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Archive for : Gender & Sexuality

Weekly Torah: Parshat Vayakhel 5771

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was guest writer and dvar tzedek alumna, Rachel Farbiarz.

In Parshat Vayakhel the Children of Israel built the Tabernacle. The project demanded of Israel formidable helpings of both creative energy and generosity. In the punishing desert, the people were expected to furnish a marvelous array of gold, silver, bronze, linens, indigo, hides, oils, incense and precious stones. ((Exodus 35: 6-9.)) And from these gifts, they were to carve, spin, cut, rivet, embroider, weave and fashion the Sanctuary’s sacral architecture and furnishings.

That such an effort could be successfully undertaken in the desert was extraordinary enough. That it be executed by a mass of recently-freed slaves—who, while well-accustomed to hard labor, were untutored in skilled craft—is understood as nothing less than miraculous. ((See, for example, Nachmanides on Exodus 35:21.)) This preternatural ingenuity is most plainly embodied in Bezalel, the man specially named by the Almighty to lead the construction efforts. A creative genius, Bezalel was “filled [ ] with a spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in every task.” ((Exodus 35: 30-31.))
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Ki Tisa 5771

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Rachel Travis.

What does it mean to “count”? To count can mean to tally items to determine the total—as in, the teacher counted her students. To count can also mean to have merit, importance or value—as in, every little bit of help counts. In Parshat Ki Tisa, God instructs Moshe to count the Jewish people. Men over the age of twenty are included in this census, and each is commanded to donate a half-shekel, which is used for the construction and upkeep of the Tabernacle. ((Shmot 30:11-16.))

This census accomplishes several goals. On the most basic level it determines the number of adult Israelite men ((According to Rashi, twenty was the age at which an Israelite man became eligible for military service.)) and raises funds to support an essential religious and communal institution. But more significantly for us, it provides a model for creating a healthy, participatory society. That each man contributes a half, rather than a whole, shekel symbolizes that no person is a complete unit on his own; rather, we become whole by contributing to the community at large, ((Rabbi Yehudah Nachshoni. Studies in the Weekly Parashah. New York: Artscroll, 1989.)) and in turn, the success of our societies is based on the sum participation of individual members. The census also teaches that it is precisely by giving and becoming part of something larger than oneself that an individual counts, or, in other words, matters. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the 19th-century German leader and religious thinker, says: “the significance of each and every member of the nation and that of the nation as a whole, consists in the contribution made by each.” ((Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Trumath Tzvi. New York: Judaica Press, 1986.))
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SongRise Sings for Social Justice in DC

Yesterday we posted a piece about a Boston-based band, Hot Molasses, which uses its music to promote awareness about social issues.

Well good things must come in at least twos, because later that day I saw that a Jewish environmental educator friend of mine, Laura, also performs with SongRise: a Washington DC-based women’s social justice a cappella group.

According to their site, the women of SongRise “use our music to inspire people to fight for social and political change. We offer up our singing talents at community events, rallies, protests, farmer’s markets, civil rights celebrations, DC voting rights events, arts showcases, in schools, at churches, in prisons…you name it, whoever among us can be there will stand up and sing!”

Music, justice and service together – what could be better? How about an upcoming show? This Friday, SongRise is perfoming at The Potter’s House in DC as part of their weekly Songs of Hope benefit concert series. Funds raised at the concert will go to Beyond Borders, a non-profit working to promote equality, education and literacy, and empower citizens in Haiti.

Find more information about the show here – and support SongRise in singing out for justice.

Poetry Competition Honors the Memory of The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Calling all poets, wordsmiths and rhymers: The Forward is sponsoring a poetry contest to remember the tragic fire that engulfed the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in lower Manhattan on March 25, 1911. According to their website:

“A century ago, 146 workers – mostly immigrant women – died as flames engulfed the floors where they worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in New York City.” The fire itself was started innocently – a flare up in a scrap bin under a cutter’s table – but, largely due to the neglectful management and unsafe, sweatshop-like conditions of the factory, it led to one of the deadliest industrial incidents in New York’s history.
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Monday Link Roundup

Hello Repair the World readers – long time no write! I am thrilled to be back editing this site after a few months’ away (while I was filling in for an editor taking maternity leave at Saveur magazine). Thanks so much to Dvora Meyers for keeping the site running so smoothly, and keeping the powerful service-related stories flowing in my absence. I’m looking forward to picking up right where she left off – and to get things started, here is your weekly dose of inspiring bits and bytes from around the service blogosphere.
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Wednesday Link Round Up

Usually, Wednesday is the toughest day to get through — the past weekend is but a distant memory and Friday evening feels just too far away. (And unfortunately, I can’t think of any Wednesday song lyrics to help you cope.) But not this week. Many of us are off from work and/or school on Friday for the holidays. Some of us may have already left on vacations that will take us somewhere warm. Yet even if you’re not traveling to sunny climes, here are a few service oriented and social justice links culled from around the blogosphere to warm your heart. And if you are traveling, you can read them while you’re waiting in line at airport security. Well, at least until they make you put your laptop/iPad into a plastic bin.

