Every Friday, Repair the World publishes a Weekly Torah column featuring the writings of Dvar Tzedek Fellows from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). The column takes the weekly parsha (the Torah portion being read that week) and examines it through the lens of service and social justice. The results are smart, thoughtful and inspiring. They bring Jewish texts to life for modern readers, and offer ancient wisdom and connections for some of today’s most pressing issues.
Now you can join in because AJWS is accepting applications for their next class of Dvar Tzedek fellows. Check out the details:
Happy Monday everyone. Hopefully you had a restful weekend, and to get your week started off right, here is our weekly round up of stories – some touching and sad, others hopeful, all inspiring – from the world of service on the web.
100 years ago today, a fire struck New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Company building. The fire, which was likely caused by an accidental cigarette tossed into a waste bin, spread quickly – trapping hundreds of garment workers (mostly women) inside, and killing over 150 people.
The Forward (then called The Forverts) founder, Abraham Cahan, wrote a stark editorial two days after the fire which read: “The entire neighborhood is sitting shiva. Every heart is torn in mourning. The human heart is drowning in tears. What a catastrophe! What a dark misfortune!”
Following up yesterday’s post about the growing number of young people getting involved in service and philanthropy, here’s a Jewish organization that is leading the way on both fronts.
Meet JChoice – an online social networking community that “empowers young Jewish giving through the Jewish tradition of Tzedakah, while building Jewish community and strengthening Jewish culture.”
Founded in 2009, JChoice encourages teens to search through their database for a cause/issue that speaks to them and make a donation in support of it. The causes and non-profits that receive support are global in reach and cover a vast array of issues from the environment and special needs, to poverty, health, gender, and education rights. Here’s just a small sampling of causes JChoice teens help:
On the site, each cause includes a description of the issue, who it impacts, and how much money has been raised to-date. Even more interestingly, though, each cause is also tagged by which Jewish value (e.g. honoring our elders, building relationships between people, feeding the hungry) it’s connected to. That’s all part of founder David Rosenberg’s idea – to empower teen givers to express their voices by supporting the causes that matter to them, and to do so in an explicitly and celebratory Jewish context.
In less than two years, JChoice has already raised $45,670 for 111 causes – pretty impressive, eh? To find out more or donate to the cause of your choice, click here.
Every volunteer is different. They bring different skills and strengths to their service work, and glean different lessons and values from their experiences. In the hopes of capturing that diversity of experience, Repair the World interviewed two volunteers, Adam Gindea and Asher Mechanic, who both work with Lev Leytzan (Heart of the Clown).
Since 2004, Lev Leytzan: The Compassionate Clown Alley has trained volunteer teen clowns to bring smiles, laughter and hope to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices. Founder Neal Goldberg, Ph.D. brought together his passion for helping people (he’s a child, adolescent and adult psychologist) and his love of performing (he’s a professionally-trained clown) with an organization that simultaneously helps the patients it touches, and empowers teens to make a difference. Below the jump, Adam and Asher share how their experiences working with Lev Leytzan have shaped and inspired them.
This morning, the island nation of Japan was hit by a series of severe earthquakes — including its largest in over 100 years (8.9 magnitude) — which was subsequently followed by a devastating tsunami that has wreaked untold havoc upon Japan’s coastal cities. While the full scale of the destruction is still uknown, over a thousand people have already been pronounced dead, hundreds more are missing, and thousands are now left without homes, schools and jobs. At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy and their loved ones.
While, with any disaster, it is far too early to assess what opportunities may exist for both skilled and unskilled volunteers to assist in recovery efforts, one can take immediate action by giving charitably to organizations that are providing assistance to agencies on the ground in Japan.
Today, March 1, marks the 50th anniversary of when President John F. Kennedy announced the creation of the United States Peace Corps. The program – an American volunteer program run by the US government that has sent over 200,000 Americans to other countries to serve – was designed to:
“…promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.”
Today, the idea of promoting peace through non-military international service is commonplace, but 50 years ago, it was truly revolutionary. Through its successes and by inspiring so many young people to serve, Peace Corps helped to pave the way for following generations of volunteers and community leaders. It also, I think, paved the way for the more recent rise in Jewish service.
What does Jewish service look like? Turns out, the answer to that question is as varied as the people engaging in the service itself.
For some, it’s about digging their hands in the dirt and literally repairing the world by planting a community garden; for others, it’s about helping under-served Jewish populations connect to their faith; and for others still, it’s about deepening their understanding of an important – and sometimes painful – global issue, and then acting on what they’ve learned. Below the jump, you’ll find quotes from participants of three recent service trips. Their inspiring words and stories help to illuminate the many diverse faces and experiences of Jewish service today.
In Jewish tradition, a Bar Mitzvah is typically considered to be a celebration of religious achievements, and an affirmation of one’s membership in the Jewish community. For me, on the other hand, becoming a Bar Mitzvah meant a celebration of the end of my religious school obligations. By the time I turned 13, Judaism had come to connote confusion and duty in my life. I was plagued by the intangibility of spirituality and faith, and bothered by the sense that there was a certain way to “be a Jew” in my community. I had never been encouraged to pursue my faith beyond the boundaries of attending synagogue on the High Holy Days or sitting obediently in services. I saw no appealing options to find Judaism outside of the “cookie-cutter” model of suburban Judaism I’d always experienced. Following my Bar Mitzvah, I felt minimal desire to continue my pursuit of religion.
Then in December 2008, while I was a sophomore at Michigan State University, I decided to join an alternative spring break program in California hosted by Hillel and facilitated by The Jewish Farm School. Maybe it was the weather that attracted me – golden California sunshine certainly seemed like the prefect antidote to Michigan’s ice and snow. Or perhaps it was the opportunity to spend spring break at Oz Farm (an organic farm about three hours north of San Francisco), planting the fields, cooking, eating and singing with the other participants. I did not feel a particular draw to advance my Jewish studies, but as a kid from suburban Detroit, farming was foreign and the thought of spending a week on a farm was an intriguing concept. So with the help of the Hillel staff I signed up and, luckily, was accepted to attend.