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Archive for : Holidays

Sukkot: The Original House Party

This post was created in partnership with NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. Repair the World teamed up with NEXT’s Sukkot Holiday Guide to offer ways you can give back this holiday season. Find out how below. 

Sukkot is the Jewish calendar’s official “house party” holiday. During the week-long celebration, people invite friends and family over to eat in their Sukkahs and stargaze through the roof, which is made of natural materials woven loosely enough so that the stars peek through at night. Some particularly hearty folks even sleep in their Sukkahs!

With all its focus on the outdoors, Sukkot also gives us a chance to think more deeply about a basic human need: shelter—and about our good fortune in having permanent housing. On any given day, nearly 700,000 Americans have no home in which to sleep. And according to United Nations estimates, nearly 1 billion people worldwide live in inadequate or unsafe housing situations like slums.

During Sukkot, we have a week-long opportunity to fulfill the Jewish obligation to “welcome the stranger” into our temporary dwellings. Although this custom is rarely taken literally, it reminds us to remember the needs of others in the midst of our celebration. In that same spirit, check out these resources and organizations working to fight homelessness in America and abroad:


  • On1Foot – Find out more about the Jewish tradition’s views on homelessness and hospitality during Sukkot from AJWS’ social justice text database. (Search “Sukkot”)
  • My Jewish Learning – Read about the Jewish mandate that everyone have access to adequate and permanent housing.
  • National Coalition for the Homeless – Find more statistical information about homelessness in America.
  • Sulam Center – Check out this comprehensive round up of Jewish texts relating to homelessness.


  • Habitat for Humanity – A nonprofit organization that builds simple, decent, affordable housing in partnership with people in need.
  • Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty – One of New York’s largest human services agencies fighting against poverty, which runs several residencies for people who are homeless throughout the city.
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness – A nationwide federation of public, private and nonprofit organizations all devoted to ending homelessness in America.
  • National Coalition for the Homeless – A national organization advocating for the rights of people who are homeless.
  • Veahavta – A Jewish humanitarian organization in Toronto that runs a “mobile Jewish response to the homeless van,” delivering meals, clothing and support to homeless people across the city.
  • Washington, D.C. JCC – The JCC runs the “Behrend Builders” program, which connects volunteers to service opportunities helping to rebuild low-income family homes, homeless shelters, and other vital community spaces in the city.

More on Sukkot from Repair the World:

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Repair Interview: UC Berkeley Hillel’s Lisa Motenko on transforming the High Holidays into a season of service

Lisa Motenko is the program director at UC Berkeley Hillel. She’s also the campus point person for Repair the World. With Jewish volunteer credentials like these, it’s no surprise that, when the high holidays rolled around last year, Lisa was ready to transform them into a season of service.

The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur add up to one of the most important week and a half stretches in the Jewish calendar. Known as the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe), they offer a time for spiritual and personal reflection and repentance. Thinking about this, Lisa got the great idea to create opportunities for Berkeley’s students to volunteer every weekday of those 10 days, and also created the space for students to volunteer on Yom Kippur itself.

Below, Lisa tells Repair the World how the days of awe and volunteering went, the deep impact it had on students, and their plans for this year.

How did the program come about?
I was brainstorming with the director of Berkeley’s Hillel about organizing an alternative to the traditional Yom Kippur service. We decided that we would offer traditional services, and also an opportunity for students to head to a soup kitchen that day. That program got me thinking about how the 10 days after Rosh Hashanah are really important – they are the time when the book of life is still open, before it is shut on Yom Kippur. And I just thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we volunteered during those days?

So I contacted some organizations nearby, and we ended up working with a women’s shelter in Berkeley, serving dinner 3 of the days and playing with the kids who lived there another 2 nights. Then on Yom Kippur, we had about 10 people who came and fasted while serving people food at a soup kitchen in San Francisco. It was an incredible day.