  • High school Zachary Hecht speaks about his first experience engaging with the homeless in Washington D.C., which shattered most of the preconceptions he began the work with. (And if you’re looking for an opportunity to help the homeless in NYC, check out this post from last week.) — HandsOn Blog
  • In Charlotte, NC, service learning is part of the curriculum. A delightful article about how one school is teaching students about the value of volunteering during the holiday season. — The Charlotte Observer
  • The Coalition of Jewish Teen Leaders has pledged to get 18,000 peers to take a stand against homophobic bullying sign Keshet‘s “Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives.” — eJewish Philanthropy
  • It’s late December and you know what that means — “Best of…” lists. Instead of the top movies/songs/celebrity breakdowns round ups, here’s a year in review post that is actually uplifting — the best interviews with technology and social impact leaders. — Net Squared
  • Another list post but this time it’s a how-to guide to creating a great, effective call to social action. — Socialbrite

Shattering the Glass Ceiling

Last week the AVODAH blog posted a letter written by Rachel Lee, an alum of the corps, about the gender gap in the world of Jewish service work. Just a few days later, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, author of There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law and Tradition (Jewish Lights, 2009), weighed in on a different aspect of the issue in “Making Jewish Paychecks Fair,” which was published in The Forward – namely, that female Jewish communal professionals earn $28,000 less than men working in the field. Though Jacobs’ article didn’t address Lee’s directly, the two pieces seem to speak to each other. The former explains how so many women end up working in the nonprofit service world and the latter shows how they’re sometimes unfairly treated once they arrive there.
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Monday Link Round Up

The Monday after Thanksgiving is perhaps the most difficult Monday of them all. For all of you returning to work or school after the long holiday weekend, here’s a round up of interesting reads about environmentalism, philanthropy and service from across the web and blogosphere to get this week started right.

  • Today marks the launch of Jewcology, a new web venture that combines innovative young Jews and ecology, and hopes to raise environmental awareness as well as suggest ways for people to get involved. The site will feature content from some of our favorite Jewish environmental and farming groups, including Hazon, the Jewish Farm School and the Teva Learning Center. — Jewcology
  • An article announcing the overhaul of Charity Navigator, which helps donors evaluate the effectiveness of nonprofits. The new system will offer greater detail and will empower potential donors by helping them make more informed decisions. — New York Times
  • Rachel Lee, an AVODAH alum, shares a letter she wrote about the gender representation and disparities in nonprofit and service work. — AVODAH Blog
  • A post about the Pando Project which enables young Americans put their ideas for improving their communities into action. Apply to be one of their first 25 projects! — Youth Venture Blog

Weekly Torah: Parshat Vayeshev 5771

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Jimmy Taber.

Over and over in the Torah, widows are singled out as a group meriting special protection by God. Along with the stranger and the orphan, the widow is recognized as an especially vulnerable member of society. ((For example, Exodus 22:21–22 reads: “You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me.” Also see: Deuteronomy 14:28–29, Deuteronomy 24:19–22, Deuteronomy 27:18–19, Jeremiah 22:3, Isaiah 1:17, and Malachi 3:5.)) Tamar’s story, as told in Parshat Vayeshev, can help us understand why the Torah focuses specifically on the widow, and why it is so critical to protect the rights of this vulnerable population.

Tamar finds herself widowed twice, having lost both her husbands, brothers Er and Onan, in succession. The Torah offers Levirate marriage—in which a widow is married to a man in her deceased husband’s family—as a solution to her predicament. ((“When brothers dwell together and one of them dies, and he has no children, the wife of the deceased shall not marry outside to a strange man; her brother-in-law shall come to her, and take her to himself as a wife, and perform levirate marriage.” (Deuteronomy 25:5) )) Yet due to his belief that Tamar was actually the cause of the deaths of his two eldest sons, Tamar’s father-in-law Judah refuses to allow his youngest son to marry her. ((Rashi on Genesis 38:11)) Instead he orders her to “remain a widow in your father’s house until my son, Shelah, grows up.” Despite this promise, it quickly becomes clear that Judah has no real intention of allowing Shelah to marry Tamar. ((Genesis 38:6–11.))
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