, two experts in the world of communications, this straightforward, easy-to-use book will teach even the shyest public speaker to share their story with compelling confidence. Words have the power to change the world – as long as you learn to use them wisely.

The Impossible Will Take a Little While
Basic Books, 2004
Your favorite global do-gooders from Nelson Mandela to Tony Kushner and Maya Angelou come together in this awesome anthology of “hope in a time of fear.” The book’s 50 essays range from past to present day and from stories of mass social movements to small-but-meaningful moments of individual and community inspiration. Warning: this book’s positive outlook is addictive. We dare you to read it and not feel more hopeful about the state of the world.

Writing to Change the World
Riverhead Books, 2006
Social-change journalism veteran and author of the New York Times best-selling book, Reviving Opehila: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, Mary Pipher’s book teachers readers how to influence the world for good with their poetry and prose. Pipher believes that writers can serve as the “rescue team” for our “tired, overcrowded planet,” and be a source of inspiration, education, and change. Want to use your writing to change the world for good? Read on…

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Vintage, 2010
Pulitzer Prize winning authors, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn take readers on a journey through Africa and Asia to meet women on the brink: sold into sex slavery, dying in childbirth, and treated as second class citizens, or worse, in their communities. The authors share these stories of suffering and show how we can help to transform the lives of these women and girls by supporting and empowering their economic progress. Read on and get ready to be inspired.

The Fair Trade Revolution
Pluto Press, 2011
The Fair Trade revolution has grown tremendously over the last two decades – moving from the fringe to the mainstream. This book, edited by fair trade expert John Bowes, explores this tremendous growth with personal stories and real-world examples. It is sure to inspire you to think deeply before buying that next cup of coffee or that new cotton t-shirt.

What’s your favorite “must-read” do-gooder book? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting @repairtheworld.

Shabbat Service: Using Our Power Wisely and Compassionately

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: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Eikev, Moses gives a moving presentation to the Israelite’s about God’s power. He says:

“And now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God demand of you? Only this: to revere Adonai your God, to walk only in God’s paths, to love God, and to serve Adonai your God with all your heart and soul… Adonai your God is God supreme and Adonai supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.”

In other words, Moses says, God’s kind of a big deal (except, for real).

The “takeaway”: This week’s dvar tzedek author, Rabbi David Singer, writes, “This is a provocative theological message, to be sure, and one that has crucial practical import for those of us who concern ourselves with the work of global justice.” Too often, he writes, our public discourse splits between people who want to show their power by force, and those who want to show a subtler type of power, offering “empathic aid as a means for influencing change in the world.” Many of us, he writes, are “uncomfortable with thinking of our social justice work as exercising ‘power,’ but by asking us to emulate a God who does so to overcome injustice, our tradition invites us to embrace our empathic force and not to be shy about using it.”

The “to-do”: When we help others – as volunteers, as educators, as activists – we exert a type of power in the world. Sign up for an activist training that teaches you how to lead with empathy and humility, listen to others and work with a community to help bring change for everyone.

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.

Shabbat Service: Who are We Responsible For?

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), Va’etchanan seems to ask the question, who are we responsible to? Are we supposed to look out for just ourselves and our own interests? People in our family or community? Just other Jews, or the whole world? Where, in other words, are the boundaries of our obligation?

Dvar Tzedek author, Wendi Geffen believes that the parsha – at first – seems to argue for a narrow field of obligation, saying: “Be careful, then, to do as Adonai your God has commanded you. Do not turn aside to the right or the left: follow only the path that Adonai your God has enjoined upon you.”

But on closer inspection, she said, the scope is actually wider than it first appears. A little later the parsha reads: “You should surely keep the mitzvah of Adonai your God; God’s testimonies and statutes that God commanded you. You should do what is hatov v’hayashar (good and right) in the eyes of God.”

The “takeaway”: Geffen writes that most Jewish commentators see that commandment to do what is “good and right” as going beyond the specific commandments, to be just in all of one’s actions and interactions with others. She goes onto explain that the notion of hatov v’hayashar offers a “compelling argument that Jewish sources indeed endorse and mandate our global justice pursuits.”

