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Shabbat Service: War is Not Healthy For Children…

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), Matot-Masei, the tribes of Reuven and Gad ask Moses if – instead of settling in Canaan with the rest of the Israelites – they can settle east of the Jordan River, where the pasture is perfect for raising their livestock. Moses doesn’t buy it, thinking they’re using farming as an excuse to avoid the battle necessary to conquer Canaan. “Your brothers are going to go to war,” he says, “and you are going to sit here?” Reuven and Gad relent, agreeing to fight in the war if they can then settle where they wish.

The takeaway: This week’s dvar tzedek author, Sigal Samuel, writes that Moses’ perhaps misread Reuven and Gad. “Although the men initially couch their request in terms of livestock, the issue of their children’s safety creeps into their speech. They explain that, while they’re off at war, “our children will dwell in the fortified cities.”

Reuven and Gad knew from experience the devastating effects war can have on children. Their stance was like a biblical take on the famous anti-Vietnam War poster in the 1960s that said, “War is not healthy for children or other living things.” Unfortunately, as Samuel writes, “we too have seen society’s most vulnerable members bear the brunt of war’s tragic consequences. According to UNICEF’s 1996 report, over the preceding decade 2 million children were killed in armed conflict, while 6 million were seriously injured or permanently disabled. This does not include the many children who became refugees, orphans or victims of rape, sexual slavery, disease or malnutrition as the result of war.” Perhaps Reuven and Gad had it right all along…

The “to-do”: Support organizations – like AJWS grantees AJEDI-Ka/Project Enfants Soldats and Friends of Orphans that are doing the vital work of rehabilitating children affected by war, throughout the world.

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: Where Soap Opera Drama Meets US Food Aid

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), Pinchas, begins in true soap opera style. The Israelite men have just slept with women from neighboring tribes. Outraged by the scandal of it all, Pinchas kills an Israelite prince and a Midianite princess with a spear. Then God rewards Pinchas for his deed with a brit shalom, a covenant of peace and a warning that the Israelites need to tone it down with all the sleeping around and wage war with the Midianites instead. Seriously.

The takeaway: When it comes to biblical drama, this story packs a punch. But there is more to the story than first meets the eye. According to this week’s dvar tzedek author, Adina Roth, “The text offers us clues as to why…this particular encounter requires a harsh display.” According to a closer reading of the text, “the Midianites are seducing the Israelites not for connection but for ownership, not for relationship but for ideological conquest—to undermine the Israelites’ core value: Monotheism.” In other words, by falling for the Midianite’s charm and seemingly good intentions, the Israelites stand to lose everything they believe in. “Perhaps this is why,” Roth writes, “God describes the Midianites’ actions as a “crafty attack” and insists that this is a time for asserting boundaries.”

Believe it or not, this story has a modern day social justice lesson to teach. As Roth writes, “There are relationships motivated by chessed [loving kindness] and others motivated by self-interest, and it is important to recognize the difference and set boundaries against the latter.” This is particularly true when evaluating political relationships. Roth points to the United States food aid policy in Haiti as an example. “Sharing food with hungry people appears to be the consummate expression of chessed; however, many of the regulations that dictate U.S. food aid are primarily motivated by self-interest. Rules that restrict food aid to grain grown in the United States and shipped on American boats boost the American shipping and commercial agriculture sectors, but distributing food this way costs more and takes far longer than if the same funds were spent to purchase food locally in the developing world.”

The “to-do”: Support farmers and small business owners in developing nations and help them attain self-sufficiency and strong economies. Make a micro-loan through Kiva and check out the Haiti Advocacy Platform for an Alternative Development (PAPDA) – an AJWS grantee – that advocates for building sustainable and independent food systems in Haiti.

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.

Helping Colorado (And Elsewhere) Recover From the Fires and Heat

Earlier this summer, Colorado was on fire. Not the whole state of course, but a shocking amount of it was damaged by drought-induced wildfires. Tens of thousands of acres blazed, thousands of people were evacuated and hundreds lost their homes.

Does this story sound familiar? Increasingly it is. As an op-ed in last Sunday’s New York Times writes: “Summer is barely two weeks old and two-thirds of the country is in the grip of a severe drought. More crops will die. More forests will burn.”

In other words, as scientists have predicted for decades, the impacts of climate change are beginning to rear their ugly heads. And as that happens, the risk of weather-related disasters increases.

