Archive for : Homelessness

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 Interview: Jamie Etkind on Her Time at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

Since 2006, Repair the World grantee-partner Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village has provided a community and high school in Rwanda for the young people who were orphaned during and after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It has also served as an amazing place for service learning.

This past May University of Pennsylvania junior, Jamie Etkind, attended a Hillel-led trip for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim students to ASYV for a 10-day service learning program. The students spent time with Agahozo-Shalom’s villagers, worked in their gardens, school and community, and gained a deeper understanding of the lasting impact the genocide has had on the country. Etkind took the time to tell Repair the World about her once-in-a-lifetime service experience.

What is your background with service and volunteering?
I was raised in a reform Jewish household, participated in mitzvah days when I was younger, and had a service project around my bat mitzvah where I raised money for the Koby Mandell Foundation. In high school I was also the co-founder and president of an organization that raised money for and got students involved as volunteers in hospice work. But I had never been on a service trip, and never really given much explicit thought to how deeply related Judaism and service are.

How did you find out about Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village?
Two of my friends had participated before and came back with rave reviews. They both said, “you have to do this!” I had learned about the Rwandan genocide in high school, but before the trip I never knew what happened there after the genocide. Leading up to the trip, I was incredibly excited. I did a lot of independent research including watching a bunch of documentaries about what the country is like today. I also read the powerful and fact-filled book, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families. In the semester leading up to our trip, our group also read a lot of survivor testimonials and did outreach events, so by the time I left I felt pretty well versed – but I still didn’t have any first hand experience.

What did you do during the trip?
A lot of the trip was focused on forming personal relationships with the students in the village. Every morning we would do a service project, like helping in the garden or kitchen. After the students’ school day, we met up with them and went to their after school clubs and took tours of the village. On Saturday, since the students weren’t in school, we got to work side by side with them in the garden.

Can you share a story or two of the impact the trip had?
One of my favorite interactions was with a student named Pacy, who I first met during a meal. One night when we were walking from dinner – it was pitch black outside in the village, but she knew her way – she told me her life story. She opened up about her family’s history and her ambitions and said, “I’d love to be like Oprah someday.” I said, “Oh, so you can be on television?” And she said, “No, so I can help other girls in positions like me.” That was really powerful – these kids have such a sense of service ingrained in them. It’s part of their daily life – they can’t wait to go to university and come back and be the generation that helps make their country great.

What surprised you most on the trip?
I wasn’t expecting to have so much introspection about my Judaism. As I mentioned, I grew up reform but I’ve been a part of the Maimonides Leaders Fellowship at Penn, and have found a lot of meaning in that. On the trip, there were Jews across the denominations, as well as Christian, Catholic, Mormon, and Muslim students. We would talk a lot about religion, and people would ask me very innocent questions like “Why do you work on Saturday, but the other Jews aren’t?” or “Why are you not keeping kosher but the other Jews do?” I had never been asked those questions by anyone and it led me to the realization that if I don’t do these things, I need a reason why. I’m at a point in my life where it’s not enough to simply say, “I do it because I was raised that way.” So my eyes were opened by these other students.

Did the trip also change your thoughts or perspective about Judaism and service?
Yes, I had really never put the two together before even though I’d experienced them together. I never really thought about service being such a strong pillar of Judaism, but that was something we really explored on the trip and it got me thinking. I had always associated tzedakah as simply giving money, but now I know it’s also about service and so much more.

Learn more about Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village’s work here.

Focusing On Women’s Health on World Population Day

Last fall, the world’s population hit a record 7 billion people. Today, approximately 8 months later, we’re up to 7,025,433,781 (and growing). At an abstract level, all those new babies being brought into the world is a beautiful thought. Be fruitful and multiply, right?

But the world’s quickly expanding population has its challenges too – putting a stress on ecological and community resources, and a strain on many families – and particularly women. That’s why today, World Population Day aims to raise awareness about population issues across the world.