The “to-do”: Doing service and helping others – both in your community and beyond it – is a “good and right” thing to do, no matter what your personal justification for doing so is. But to have backing and support from the Jewish texts makes the work all the more meaningful and powerful. While there’s no specific “to-do” action step for this week, the parsha serves as a reminder of the importance of examining why we do what we do, and the importance of helping others, no matter who they are.

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.

Celebrate International Forgiveness Day

This Sunday, August 5, is International Forgiveness Day – a day organized by the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance (yes, that’s totally a real thing) and dedicated to promoting the importance of sincere forgiveness in building strong relationships and communities.

Sound familiar? That’s because, a bit more than a month from now is the international Jewish day of forgiveness, also known as Yom Kippur. A day where Jews atone and apologize – to themselves, others, and God – for any errors and wrong doings they committed, and others are meant to forgive them and move on. (Check out this interesting article in the Washington Post about forgiving and being forgiven on Yom Kippur.)

So think of this Sunday’s forgiveness holiday as a primer for Yom Kippur – a day to begin getting you into the spirit for the massive season of forgiveness coming up on the Jewish calendar. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make a list. In fact, make two: One list of people that you feel you have wronged and would like to apologize to, and one of people that you might be holding a grudge against. Think about ways you can talk to the people on your lists and make amends.
  • Think big. Take some time to think about the unintentional global wrongs you might be a part of – things that go beyond person-to-person relationships and impact the world or your own spiritual and emotional life. Resolve to find ways to ease these wrongs between now and Yom Kippur.
  • Give tzedakah. One of the three major ways to repent on Yom Kippur is to commit to giving tzedakah. (The other two are tshuvah, or repentance and tefillah, prayer.) So between International Forgiveness Day and Yom Kippur, research a few world-changing organizations and commit to supporting their work, however you can.

How will you celebrate International Forgiveness Day? Let us know by tweeting @repairtheworld.

Repair Interview: Jamie Etkind on Her Time at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

Since 2006, Repair the World grantee-partner Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village has provided a community and high school in Rwanda for the young people who were orphaned during and after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It has also served as an amazing place for service learning.

This past May University of Pennsylvania junior, Jamie Etkind, attended a Hillel-led trip for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim students to ASYV for a 10-day service learning program. The students spent time with Agahozo-Shalom’s villagers, worked in their gardens, school and community, and gained a deeper understanding of the lasting impact the genocide has had on the country. Etkind took the time to tell Repair the World about her once-in-a-lifetime service experience.

What is your background with service and volunteering?
I was raised in a reform Jewish household, participated in mitzvah days when I was younger, and had a service project around my bat mitzvah where I raised money for the Koby Mandell Foundation. In high school I was also the co-founder and president of an organization that raised money for and got students involved as volunteers in hospice work. But I had never been on a service trip, and never really given much explicit thought to how deeply related Judaism and service are.

How did you find out about Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village?
Two of my friends had participated before and came back with rave reviews. They both said, “you have to do this!” I had learned about the Rwandan genocide in high school, but before the trip I never knew what happened there after the genocide. Leading up to the trip, I was incredibly excited. I did a lot of independent research including watching a bunch of documentaries about what the country is like today. I also read the powerful and fact-filled book, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families. In the semester leading up to our trip, our group also read a lot of survivor testimonials and did outreach events, so by the time I left I felt pretty well versed – but I still didn’t have any first hand experience.

What did you do during the trip?
A lot of the trip was focused on forming personal relationships with the students in the village. Every morning we would do a service project, like helping in the garden or kitchen. After the students’ school day, we met up with them and went to their after school clubs and took tours of the village. On Saturday, since the students weren’t in school, we got to work side by side with them in the garden.

Can you share a story or two of the impact the trip had?
One of my favorite interactions was with a student named Pacy, who I first met during a meal. One night when we were walking from dinner – it was pitch black outside in the village, but she knew her way – she told me her life story. She opened up about her family’s history and her ambitions and said, “I’d love to be like Oprah someday.” I said, “Oh, so you can be on television?” And she said, “No, so I can help other girls in positions like me.” That was really powerful – these kids have such a sense of service ingrained in them. It’s part of their daily life – they can’t wait to go to university and come back and be the generation that helps make their country great.

