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Archive for : Israel

Food Justice Interview: Gidi Kroch of Leket Israel

This fall, Repair the World is building a movement to Inspire Service, focusing on the critical issue of food justice in conjunction with Hunger Action Month.

Meanwhile, we’re spotlighting the work of awesome food justice organizations around the world. First up: Leket Israel – the country’s National Food Bank and largest food rescue network. Leket’s mission is to lead the safe, effective, and efficient collection and distribution of surplus nutritious food in Israel, to those who need it. We spoke with Leket’s CEO, Gidi Kroch, about what makes their work so critical, what he finds most challenging, and what inspires him.

Why is the work you do around food so important in Israel right now?
There is a lot of food waste all around the world, including Israel. At the same time, Israel is in line with the world’s largest agricultural production, even with its limited space. In addition, like other western countries, unfortunately, the need is growing and the gap is widening. Our government is not doing its part to financially support the food insecure. All of this contributes to the criticalness of Leket Israel’s work in food rescue and redistribution to those in need across the country.

Can you share a story that demonstrates Leket’s impact?
In addition to Leket Israel rescuing more than 30 million pounds of produce and perishables that would have been destroyed annually, we advocate for the nonprofits we serve and many others providing food to the poor. A recent example of this was our appeal to the Ministry of Health regarding a bill they were planning on passing that would have negatively affected the work the nonprofits were doing.

We were successful, and the Ministry of Health granted a four year extension which allows NPOs the ability to continue their work feeding those in need. Another important step that Leket is taking is to encourage resistant food donors who currently do not donate their surplus food by drafting and promoting the passing of Israel’s first Food Donation Act. Modeled after the U.S. Good Samaritan Law, this would protect all donors’ food donations given in good faith. We hope that this will pass in Israel in the immediate future as we believe it will not only minimize waste but will greatly enhance the amount of food currently being rescued.

In what ways do volunteers get involved?
Leket Israel enlists over 60,000 volunteers each year. They lend a hand in a range of projects such as volunteering with Project Leket (gleaning in the fields), picking fruits and vegetables for distribution to Leket’s nonprofit partner agencies, and sorting food at Leket Israel’s main logistics center in Ra’anana. There, the volunteers sort produce from the large agricultural bins and repackage them into smaller crates in preparation for delivery to the NPOs. Volunteers are also an integral part of Leket to Table, Leket Israel’s meal rescue program. Volunteers go out during the day and at night to collect excess meals from corporate cafeterias, restaurants, event halls.

What are your biggest challenges? And what inspires you most?
One of the biggest challenges we face is that there is just so much more surplus food out there, and we can not get to all of it – knowing that fresh, nutritious food is going waste instead of feeding someone who is food insecure. On the other hand, it has been truly inspiring to witness the willingness of Israeli farmers to donate their produce to Leket. The farmers, in many cases, are struggling themselves but this does not prevent them from giving their excess fruits and vegetables to help others.

Find out more about Leket Israel’s work around food justice on their website.

Repair Interview: Naomi Friedman Rabkin on Food Justice at the Leichtag Foundation

Here at Repair the World we’re celebrating National Volunteer Month and the change makers and thought leaders who make the world a better place. Recently we caught up with Naomi Friedman Rabkin, who is the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Leichtag Foundation in Southern California. (That’s her in the photo hanging out with Jewish Food Justice Fellowship Director, Rabbi Andy Kastner.)

She launched Leichtag’s wonderful new Jewish Food Justice Fellowship, is helping to create a vibrant working ranch (complete with a farm, an edible forest, and a vineyard!) for the foundation, and is meanwhile building strong, socially-active Jewish community in her community. She also is a lifelong service learning-junkie, and proud of it! Learn more of her story here:

What inspired you to get into the service and social change field?
I was raised in a family where people’s professions focused on helping others – as educators, activists, and social workers. My grandmother was one of my biggest inspirations. She was a proud socialist and a teachers union organizer. Some of my earliest memories are of her taking me to Pete Seeger concerts and anti-nuclear marches. That really oriented me to believe that people’s work was very much tied to doing good in the world.

In college in Washington DC, I got involved with service learning. All of my coursework had some service component. For example, if I was taking a women studies class and learning about violence against women, I volunteered at a battered women’s shelter. It captivated me, and from then on I got hooked into that approach to learning and experiencing the world. I ended up going to Israel and participating in Project Otzma where we did very intense service work. That spring boarded me towards focusing on Jewish service learning right as that concept was first coming into its own. Now Jewish service learning is fairly common, but back then it was new and all of these amazing programs like Avodah and AjWS were just beginning.

How has the field of service learning changed in the Jewish world over the last decade?
I think the focus is shifting, or at least the terminology is changing. There hasn’t been a departure from teaching teens and young adults about doing good, but it has become more focused. Instead of service learning broadly defined, you’re seeing programs focus on specific things like immigration, the environment, or organizing against homelessness.