The focus of this year’s celebration is family planing and reproductive health. According to the UN: “Reproductive health problems remain the leading cause of ill health and death for women of childbearing age worldwide. Some 222 million women who would like to avoid or delay pregnancy lack access to effective family planning. Nearly 800 women die every day in the process of giving life. About 1.8 billion young people are entering their reproductive years, often without the knowledge, skills and services they need to protect themselves.”

The UN has organized lots of initiatives to support women’s reproductive health in the coming years – like working with the Gates Foundation to increase women’s access to family planning. But you can get involved too by supporting like-minded organizations like Repair the World grantee-partner AJWS, the International Women’s Health Coaltion, Population Action International, and others, (Check out a great, user-generated round up of organizations here.)

Learn more about World Population Day at the video below:

Celebrate Helen Keller’s Birthday By Standing Up for Others

Helen Keller was born June 27, 1880. That’s a seriously long time ago – and yet, the activist and humanitarian who overcame the adversity of being both blind and deaf still stands as one of America’s most beloved heroes.

Two years after Keller was born, she fell ill and ended up blind, deaf, and mute. But instead of giving up on life, Keller worked with a teacher, Anne Sullivan, and eventually went on to graduate from college in 1904 – helping pave the way for other women graduates. After college, she lectured all over the country and devoted her life to help others living with disabilities. She was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, and a pacifist. In 1915, she co-founded Helen Keller International, an organization to fight against the causes of blindness and malnutrition. A few years later in 1920, she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Keller spent her life standing up for others, and not allowing disabilities define her. In honor of her birthday, take a minute to find out more and support the organizations she founded and believed in:

  • ACLU Support or get involved with the civil liberties organization that Keller herself helped to co-found.
  • American Foundation for the Blind Lend your support or your volunteering hand (find out how here) to the country’s leading foundation supporting vision impaired citizens. FYI: Keller worked here for nearly 40 years.
  • Helen Keller International Keller’s organization is still going strong, fighting blindness, malnutrition and poverty throughout the world. Find out how you can get involved here.
  • Guide Dogs for the Blind Spend time with adorable dogs while helping to train them to assist vision impaired people. Find out how here.

Find out more about Keller’s amazing life and work here. Then check out the inspiring video from Biography below:

Repair Interview: Robert Beiser Talks Teen Feed and JConnect in Seattle

Seattle, in a word, rules. That’s partly because the city is home to Teen Feed, a groundbreaking organization that engages volunteers in offering meals, support and services to homeless youth and teens. It’s also because of JConnect Seattle and Hillel UW, two organizations (and Repair the World partners) that engage college-aged and young adult Jews in all kinds of amazing, Jewishly-rooted service work – including volunteering with Teen Feed!

Robert Beiser, who is the Campus/JConnect Repair the World Director at Hillel UW, took the time to speak to us about how Teen Feed serves Seattle’s homeless and street-connected youth, why JConnect decided to host a weekly Teen Feed site, and what it’s like being Seattle’s largest default kosher education organization.

Tell me a bit more about Teen Feed.
It’s an incredible program that’s been around for 25 years. They work with volunteers to serve meals to homeless and street-connected youth – the meal serves as a platform for case workers and long term volunteer workers to create and build relationships with them. Over time, they have become an incredible resource for teens in Seattle and a model for other organizations nationally.

How many teens usually show up for meals?
On any given night there’s usually 30-70 youth who come in for a meal. While they’re eating, advocates go and sit with them. It’s a great way for youth to connect with services that they can’t access so easily through the government. For example, if a 15-year old needs some kind of service and they talk to someone in government they’ll likely be told, “you’re under 18, we’re going to place you in foster care.” They might also be deterred from going to social services in the first place – somewhere where they’ll be in an office with adults they don’t know. They could feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and decide it’s not worth it, when really they need services.