What surprised you most on the trip?
I wasn’t expecting to have so much introspection about my Judaism. As I mentioned, I grew up reform but I’ve been a part of the Maimonides Leaders Fellowship at Penn, and have found a lot of meaning in that. On the trip, there were Jews across the denominations, as well as Christian, Catholic, Mormon, and Muslim students. We would talk a lot about religion, and people would ask me very innocent questions like “Why do you work on Saturday, but the other Jews aren’t?” or “Why are you not keeping kosher but the other Jews do?” I had never been asked those questions by anyone and it led me to the realization that if I don’t do these things, I need a reason why. I’m at a point in my life where it’s not enough to simply say, “I do it because I was raised that way.” So my eyes were opened by these other students.

Did the trip also change your thoughts or perspective about Judaism and service?
Yes, I had really never put the two together before even though I’d experienced them together. I never really thought about service being such a strong pillar of Judaism, but that was something we really explored on the trip and it got me thinking. I had always associated tzedakah as simply giving money, but now I know it’s also about service and so much more.

Learn more about Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village’s work here.

Shabbat Service: Join in the Long, Hard Fight to End AIDS

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: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Dvarim, the Israelites gather on the steppes of Moab, waiting for Moses to deliver his final speech before they enter their new home in the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert. It’s a beautiful, awe-inspiring moment, until Moses begins to speak and rebukes the Israelites at length about their sins in the desert.

The “takeaway”: This week’s dvar tzedek author, Leah Kaplan Robins, admits that “this oration stuns me every year…Why does Moses reiterate these facts when what [the Israelites] probably need is an inspirational message about how far they’ve come? I have always assumed that Moses simply lost control, succumbing to his bitterness that the people will enter Canaan without him.”

But, she writes, the big picture tells another story. “I’m seeing Moses’s speech in a new light this week, as my AJWS colleagues—and 49 of our grantees from around the world—are attending the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. For the 25,000 activists, scientists, NGO workers and policy makers gathering on their proverbial mountain top, it must be tempting to stoke feelings of relief at how far they’ve come since the first terrifying cases of HIV emerged in 1979. But emphasizing this progress obscures the devastating big picture.”

In other words, like Moses or today’s leaders in the fight against AIDS, sometimes one can lead best when they don’t let people get complacent, but continue to remind them exactly why they’re fighting. In the case of the AIDS epidemic, the reason for fighting is the memory of the 30 million people who’ve died of the disease, and in honor of the 33 million more currently infected.

The “to-do” Lend your support to the cause: sign this Declaration to End AIDS petition, which was created by major AIDS organizations in Washington DC.

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.

Hey Hey! Repair the World Board Member Named to Oy!Chicago’s 36 Under 36 List

We’d like to interrupt this series of posts for an exciting announcement about one of our very own do-gooders!

Repair the World Board member, Amy Witt, was recently named one of Oy!Chicago’s 36 under 36 for her dedication to Chicago’s public school system and youth.

We’re so proud to see Amy recognized among an incredible group of inspirational leaders — humanitarians, educators, social activists, rabbis, and even restaurant owners — all working toward a healthier, more equal and just world.

With a passion for tikkun olam and a slew of accomplishments too long to list, Repair the World wants to give Amy a huge shout out as an outstanding and active member of her community –and of Repair the World’s board!

Why Amy?
Great question! As one of the first staff members of Chicago Run, an organization that promotes health and fitness through creative programming, Amy has helped implement and manage sustainable fitness and health programs in 55 Chicago Public Schools that serve over 13,400 students. (That’s a lot of kids!) And, in her time working with Teach for America (a Repair the World fave) she not only helped her fifth grade class achieve significant gains (over two years of growth!) in their math and English language proficiency scores, she also worked with a team to create a rigorous school-wide reading and writing curriculum that helped increase the school’s overall report card grade from a D- to an A in two years! And if that’s not enough, Amy is now helping Repair the World build its upcoming education initiative in Chicago. (More on this soon…Promise!)

