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Archive for : Gender & Sexuality

Weekly Torah: Matot-Masei 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.

Parshat Masei opens as the wanderings of the Israelites are coming to an end. The land east of the Jordan has been conquered and divided, and God is commanding Moshe regarding the procedures to be followed upon entering Israel. Included in these commandments is a verse that dictates that when the Jews enter Canaan, they should banish the Canaanites and destroy their holy relics and holy sites—raze them all, utterly and completely, or face God’s wrath for failing to do so: “You shall destroy all their figure objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their altar-places.” ((Bamidbar 33:52.))

Reading this verse might well make us shudder, as the overt and deliberate destruction of sites holy to any faith is repellant to many modern readers. Israel’s 1967 Protection of Holy Places law and the international outcry over the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan, Afghanistan, ((Gall, C. “From Ruins of Afghan Buddhas, a History Grows.” New York Times, 6 December 2006.)) highlight this sentiment. Moreover, we have a strong tradition in the U.S. of respecting and enabling the religious and cultural practices of others.
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Pinchas 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.

In the space of eight verses in Parshat Pinchas, God and Moses arrange a succession plan for Israel’s faithful shepherd. The passage, together with an accumulation of rabbinical commentary thereon, provides a window into what kind of person the Torah sees as fit to lead the Jewish people.

According to the Midrash, Moses hopes that God will appoint his son as his successor, arguing that it’s only logical for the position to be inherited within his family. ((Midrash Tanhuma, Pinchas 11.)) God replies that Moses’s son is not worthy, whereas Joshua, Moses’s student and tireless assistant in the service of God and the people, certainly is. This response emphasizes that leadership of the Jewish community should not be hereditary; rather it must be based on demonstrated merit.
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Report from the Field: A HIAS Volunteer in Kenya

Amy Schwartz, PR/Communications fellow at the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya (HRTK), is blogging from Kenya this summer for HIAServe and Repair the World. Amy will be a fellow at HRTK until the end of August, and will continue to update us from the field.

Chapter 1: Karibu To Kenya

Arrival into Nairobi: 13:30 on Monday, the 31st of May to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

See in the distance: Steven, a driver at the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya, holding my name up boldly and smiling. “Karibu!”, he says.

What is Karibu do you ask?

Swahili for ‘Welcome.’

Okay makes sense; he was waiting for me to arrive for my fellowship with HRTK and wishes me Karibu! But what I found out instantly was Karibu doesn’t just mean the standard. ‘Welcome’ that you might see on signs, storefronts, and border crossings.

Karibu also means ‘you are welcome here’. You are welcome here in Kenya. Karibu! A greeting not only to say hello, but that I was wanted here in Kenya. For a moment, I was almost confused! And it wasn’t jet lag.
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Monday Morning Link Roundup

Yesterday was Fathers’ Day, and in honor of the special occasion, here are some inspiring reads and service opportunities, both dad-related and not, from around the blogosphere.


  • (Robyn Stegman) A blogger gushes about the influence her dad has had on her service work, and embarks on a unique fundraising project to say thanks. (You can help out with the fundraising efforts here.)
  • (Take Part) The state of Florida gets one step closer to shedding its title as the only state in the nation with an explicit ban on gay adoption.
  • (JTA) In related news, next week (June 27-29) three Jewishly-focused LGBT advocacy groups will join together in the Bay Area with more than 100 leaders of the Jewish LGBT movement for a first-of-its-kind visioning meeting.
  • (Good) Writer and business-management theoriest Tony Schwartz is fighting back on behalf of the long-lost lunch break. Starting June 23, every Wednesday is Take Back Your Lunch day – join the fight by enjoying your lunch.
  • (How to Change the World) An oldie-but-goodie essay discusses how to change the world by being a mensch.
  • (JTA) Philanthropists Eli and Edyth Broad recently pledged to donate 75% of their personal fortune (which stands at about 5.7 billion) during their lifetime. Read more about the incredible couple here.


  • (JustCoz) A new online platform JustCoz enables non-profits to expand their social media reach by “donating” a tweet a day to the site. Register here to begin spreading the word about the causes your NGO or charity is passionate about on JustCoz. (FYI – Judging by names alone, at least two of the three founders, Yotam Troim and Ronen Raz are members of the tribe.)

NY Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36” Full of Service Heros

It’s that time of year again: 36 Under 36 time! Each year the New York Jewish Week profiles 36 Jewish visionaries and innovators under the age of 36.” In the words of the Jewish Week:

“We shine a spotlight on a new crop of three dozen forward-thinking young people who are helping reshape the Jewish community. They’re revitalizing established Jewish organizations by launching new models of young leadership programs, empowering micro-entrepreneurs here and in Israel, fostering new forms of spirituality, and raising our eco-consciousness. Welcome to the future.”