Teen Feed says, we’ll give you a hot meal and there will be people there who think you’re valuable and who believe in you and your future. Through the meals they develop relationships before they’re ever asked anything, like if they want more stable housing, or to go back to school, get a job, or get help with substance abuse. It’s been a really successful program. There are lots of cases where former guests now have jobs and families, and are even on the board of Teen Feed.

How have Jconnect and Hillel UW been involved with Teen Feed?
Teen Feed is held in a different church or community center each night of the week – Hillel hosts it on Sundays, and Jconnect members volunteer to cook and serve. We’d volunteered for a while, but wanted to take the opportunity to provide a real service to our community. We wanted to integrate the program into JConnect and make it a hallmark of what we do. So we talked to Teen Feed about being a host site. These days, for the first time in 25 years, Teen Feed can offer meals 7 days a week, and every night of the year. We also regularly send groups to help make food on days like Christmas and Easter Sunday, because our volunteers will be free.

What do Jconnect participants do when volunteering at Teen Feed?
We have an average of 10-12 volunteers a week, and we’ve had about 90 different volunteers over the course of the year. The meal team volunteers provide the food, and then both cook and serve it on a buffet line. We use real dishes and have a compost for all the stuff people don’t eat. We’ve actually helped other Teen Feed hosts set up composting at their sites too. Our team works out of the Hillel kitchen, which is strictly kosher. So in a way, we’re also the largest kosher education organization around by necessity!

What type of impact have you seen from JConnect’s work with Teen Feed?
While we’re volunteering, we occasionally get into really deep conversations about the role of Jewish communities in doing service and social justice work, and about individual versus collective responsibility. 9 times out of 10, I’m not the person leading the discussion – this type of work really gets people talking and gives them a chance to grow.

Another thing that is really remarkable to me is the Teen Feed staff. They’re mostly young people in their 20s, and they go week in and week out and hear some of the most heartbreaking stories from people who look just like them. They take that on with so much dignity and compassion, and keep the focus constantly on what they can do to best serve and be the best organization they can. Teen Feed is constantly improving itself to become smarter and more compassionate in its work, and to respond to feedback, trends and changes. It’s an honor to be involved.

Learn more about Teen Feed’s work here, about JConnect here, and about Hillel UW’s work here.

Monday Link Roundup

Happy Monday! Hopefully you enjoyed a spectacular and restful weekend. Now, say hello to the week with your weekly round up of semi-random but totally inspiring service related posts from around the web.

  • The Huffington Post shared an op-ed that argued that the key to sustaining the world’s food security is to empower the world’s women farmers.
  • Sustainablog published a piece about an awesome new smart phone app that helps you curb your food waste.
  • The Forward looked back in history at activism in New York City over time – and what lessons we can learn from the past.
  • Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, a grantee-partner of Repair the World shared the story about the revitalization of a neighborhood library that is changing the world of reading in a Rwandan neighborhood.
  • GOOD leaves us this week with the story of an anti-poverty campaign that moved from tweets to historic Camp David, where this year’s G8 Summit was held.

Alternative Break Interview: Yehudit Goldberg on AJWS in Nicaragua

This past year, thousands of high school and college students spent their winter and spring breaks volunteering to help other people. Yehudit Goldberg, a 21-year old student at Stern College in New York City, was one of them. She volunteered in Nicaragua with Repair the World grantee-partners American Jewish World Service and The Center for the Jewish Future.

Now that she’s back, Yehudit is back to the busy school grind. But she took the time out of her hectic schedule to speak to Repair the World about her desire to reconnect with the issues she cares about, what it’s like to help build a school, and how to keep the passion for service alive once a trip is over.

What is your background with service?
Growing up I went to a modern orthodox day school in University Heights, Ohio (near Cleveland) that did a lot of volunteer work within the Jewish community. We worked with children with special needs and did events around the holidays. We also had a yearly event called Make a Difference Day where they sent students to 20 different locations around the city for various service projects. My school also partnered with the Jewish Federation of Cleveland on their Public Education Initiative where we’d tutor children in the inner city on reading.
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