It sounds like it!
On Yom Kippur we did a formal learning. We read the part of Isaiah that talks about what fasting really means, and then we went and served food for a few hours. The students got to walk around and talk to the customers, and many of them openly shared that it was Yom Kippur and talked about why they were doing this. Afterward, we discussed what we did and met with a representative from the organization and reflected about why it was meaningful to serve others on Yom Kippur – especially serving food while fasting. People really connected to that. Several of the participants said that it was the most meaningful Yom Kippur experience they had ever had.

Why do you think the impact was so powerful?
I think it made people think. A lot of the time you’re just sitting there in services and feeling quite passive, but this was an active experience. For a lot of the students, this was the first time they had thought about Judaism as being connected to ethics as well as traditions and rituals. Also, something about fasting and seving other people food really helped the students reflect on the value of food and nourishment in a different way. For lots of students, the fast was more meaningful to them than it had been in the past.

Are you offering the high holiday service program again this year?
We are. Last year we had about 40 people join in over the course of the week and on Yom Kippur. This year, we hope to keep spreading the connection between the high holidays and service to even more students.

To learn more about UC Berkeley Hillel’s high holiday volunteer program, or find out how to start something similar on your campus, contact Lisa at: lisa [@]

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 Hero: Rabbi Simkha Weintraub On Ongoing Healing After 9/11

The days and weeks after 9/11 were a time of chaos, as first responders and teams of dedicated volunteers picked through rubble – looking for survivors and beginning the years-long process of rebuilding. But away from ground zero, in New York City and across the country, those days were also a time of deep sorrow, fear and confusion. A time when people needed to mourn, process and emotionally rebuild.

All over New York City, and across the country too, support groups sprung up in churches, community centers, and people’s homes – all in an effort to provide solace and comfort for mourners, survivors, volunteers, and everyone who was impacted by 9/11. There were groups within the Jewish community too, like the one that Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, a New Yorker and the Rabbinic Director of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS) helped create in New York City. Rabbi Weintraub played a critical role in creating opportunities and resources for healing in those first weeks, and facilitated a support group for Jewish people who lost family members in the attack that lasted for an astounding 9 1/2 years.

In this season of reflection, Rabbi Weintraub took some time out to reflect about those first days and weeks after 9/11, the support group’s incredible impact on its members, and a particularly healing trip they took to Israel. We’ve also shared some great opportunities to get involved – with JBFCS and elsewhere – going forward.

What were the days just after 9/11 like for you and the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services?
Once we could get back to our desks, nobody knew how many Jews – or how many people – had died. In the earliest moments, we heard and feared that the number was up to 30,000. We started to keep a list of names of Jewish people we’d heard about passing away, and started reaching out to family members. We developed a database early on of the 240 Jews who died. To do this we reached out to rabbis about people in their congregations. Of course not everyone is affiliated, but we did what we could. We wanted to let them know we were here, and we ended up being the de facto Jewish bereavement and trauma center in New York.

We also started developing resources a month or so after 9/11. There were questions flying in from all over – Jewish educators, rabbis, individuals, and we were getting requests for consultations and trainings. It was so close to the high holidays, and some rabbis were asking – “how do I teach the story of the binding of Isaac this year?” and “For yizkor, how do we add it into the ongoing bereavement?”

Did you do any on the ground work as well?
One synagogue in Lower Manhattan was concerned that everyone in their congregation was going to leave lower Manhattan. The damage was so extensive to people’s homes and the streets – they thought nobody would come home. For Sukkot that year, we did a program about “shelter in the storm,” and organized a sukkah decorating party for that synagogue. In the end, only about 10 people took part – but it was good for that community to be able to say, “we’re here.”

How and when did you decide to launch the support group?
It was intolerable to think of a communal trauma like this, and not try to do something for the Jewish community. We also offered Jewish spiritual counseling one on one. The group didn’t formally start until February or March of 2002. At the first meeting 12 people showed up, and a group of 8-9 regulars formed after that. Within two years, the group solidified as 6 mothers, so it became a group for parents who lost their adult children. We decided to meet formally through the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and now the group continues without official leaders, meeting in each others’ apartments.

