Archive for : Tradition & Culture

Spotlight On: The Shmita Project

Imagine a world where every 7 years, everything changed – like really, radically changed. For one whole year, business as usual would cease. No one would plant or harvest anything from the land. It would like fallow and rest. All debts between people, meanwhile, would be forgiven and the slates would be wiped clean.

Jewish tradition contains within it this exact scenario: shmita. Literally meaning “release,” shmita arrives in Israel every seven years to ensure that society remains fair and just. Of course, there’s often a big difference between biblical ideals and what happens in real, practical life, so Hazon and the Jewish Farm School came together to create The Shmita Project – an initiative working to “expand awareness about the biblical Sabbatical tradition, and to bring the values of this practice to life today to support healthier, more sustainable Jewish communities.” They are not suggesting that everyone practice shmita down to the letter of the law, but to simply ask – what might being more mindful about the practice do to change my life, and my community, for the better?

The shmita year began on Rosh Hashanah and extends for one full year until next Rosh Hashanah. How might you incorporate some of it’s teachings of sustainability and justice into your daily life? How might letting go – and hitting the metaphorical “reset button – in certain areas help transform things in positive ways?

To learn more, check out Hazon’s shmita educational resources. They have all the info you need to get inspired,, learn about shmita’s relevance to contemporary life, organize a shmita-inspired event in your community, and join a network of people around the country doing the same.

Now’s the time to dig in – find out more on Hazon’s website.

Bring Stories of Healing and Hope to the Rosh Hashanah Table

As Rosh Hashanah draws near (this year the holiday starts on Wednesday, September 24 at sundown), we find ourselves looking for stories of healing and hope. Fortunately, while there have been plenty of tough and disheartening stories in the news recently, there is never a shortage of inspiring news and ideas to go around!

This year, whether you plan to go to synagogue or not, take some time to seek out the good to share at your Rosh Hashanah table – while digging into apples and honey, of course! Here are a few great resources to get you started:

– The Orthodox social justice organization, Uri L’Tzedek created a wonderful publication that focuses on the ethical cultivation of the Jewish self called Mah Ani? Self Reflection and Social Action for the High Holidays.

– Check out American Jewish World Service’s Rosh Hashanah reading, that reflects on the year’s challenges and blessings, and looks forward to the New Year with a renewed sense of hope. AJWS rounded up even more great High Holiday resources – you can access them them on their site.

– The Jewish Environmental organization, Hazon, has a ton of resources, tips, and ideas to share to help make Rosh Hashanah green and delicious.

– Rabbi Yael Ridberg of Congregation Dor Hadash in California wrote a beautiful Rosh Hashanah sermon two years ago that continues to be relevant today. Her message? That we all realize how much more we can achieve as a community than as individuals.

Best wishes for a sweet and happy New Year from everyone at Repair the World!

6 Water Organizations Making a Splash (And a Difference)

When summer really heats up, one thing is on everyone’s mind: water. From swimming in pools or the ocean, to sweating (lots), and drinking tons of extra H20, there is no other season where water’s importance feels so obvious.

For those of us who think of water as something that comes cleanly and safely out of the tap, it can be all too easy to take it for granted. Unfortunately today, 1 out 10 people in the world live without access to sanitary drinking water. But there are lots of organizations out there working to change that! Like these great non-profits below. Each of them understands the primal and primary importance water plays in all of our lives, and work to ensure that all people have access to it. Find out more and support their great work!

Charity: Water One of the best known water orgs, the good folks at Charity: Water work to bring clean drinking water to people in developing nations. So far, it has funded more than 6,000 projects in 20 countries worldwide.

Water.org: In 1990, an organization called WaterPartners International began its efforts to bring sanitary, safe water to communities in Africa, South Asia, and Central America. In 2009, they merged with H20 Africa (founded by Matt Damon), and continue to work with local partners to make the biggest impact possible.

Miya Water: Founded by Shari Aronson, an Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist, Miya helps ensure the “abundance of fresh water through efficient management of our cities’ existing fresh water resources.” They partner with utility companies to design technological solutions to help up water efficiency.

WaterAid America: This internationally-focused non profit works to improve access to safe water, hygiene, and toilets in the world’s poorest communities. Their current #girlstrong campaign is helping to unlock the potential of 5,000 girls to make a difference.

Water is Life: This organization focuses on providing both clean drinking water and hygiene education programs to schools and villages in need. They also created the Water is Life straw, an ingeniously small and portable drinking straw with a built in filtration system that renders any water it is immersed in clean.

Water Without Borders: This organization was “created from the understanding that lack of safe drinking water is the leading cause of disease, civil strife, hunger, and birth defects in the world.” To date, they have worked with communities in South Dakota, Africa, Haiti, and Honduras to enable the creation of sustainable sources of safe drinking water.