This year, more than half of the impressive bunch were people working on the front lines of service – a clear indication that service work is an integral part of the Jewish community today, and will be into the future. Check out the list’s service super stars below the jump, and find the whole list here.
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JOI Alumni Reflect on Community Organizing and Tikkun Olam

The Jewish Organizing Initiative (JOI) in Boston is a year-long fellowship that teaches the next generation of Jewish leaders about community organizing: helping empower under-served communities to organize themselves, build leadership from within, and bring about systemic change. Many JOI participants are new to the idea and/or practice of community organizing before joining the program. And many alumni say that their exposure to these techniques and philosophies deeply impacted them during their fellowship year, and continue to influence their work and life after the fellowship ends.

We asked four JOI alumni to share their thoughts and perspectives on how community organizing has shaped them as practitioners of tikkun olam. Below the jump: find out what they had to say:
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Beha’alotcha 5770

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

In Parshat Beha’alotcha, the desert Israelites are hungry again. This time, they are ravenous for the savory leek, onion and garlic; the refreshing cucumber and melon; and, above all, for the flesh that they remember from Egypt. Consumed by their famishment, the people cry out to Moses: “Now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all.” ((Numbers 11:4-6.))

Moses cannot abide this last wail of desiccation and—brittle now himself—he cracks. He takes on the people’s sensation of withering, mirroring it in his own anguished plaint to God:
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Thursday Link Roundup: Jewish American Heritage Month

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month (which is May, for the record), President and First Lady Obama are hosting a reception at the White House tonight.

While the President’s office won’t disclose the full list of attendees, the evening will be packed with innovative Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Sharon Brous who heads up LA’s social justice-oriented spiritual community, IKAR, and Jewish Women’s Archives’ Executive Director, Gail Reimer. (And the amazingly talented Regina Spektor is slated to perform – but I digress.) To celebrate the month and this historic event, here are some inspiring bits from the Jewish service blogosphere. Enjoy!


  • (NY Jewish Week) After several years of planning, the Magen Tzedek (the ethical Jewish food certification pioneered by Rabbi Morris Allen) is nearly ready to hit the shelves.
  • (Dowser) Graduating from college, know someone who is, or just want an extra shot of hope? Check out these 5 inspiring graduation speeches from the last few years – featuring Muhammed Yunus, Bill Gates, Ellen Degeneres and Paul Hawken.
  • (BJPA) The Berman Jewish Policy Archive just hit a milestone: their 5,000th policy document is now online accessible to the public. Check them out here. With categories like social justice, women, youth engagement, social services, immigration and global responsibility, there’s plenty of fascinating service-relevant information out there, just waiting to be explored!
  • (Social Citizens) Check out this fascinating article on balancing idealism and pragmatism within a life of service.


  • (Tom’s of Maine) The environmentally-friendly company known for their natural toothpastes and other beauty products is giving away $100,000 to 5 non-profit organizations. Know a deserving org? Nominate them before July 2 here.

Weekly Torah: Parshat Bamidbar 5770

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

At the beginning of Parshat Bamidbar, God asks Moses to “take a census of the whole Israelite community” ((Numbers 1:2.)) in the desert as a prelude to the people’s eventual entry into the Land of Israel: The Hebrew word for community, edah, is most often used to mean the entire nation; ((Milgrom, Jacob. The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers. The Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1989, p. 4, comment on Numbers 1:2.)) but here, rather than serving as a comprehensive detailing of the entire people, the census has a narrow focus. Those to be counted are “every male…from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms.” ((Numbers 1:2-3.)) The snapshot of the Israelites that Moses is being asked to take includes only those adult males who can serve in the army. Everyone else just doesn’t count.
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Thursday Link Roundup

Here are some inspiring service-related bits and bytes to read with your morning coffee:


  • By now you’ve likely seen Google’s amazing new “Search On” advertisement tracking a US to Paris love story. Now check out the cute parody about radical Jewish activist Emma Goldman.
  • JTA: Read this inspiring story about Jewish doctor, Rick Hodes’, lifesaving work in Ethiopia – and the new HBO documentary film and book about him.
  • The state of Michigan is facing serious budget woes and high unemployment rates. In a wonderfully proactive move, the government is conducting a 10-city listening tour called “Michigan’s Voices for Volunteerism” to hear public input about how to expand service and people-to-people support within the state.
  • Forward: The first woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi, Amy Eilberg, reflects on her past 25 years in service, and the state of women’s rights within the Jewish community.


  • Philanthropy News Digest: Nominations are now being accepted for the 2010 Mario Savio Young Activist Award. If you know an young (16-26) activist who is doing outstanding work in the fields of social change, promoting peace, human rights, economic or social justice, or freedom of expression, nominate them by June 30, here.
  • To Mama With Love In honor of Mothers’ Day – coming up this Sunday, May 9 – an amazing organization is offering people the chance to send their mom a sweet online shout out, while raising money to build homes for kids in need.