How did the group change over the span of 9 1/2 years?
There’s no fixing the problem of losing an adult child, but various things surfaced over the years that the mother’s needed. Early on we had special meetings with the leaders of the Victim’s Compensation Fund, where they guided people about how to think about approaching it. The idea of documenting relationships was incredibly painful and challenging – how, for example, do you put a dollar figure on a husband’s ability to tutor a high school daughter in math?

As time went on, we often talked about politics, and for three years we worked on what became a very large interfaith service on 9/11 with a Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Catholic and Christian who all lost relatives. Hundreds of people took part in that. As issues came up – like the bombing in Madrid and London – the group reached out to survivors through the internet.

One year on 9/11 the group organized a day of service with an organization called Selfhelp that was founded to help survivors of the Holocaust. The mothers in our group volunteered at a coffee shop on a Sunday morning, setting up and shmoozing with the retirees, many of who were survivors in their 80s or 90s.

Why did you decide to discontinue the formal group after 10 years?
I don’t know of any other group that met for 9 1/2 years – we didn’t just talk about the people we missed personally, we talked about the world. We could’ve continued, but the real question was whether or not the group wanted or need professional facilitators. At first they did, but now it’s very much about mutual support and navigating ongoing issues.

How did leading that group impacted you personally?
I’d like to answer that question with a story. We led a trip to Israel for the group with the purpose of drawing on all the dimensions of Israel that offer healing – nature, spiritual resources, human resources… We spent most of our time with Israeli Jews and Arabs who had lost close ones to violence and terror.

We also worked with a well known art therapist named Tamar Hazut who is very well known for her work helping people survive traumatic loss. She led a workshop called “Black Also Has Many Shades,” where she spread art materials all around the periphery of the room. She had black ribbons, black pipe cleaners, black tape – things like that. After a brief introduction, people are encouraged to make whatever they want and talk about it.

We sat in a circle and I was the fifth person to speak. I had made a tunic out of the black ribbons representing all the people who had torn their clothing in grieving their loved ones. As I talked about it, I remembered that our tradition says the resurrection of the dead will begin in Jerusalem. But there we were in Jerusalem and it wasn’t happening. I started to sob – I had never sobbed like that in the group before. I realized that, although the grieving was obviously very different for me, there was this very big sense of loss. There with that group of people in Israel, it felt okay to grieve, it felt kosher to grieve and I was able to let myself go.

TKTK: get involved

Make Mom Proud by Giving Back!

Flowers, chocolate, breakfast in bed, a day to do whatever she wants without the stresses of everyday life. Moms deserve it all. And with Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday, now’s the time to let your mom know how much you appreciate everything she does – whether you’re near or far away.

But while traditional gifts are lovely and thoughtful, there’s another way to show Mom you care: share your love with service. Moms give so much of themselves to their kids – honor that by taking the opportunity to give back to the world. Here are some ideas to help you make this the best Mother’s Day yet:

  • Volunteer together. Spend the day working together at a local soup kitchen or women and children’s shelter, or sharing another volunteer activity. You’ll have a chance to bond, while making your community stronger.
  • Volunteer in her honor. Book mom a day at the spa and volunteer in her honor instead!
  • Make a donation to cause she loves. Does your mom have a favorite organization or charity? Or an issue she’s passionate about? Let her know you care by making a donation in her name.
  • Care for Mother Earth. Make a shared green commitment together, volunteer at a local park, plant a tree or your garden – show mom love by showing Mother Earth some love.
  • Baking for Good Order mom cookies, brownies or treats from this awesome bakery and 15% of the proceeds will go to a charity of your choice. Order today and they can still ship to mom in time for Sunday.