Do you know of another great water organization? Let us know in the comments or by tweeting @repairtheworld.

Repair Interview: Sabrina Malach on Shoresh

Over the last two decades, the Jewish environmental movement has grown from a fringe afterthought, to an important aspect of the mainstream Jewish community. Organizations like Hazon and programs like the Jewish Farm School, Teva, and Adamah have made a big impact in the States. Now, an awesome organization called Shoresh, founded in 2009 in Toronto, is helping to expand this awareness to the Canadian Jewish community. Repair the World recently spoke with Director of Community Outreach, Sabrina Malach, about Shoresh’s programming, gardening across the generations, and realizing the dream of land-based Judaism in Canada.

What was the inspiration behind starting Shoresh?
Both the founder, Risa Alyson Cooper, and I are from Canada but lived and participated in programs at The Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut. We were fellows in Adamah, the Jewish farming fellowship, and Risa was also a Jewish environmental educator with Teva. We talked a lot about what it would be like if we could bring programs like that to Toronto.

When Risa came back to Canada, she had the great idea of starting a community garden in the suburbs, and that was the beginning of Kavannah Garden. At the same time, there was a huge new Jewish community center in development in the northern part of the city, and she had the foresight to approach them about starting the garden there. Most of our other programs stem from there – overall, Shoresh’s success has centered on offering the right programs at the right time.

What types of programs do you run?
Kavannah Garden is our flagship program. Each spring and fall, dozens of day school groups come to visit. Shoresh developed a curriculum for kids from kindergarten to grade 5. It weaves in Jewish and ecological teachings, but is based on Ontario’s curriculum, so it allows teachers to justify field trips. One program example is, we have this bike-powered blender that the kids love. They’ll go and harvest edible weeds and herbs, then go on the bike and turn them into pesto. So it teaches them about plants and nutrition, and helps them learn to see a world where food is everywhere and everything is valuable. It also draws from the Talmudic teaching that it is forbidden to live in a city where there is no vegetable garden.

In addition to the school groups, we have have a family farm drop-in program, and a CSA running out of the garden. It has been so restorative to build this ecological place deep in the heart of the Toronto suburbs. Our hope is that people take the ideas they learn and that they ripple out into their backyards and neighborhoods.

Do you have educational programs outside of Kavannah Garden as well?
Yes, definitely – we work with participants from kindergarten age to people in their 90s. We partnered with the Baycrest geriatric center to develop three gardens. We’ve trained the staff their and also go in every other week to work with clients. It is amazing to sit with bubbes and zaydes there, many of whom have Alzheimer’s or other forms of Dementia, and talk about growing food. We do a lot of sensory workshops with them, like having them smell herbs. Working with them is a reminder that a lot of the work we do with gardening and food is not new, and that we have a lot of wisdom to glean from our elders.

We also started a new program at the Kensington Market called Maxie’s garden. Kensington was once the center of Jewish food and communal life in Toronto – it was where all the kosher butchers and bakers were located. That is mostly gone now, but there is a man in his 90s who has been living in this house there since 1927. His backyard has some of the best soil I’ve ever seen! We partnered with Toronto’s Jewish Family & Child Services to create a program in his backyard where women working below the poverty line come and grow food. It is amazing to help revive some Jewish food culture in Kensington, while actively bringing social justice into our programming.

What do you have planned for the future?
Our next big project is the creation of Bela Farm, a 114-acre rural center for land-based Judaism, education, and farming in Ontario. Expanding from a quarter-acre garden to a huge farm an hour outside of Toronto is a big jump, so we have spent the last three years visioning with our creative team to think about what we want, and how to make it our own instead of just replicating other farm projects. We hope to fully launch in 2016, but have already started an apiary there, started a small orchard of 17 fruit trees, and planted 300 garlic cloves (originally from Adamah!), which we hope to double this year. We are taking it slow and weaving permaculture and Jewish values like shmita into the design of the space.

How has working with Shoresh impacted you personally?
Personally, it has been so amazing to be able to work with a small organization that does so much amazing work. My own personal interests have been nurtured, and I have had the space to learn and explore while making a difference.

Learn more about Shoresh, Kavannah Garden, and Bela Farm – and see lots of great farm and garden pics! – at Shoresh’s website and Facebook page.

Repair Interview: Betsy Besser on Challah for Hunger

If Challah for Hunger had an official motto, it might be “think global, bake local.” The organization engages college students on colleges and universities across the country to bake and sell challah to raise money for local and national causes. With 67 active chapters, 16,844 loaves eaten, and $64,837 raised for social justice causes in 2013, they have proven the power of delicious bread – and committed volunteers! – to make a difference.