Why Service?
“I believe in the power of service to bring people together by building community, and forging strong bonds between people as they work towards a common goal. I strive to make service a defining part of my daily life,” said Amy.

Amy is an outstanding representative of Repair the World’s mission in action. Not only is she dedicated to service, but she also supports her Jewish community, and sees how her Jewish values guide her work.

And it started early: in junior high school, Amy spent two summers as an American delegate at Seeds of Peace, an organization that allows teenagers from regions of conflict to learn the skills of making peace. After studying at the University of Michigan and completing her two years as a Teach for America corps member, she also participated in the REALITY Israel Experience and REALITY Check Fellowship program, wherein she had time to reflect on the inherent connection between Jewish identity and service – finding inspiration that continues to impact her personal and professional life.

Why now?

“It is critical for young professionals and others to devote more time to volunteering and to finding a cause they are passionate about. There is an unlimited impact one can have when they volunteer — on the lives of others, their community, and personally,” she said.

We kind of agree. Congrats, Amy! You’re an inspiration to us all.

Another props goes to our amazing Development Intern, Elana Hubert, for not only helping write this blog post but also getting Amy nominated! Elana hails from Los Angeles, CA and is currently studying Anthropology and Human Rights at Barnard College. We’ll have more on Elana and her delicious campus ice cream business and service activities soon!

Fasting and Serving on Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av (the 9th of the month of Av, which starts this Saturday night) nearly ties with Yom Kippur as the Jewish calendar’s most solemn holiday. The day commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (which led to the exile of the Jewish people from Israel) – two calamities that happened more than 650 years apart, but on the same calendar day. Over the centuries, many other sad historical events have been linked to the Tisha B’Av, adding layers of meaning to the already packed day.

Like Yom Kippur, Jews observing Tisha B’Av fast for 25 hours, from sunset onerev (the night before) Tisha B’Av until nightfall the following day. And like Yom Kippur, they refrain from other everyday activities like bathing, wearing leather shoes, and applying makeup or lotions. The Book of Lamentations (“Eicha” in Hebrew) is read out loud on Tisha B’av and often followed by singing a series of sad liturgical songs. Many observers remove their shoes and sit on the floor in dimly lit rooms for the reading.

But while mourning and fasting are certainly the primary focuses of Tisha B’Av, the holiday also holds within it opportunities for service. Jewish tradition believes that ending suffering and injustice is as important as bowing one’s head in sadness, or even as refraining from eating. Here are three ideas to add service and social action to your holiday custom (or the one you hope to start this year!), and meanwhile bring some comfort and healing to the sorrowful day.

*Note, each of the following opportunities take into account that many people will be fasting for the holiday, and not quite feeling up to hands-on service opportunities.

  • Learn more about modern-day slavery and sign one (or more!) of this organization’s petitions to stop it, particularly in the developing world.
  • Agahozo-Shalom Organize a Race4Rwanda in your neighborhood and raise money for Repair the World grantee-partner, Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village.
  • WITNESS Make a donation to WITNESS – a non-profit founded by musician Peter Gabriel that empowers people around the world to film and use human rights videos to promote justice.

For more information and perspective on Tisha B’Av, check out the great collection of readings and interactive texts at our friend-partner site, On 1 Foot.

Spotlight On: Eden Village Camp (aka The Green Jewish Summer Camp)

Every so often, an idea comes along that feels like it should have existed forever. That’s kind of what Eden Village Camp is like. The Jewish environmental overnight camp combines two already wonderful things – summer camp and sustainability – into one package.

Now in it’s third summer, Eden Village Camp empowers campers to experience a sustainable and spiritual Jewish community geared towards them. At camp campers can be fully themselves, learn outdoor and environmental skills via hands-on projects like organic farming, cooking, and ecology hikes (and more), and become leaders in their communities once camp is over. The camp also runs several Family Camps each season to give camper parents and siblings a taste of camp-life, as well as year-round environmental programming.

There is still time to register for Eden Village’s August session or August Family Camp. Know a camper who might be interested? Find out more here. Want a closer look? Check out this great slideshow of photos, and watch the in-depth Eden Village Camp video here.