Bonus video: Jewish tradition really reveres its moms – just take a listen to this old school song, “My Yiddishe Mama,” sung by Yiddish performer Eleanor Reissa. Then let us know how you plan to make mom feel special this Mother’s Day by tweeting us at @repairtheworld.

Repairing the World in Israel On Yom Ha’atzmaut

Tonight marks the beginning of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s version of July 4th, which celebrates the country’s declaration of independence in 1948.

Repair the World partners with eight excellent organizations doing diverse, cutting-edge tikkun olam work in Israel. So in honor of the country’s birthday, we thought we’d take the opportunity to give those orgs the shout out they deserve! Check them out below:

  • B’tzedek Life: This organization’s mission is to develop leadership for social change and social justice amongst youth and young adults in Israel and Jewish communities internationally. B’tzedek means “in justice,” and it lives up to its name by providing service learning programs and the nine-month LIFE leadership development program in Israel and India for college grads. Find out more here and apply for the LIFE program here. (The 2012 deadline is July, 31.)
  • BINA: Love Tel Aviv, coexistence work, and social justice? Check out BINA’s Neighborhood project which places young people in struggling neighborhoods near Tel Aviv where they live, volunteer, and study together. Read an interview with a former participant here, and apply for BINA’s programs here.
  • Livnot U’Lehibanot: “To build and be built” is the motto of this long-standing Israeli organization. (They’ve been around since 1980!) Join them in Tzfat for a four-week Galilee Fellowship for meaningful volunteering, hiking, learning through nature, and spirituality workshops. They also offer several other volunteer programs. Check them out and apply here.
  • Ma’ase Olam: Be a part of the social revolution in Israel! This organization promotes the value of volunteering, and their 10-month service learning program places participants from Israel and the Diaspora in communities in the social periphery of Israel for meaningful service opportunities. Learn more about their programs here and apply here.
  • NISPED: The Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development, is a non-profit association which promotes peace and development, focusing on the centrality of the civil society. Their service-learning program brings together Arab-Bedouins and Jewish young-adult volunteers from around the world, offering participants the chance to live and volunteer in the Bedouin city of Rahat, while integrating actively in the community’s daily life and culture. Learn more here.
  • Otzma: This organization offers a 10-month program for Jewish adults ages 20-26 to live and volunteer in Israel in a variety of settings. Participants work in 3-4 different communities throughout the program. Apply here for the 2012-2013 season, which begins in August.
  • Tevel B’Tzedek: This Israel-based non-profit’s name translates to “The Earth, In Justice,” and they live that value by promoting social and environmental justice. Their mission is to create a community of Israeli and Diaspora Jews engaging in the urgent issues of global poverty, marginalization and environmental devastation through long-term service programs in India and Haiti. Find out more here and apply to join their program here.
  • Yahel: The word means “illuminate” in Hebrew, and this organization does just that. Participants join a 9-month service learning program that works with the Ethiopian community in Gedera, south of Tel Aviv. The program combines hands-on volunteer work with in-depth learning and cultural immersion. Find out more here and apply here (The 2012 deadline is May 25.)


How are you celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut? Let us know in the comments below, or by tweeting @repairtheworld.

Pledge an “Act of Green” for Earth Day 2012

This Sunday, help the Earth Day Network make history. They’re aiming to gather people from around the world in pledging a billion “acts of green” – individual steps people can take towards a healthier environment (like riding a bike to school, taking shorter showers, switching to energy efficient light bulbs, buying carbon offsets for airplane travel, cleaning up a park etc.) that add up to something BIG.

The exciting news is, they are almost there! With two days to go before Earth Day 2012 987,882,597 hours have been pledged. By our count, that’s nearly a billion. Help tip the scales by joining in on the world’s largest environmental service project and pledging your own act of green. Find out more at the video below, then check out our green service ideas below.

What “Act of Green” will you pledge? Let us know by tweeting @repairtheworld.