What drew you to join the Leichtag Foundation?
The path started while I was in Atlanta volunteering with Hazon. Since being a participant in Otzma, I hadn’t really thought about how Jewish communal life could enhance my life. But with Hazon I was helping to develop a CSA and organize people in the Jewish community around food issues. During that time I developed a loving and unified community in Atlanta, and I started to expand beyond the CSA to create larger scale environmental and food events.

When my family moved to San Diego I had the opportunity to meet with the executive vice president at Leichtag, Charlene Seidle, and found out that Leichtag was planning to purchase a piece of land to develop food and environmental programs. I hadn’t worked for a foundation before, but I was excited about their mission and they were excited about my background and experience in the Jewish food world. It’s really a dream come true to work at a foundation that has the vision of creating a vibrant community and a farm.

Tell me more about Leichtag’s Jewish Food Justice Fellowship?
We are in our first cohort now – they started last September and will stay with us for 15 months. We wanted to invest in people in their early to mid-20s who had already gotten their feet wet in the worlds of environmentalism and agriculture and help them grow while contributing to the community. They work for food justice-related organizations for 25 hours a week doing everything from leading the North County Food Policy Council to working in an afro-ecology center. Additionally, they consult with local Jewish schools, synagogues, and senior care facilities to help build gardens or do other agriculture-related programs. And they spend 10 hours a week at the ranch developing programs, working on our composting system, planning an edible forest, and helping conceive of and lead conversations around the farm planning process.

The Leichtag Foundations Jewish Food Justice Fellows with Mark Bittman

The Leichtag Foundations Jewish Food Justice Fellows with Mark Bittman

How can people get involved?
They should check out our website and the fellows also have their own website. And if people are in the area, they should absolutely come see the ranch. We do public tours a few times a month. There is so much going on there, and it is a fantastic place to visit.

Spotlight On: Hazon’s (Jewish) Bike Rides

January is Healthy Living Month here at Repair the World. Stop by all month long for interviews with our favorite health-focused organizations, inspiring stories, and tips to change your life while changing the world.

Are you a huge bike fan? The kind of person who walks around with a semi-permanent case of helmet hair and feels most comfortable experiencing the world on two-wheels? If so, let us introduce Hazon – a Jewish environmental organization that works to build a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community.

Hazon believes that Jewish tradition has lots of wisdom to share about how people interact with the planet and treat their bodies. They live out these values, and help others do the same, with a variety of great programs, but it all started with bike rides. Since 2001, more than 2,000 have joined Hazon on a bike ride in New York, California, Israel, or elsewhere. The riders raise money for important environmental causes, get invigorated through exercise, learn inspiring Jewish texts, and have a fantastic time along the way.
Read more

Top 5 Ways to Volunteer While Getting Healthy

January is Healthy Living Month here at Repair the World. Stop by all month long for interviews with our favorite health-focused organizations, inspiring stories, and tips to change your life while changing the world.

Lots of people begin each January with resolutions. Some folks resolve to get healthy – to eat better, exercise more, or give up an unhealthy habit. Others make a resolution to volunteer more often and engage with their communities. We say, why not combine the two? Here are our Top 5 ways to volunteer while getting healthy. Win. Win.

Be a Big. Enroll with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and you’ll get paired up with an awesome kid who can double as an exercise buddy. Shoot hoops together, go on a hike, or try kayaking or bowling together with your “Little.” You’ll make connections and change not one life, but two!

Staff a Health Fair. Volunteer to run a table or help set up or clean up at a local health fair. While there, chat up all the great organizations and health providers in attendance.

Volunteer at a Yoga studio. Are you a yoga fiend? Get your stretch on while making a difference. Most yoga studios have some kind of work study program where you volunteer a few hours a week or month at the studio and get free or reduced-price classes. The Kripalu Center, a well-loved yoga retreat center in Massachusetts, also has a great, 6-month volunteer program for those who want to make a long-term commitment.

Run it Out. Volunteer with a local fitness and community organization like the New York Road Runners. Help others achieve their fitness resolutions by staffing a race, and get hooked into a health-focused community.

Play for Peace. Peace Players International is an awesome organization that uses basketball to bring children together in conflict-ridden countries like South Africa, Northern Ireland, Israel, the West Bank, and Cyprus. Volunteer at one of their sites and make a difference in kids lives while shooting hoops for peace.

What’s your favorite way to get fit while volunteering? Let us know in the comments or by tweeting @repairtheworld.

Alternative Break Interview: Yonatan Isser on Visiting Israel with Yahel

Right now, colleges and universities across the country are kicking off their spring breaks. As students prepare for their time off, we thought we’d check in with someone who chose to spend his last break making a difference.

Yonatan Isser, a senior at University of Maryland, participated on an alternative spring break program in Israel with Yahel. While there, he and his fellow participants lived and volunteered with members of the Ethiopian community. Yonatan found the time to chat with Repair the World about why he chose Yahel and how this trip changed his life for good.

Why did you decide to join the Yahel trip last winter break?
I knew that I wanted to go to Israel for winter break, as I have done in the past. I come from a modern Orthodox background, so my previous visits usually included visiting family, going to the Kotel, and learning at a Yeshiva. This time around I wanted to see what it is like to really live in Israel as a citizen – to get the day-to-day experience for people with different backgrounds than mine. I wanted to see other sides of Israel I had not been exposed to before, and Yahel seemed like the perfect way to do that.