Recently, Repair the World chatted with Betsy Besser, a rising junior at University of Vermont to find out why she brought Challah for Hunger to her campus, how they have made it their own, and why peanut butter chocolate chip challah is a very, very good idea.

How did you first get involved with Challah for Hunger?
I grew up in Memphis, and going all the way up to Vermont for school really felt like going out of my comfort zone. I was looking for a way to connect my Jewish life, which felt familiar, to my school life. I didn’t immediately connect to the Hillel community, but then this past fall I was asked to be part of a Hillel Fellowship program that supports students in starting new initiatives on campus.

Building a Jewish community that cares about making a difference was a big part of what I wanted to do. I had seen several of my friends mention things about Challah for Hunger chapters at their universities, so I Googled it and thought it sounded really cool. I grew up with Shabbat dinner being a big part of my weekend, so I figured the program could be a great way to bring something new to UVM that incorporated my Jewish life.

How does the program work on your campus?
This past semester we baked every other week, and we would usually have about 20 or 25 volunteers show up. We make special flavors like peanut butter chocolate chip, cinnamon raisin, and cherry walnut chocolate – and we are planning to do a pesto challah next year. Last year we would bake on Wednesdays and sell challah on Thursdays, along with hummus that we also made. Most people bought the challah as a snack to bring with them to the library or back to their dorms. We decided not to sell our challah on Fridays because the Chabad on campus gives out free challah on Fridays and we did not want to step on their toes.

challahs Next year, we are hoping to partner with another organization on campus called Feel Good that sells grilled cheese sandwiches and donates the money to an organization called The Hunger Project. We’re hoping that they will start making their sandwiches with our challah, and donate a percentage of the proceeds to Challah for Hunger. We are also hoping to start focusing even more on local food. One idea is to buy locally grown apples from Vermont and make a special Rosh Hashanah challah with them.

What has the response from the UVM community been like?
People in Burlington have really embraced the idea of making a difference through food, so the students have been really supportive as customers and volunteers. There are also a lot of great local bakeries and organizations that have gotten involved. For example, King Arthur Flour, which is based in Vermont, has been incredibly generous with donating eggs, honey, and sugar. UVM also has a kosher kitchen on campus called Vermont Kosher, and the head chef there, Rachel Jacobs, has been super supportive and brought great ideas to the program.

How have the students at UVM made the program their own?
This past semester we started to build a board. There are four other women on it, and not all of them are Jewish, which is really interesting. One of our goals was to make our Challah for Hunger chapter into something with broad appeal. We have found that people are really willing to come and bake or sell challah every week, even if they don’t have a Jewish connection to challah.

challah for hunger UVM What organizations do you support with the proceeds?
Half of the proceeds to go the American Jewish World Service and the rest goes to Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, which is a local hunger organization. We decided to support their work because they make a big positive impact on the Burlington community.

Any last thoughts?
I’m really thankful for Hillel for giving me the opportunity to bring Challah for Hunger to UVM, and for their continued support. If people want to learn more, they can check out our Facebook group, Groovy UV Challah for Hunger.

Repair Inspiration: Auschwitz Survivor Meets German Hip-Hop Duo

File this under awesome: A recent New York Times article told the story about an 89-year old Holocaust survivor who is teaming up with a German hip-hop group called Microphone Mafia to spread music and a message. Read an excerpt below and find the whole article on the Times’ website.

NEW YORK TIMES
Amid the Rap Music, Echoes of an Orchestra Playing in a Dark Past
By: Sally McGrane
June 27, 2014

“BERLIN — AT various points during shows, the German rapper Kutlu Yurtseven gestures to a bandmate sitting demurely off to the side. That’s the cue for 89-year-old Esther Bejarano, a diminutive woman with a snow-white pixie cut, to jump in with a song. “When will the heavens open up, again, for me?” is one favorite, the refrain of a local carnival tune. “When will they open up?”

It is an unusual pairing. Ms. Bejarano is one of the last surviving members of the Auschwitz Girls’ Orchestra, the only all-female ensemble among the many Nazi-run prisoner musical groups in the camp system. Among other duties, the Girls’ Orchestra was responsible for playing the marches that imprisoned women had to keep step to as they went out to work in the morning and, even more cruelly, as they returned, half-dead, at the end of the day.

Five years ago, hoping to reach more young people with her story and her message of tolerance and anti-fascism, Ms. Bejarano teamed up with Microphone Mafia, a German hip-hop duo with Turkish and Italian roots. They have released their first album, and have been playing concerts throughout Germany and Europe ever since.

The music combines songs like the poignant Yiddish resistance song, “We’ll Live Forever,” composed in the Nazi-run Jewish ghetto in Vilna just before it was liquidated, with rap passages about current problems like racism that, in Ms. Bejarano’s view, show that the lessons of the Holocaust still need to be learned.”

Read more…

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.