Become a key part of the global movement to curb climate change. Check out climate-focused organizations like 350.org and The Environmental Defense Fund, and plug into the solution. In the meantime, find out how you can help Colorado recover from the most recent fire on the website HelpColoradoNow.org. The Jewish Federation of Colorado and The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) are also collecting funds to assist those affected.

Focusing On Women’s Health on World Population Day

Last fall, the world’s population hit a record 7 billion people. Today, approximately 8 months later, we’re up to 7,025,433,781 (and growing). At an abstract level, all those new babies being brought into the world is a beautiful thought. Be fruitful and multiply, right?

But the world’s quickly expanding population has its challenges too – putting a stress on ecological and community resources, and a strain on many families – and particularly women. That’s why today, World Population Day aims to raise awareness about population issues across the world.

The focus of this year’s celebration is family planing and reproductive health. According to the UN: “Reproductive health problems remain the leading cause of ill health and death for women of childbearing age worldwide. Some 222 million women who would like to avoid or delay pregnancy lack access to effective family planning. Nearly 800 women die every day in the process of giving life. About 1.8 billion young people are entering their reproductive years, often without the knowledge, skills and services they need to protect themselves.”

The UN has organized lots of initiatives to support women’s reproductive health in the coming years – like working with the Gates Foundation to increase women’s access to family planning. But you can get involved too by supporting like-minded organizations like Repair the World grantee-partner AJWS, the International Women’s Health Coaltion, Population Action International, and others, (Check out a great, user-generated round up of organizations here.)

Learn more about World Population Day at the video below:

See The World This Summer With Sustainable Travel

Summer time = travel time! July 4th may have come and gone, but nearly a whole season of opportunities to explore new people and places still lies ahead. But all those airplanes and miniature bottles of shampoo come with a social and environmental impact. So wherever your next summer jaunt takes you, make sure to keep ethics and sustainability at the forefront of your travel plans. Here are some ideas to get you moving:

  • Don’t fly. Air travel is super pricey right now – that’s reason enough to stay on the ground. But the carbon footprint associated with flying is also huge. So if you can, bike, bus, train, or carpool to your vacation destination.
  • Offset your footprint. Sometimes you have to fly. You can’t exactly drive to Rome or India, after all. If you do, make sure you offset your environmental impact by donating to The Carbon Neutral Company or JNF’s GoNeutral campaign.
  • Stay at a fair wage hotel. Do a bit of research to find out if the hotel you’re staying at pays its workers a living wage (like the Dan Hotel chain in Israel.) Meanwhile, check out GreenHotels.com for a list of vetted, eco-friendly establishments.
  • Support the local economy. When you’re traveling domestically or abroad, aim to support independent restaurants, hotels, and businesses. Your tourist dollars go further supporting them than the big super-chains.
  • Travel with an (empty) water bottle. You can’t bring water through airport security these days, but you can bring an empty reusable bottle everywhere. Fill it up as you go – just make sure the drinking water is stomach-friendly wherever you’re staying.

Where are you headed this summer, and how will you travel sustainably? Let us know by tweeting @repairtheworld.

Shabbat Service: Sustainable Simchas (Celebrations)

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: The haftorah for this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Balak, includes the following lines: ““God has told you, human, what is good, and what Adonai requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God. Then will your name achieve wisdom.”

One rabbinic interpretation of this lovely passage is that public celebrations – like weddings or bnei mitzvah – should be humble and modest, not filled with pomp and excess.

The takeaway: Unfortunately, today’s weddings, bnei mitzvah and other life cycle events can leave unexpected burdens on the environment and workers. As this week’s dvar tzedek author, Sarah Mulhern, writes, tThe environmental impact—from unsustainably grown flowers to international shipping of gifts—of large events can be dramatic.” Meanwhile, kitchen staff at wedding halls might be paid unfairly, huge amounts of food tend to get wasted at parties, and the gold in a wedding ring or silver in a new kiddush cup may have been mined or sourced unsustainably. This parsha reminds us that we have a higher standard of modesty to answer to when planning our celebrations.

The “to-do”: Know someone having a bar or bat mitzvah, wedding or other big ol’ party? Encourage them to keep sustainability and social justice in mind while planning their simcha. And be sure to keep an eye out for AJWS’s forthcoming “Just Celebrations” guides which will provide resources and information to help families “align the many spending decisions that go into planning a lifecycle celebration with Jewish values such as the fair treatment of workers, protecting the environment and decreasing waste and excess consumption.”

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.