What type of activities were you involved with during your time there?
We spent a lot of time with the Ethiopian community, hearing about their lives and experiences. We had organized home stays within the community, where we got to know the families, and helped their kids with homework at night. That was wonderful for developing deeper relationships. We heard a story from one resident who had immigrated to Israel and joined IDF. He ended up being one of the soldiers on duty for Operation Solomon, which meant he got to help bring many other Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

We also did lots of hands-on service. We helped plant a community garden so that people in the community could partake in recreational agriculture. We painted a mural on a wall, and helped an elderly woman in the community with some light construction in her house. We painted her kitchen, fixed cracks in her walls – things like that. That was a more informal opportunity to connect with a community member; she had heard that we were going to be in town and asked for our help through an NGO in the community.

What was most special about this type of service for you?
Unlike my other trips to Israel, this trip really pushed me out of my comfort zone. It compelled me to emotionally connect with the world around me, and experience things on a much deeper level. It wasn’t like the typical acts of chesed (kindness) I learned about growing up. We actually got to know the people we were helping, and got to speak with them and hear their struggles first hand. It was about getting the deeper story. I came back to the United States with a desire to keep volunteering at this level as an important part of my life. The trip inspired me to do more.

Repair Interview: Jesse Berkowitz on Ma’ase Olam’s Israel Teaching Fellows Program

When Jesse Berkowitz graduated from The College of Wooster last year, he knew two things: 1. he wanted to travel and 2. he wanted to make a difference. These two passions led him to Ma’ase Olam’s Israel Teaching Fellows – a 10-month service-learning program, that enables college graduates to help close the achievement gap in Israel’s educational system by volunteering in the country’s schools.

Halfway through the program, which began back in August, Jesse has realized both of his goals. He took some time to talk with Repair the World about his background with service, how a biology major ended up teaching English in Israel (and loving it), and the joys of singing with his students.

What was your background with volunteering before Israel Teaching Fellows?
I first got involved in high school with the community service club, and became president of the club my last two years. We would volunteering with different local organizations – helping out with Habitat for Humanity, volunteering at a local nursing home, or working with underprivileged youth. In college, I shifted my focus towards agricultural volunteering. I lived in my college’s organic farming house, where the students would all go volunteer on nearby farms. It was great because we got to get outside of the liberal arts college bubble.

How did you find the Israel Teaching Fellows program, and what compelled you to join?
I visited Israel for the first time with my family three years ago and, as cheesy as it sounds, I fell in love with the country as many people do. I loved the idea of coming back to live here after school, but wanted to find a meaningful way to do it. I found the program while I was Googling things to do in Israel. I began checking out the blogs of people who had down the program before, and getting in touch with a few of them to learn about their experience. There are so many teach English programs around the world, but this seemed like a particularly good fit.

Tell me more about the volunteering you do?
I volunteer as an English assistant in an elementary school. I serve as someone who can help the teacher by taking children out of the classroom for individual and small group instruction. Israeli classrooms tend to be overcrowded – having 40 children in one class is not uncommon. So taking some of the kids out calms things down, and allows for more individual attention. We mostly do reading and writing work, but if I have a small group, sometimes it’s nice to spend an hour just speaking with them in English. I try to get them talking about things that are relevant to their lives, or what music and television shows they like. If they are excited about talking in English, they end up trying harder to learn it, which helps them down the line.

I also teach them about one song a month. Right now I’m teaching them the words to Over the Rainbow, and I taught them a Maccabeats song around Hanukkah. They also wrote a school play and are goign to be performing that soon.

Are you involved with any extracurricular volunteering?
Almost everyone in our group has gotten involved with some kind of extracurricular community serve. Some participants are working in after school sports programs, or arts programs. I work in a community gardening group. We just started planting the garden at a community center in Rehovot. There are a bunch of gardening boxes and each one belongs to a family. It’s been great to get involved with agriculture again.

What’s been the most challenging thing about the program?
It has been challenging to adjust to Israeli school culture, which is much more laid back than American schools. Schedules aren’t necessarily adhered to, and it can be frustrating to come in with the hope of achieving everything on a list, and then things just don’t happen. But it’s been a fun challenge – I’ve learned that you have to just go with the flow.

It can also be challenging when I’m working with kids who know very little English. I’m learning Hebrew, but my Hebrew is currently very lacking – so it can be hard to communicate in those situations. At first I didn’t realize now it would work, but it somehow works itself out. It’s obviously easier to work with students who already know how to read in English, but I think it’s been important to work with both kinds of students.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of the program?
The teachers are constantly telling me how appreciative they are, so that’s nice to hear. The kids have also taken to me really well. It’s nice to walk into school and have a bunch of kids run up and say, “Jesse, good morning!” It’s great to have become part of the school’s community, and to really feel at home. It’s not always easy to see the progress the kids are making, but sometimes you see how well someone is reading, and you think about where they were at a few months back, and that reminds me of why I’m doing this.

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.