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Archive for : Tradition & Culture

Making Time for Service on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur this year begins the evening of September 13. That means, the countdown to the annual synagogue marathon and 25 hours sans food or drink begins now. But in between the Rabbi’s sermon and rumbling stomachs, Yom Kippur can be a wonderful time to serve.

If you plan to be in services all day, much respect! But if you have an hour or more to spare, why not fill it in a meaningful way by making time for service and volunteering? Here are some great ways to serve this Yom Kippur:

Be on the lookout for literature. If you are heading to synagogue this Yom Kippur, take a few minutes to pass by the synagogue bulletin boards or information tables. Chances are, there are plenty of opportunities to plug in and volunteer, or brochures from world-changing organizations waiting there for you to pick them up.

Volunteer at a soup kitchen. For those who fast during Yom Kippur, it may seem a bit cruel and unusual to spend extra time around food. But serving others actually helps the time pass more quickly, and is a meaningful way to engage.

Commit to the Food Stamp Challenge. Raise awareness (yours and other people’s) about the injustices of food insecurity by committing to eat for a week at food stamp rates. If you feel compelled, make a donation to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger as well.

Hold a book swap at your break fast Are you hosting or going to a break fast? Add books to your bagels and lox by organizing a book swap. Ask each guest to bring a few books they no longer want. After everyone drinks their OJ and has their fill of kugel, invite them to browse the books and take some home. Donate any leftover books to an organization like Books Through Bars, Housing Works, or Better World Books.

How will you make time for service this Yom Kippur? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting us at @repairtheworld.

Social Justice Texts and Resources for the High Holidays

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two most important holidays of the Jewish calendar. This year, add an extra level of significance to your holiday with these inspiring service and social justice related texts and resources:

AJWS Repair the World’s partner organization, American Jewish World Service, has a whole slew of social justice related resources for the high holidays, including this inspiring sermon by Rabbi David Wolpe.

Elie Wiesel The critically acclaimed author of Night shares his thoughts on what being Jewish means to him.

Reform Judaism: This collection of resources shares lots of ways to incorporate service and social justice into the high holiday season, from feeding the hungry to holding a social justice tashlikh ceremony.

The Jew & The Carrot Celebrate Rosh Hashanah in sustainable style with Hazon’s eco-friendly Rosh Hashanah resources.

Uri L’Tzedek The Orthodox social justice organization, and Repair the World partner, created an awesome guide for self reflection on the high holidays.

Do you know of another great social justice, service, or eco-friendly high holiday text or resource? Let us know in the comments or tweet us at @repairtheworld.

Pride and Prayer: LGBTQ-Friendly Synagogues

Living a Jewish life can mean a lot of things. It can mean celebrating the holidays, observing Shabbat, or spending time with Jewish grandparents. It can mean keeping kosher, wearing a kippah, studying Jewish texts (or Hebrew or Yiddish), or giving tzedakah and living out the Jewish value of tikkun olam.

But for many Jews, living a Jewish life also means prayer, spirituality, and going to synagogue – either twice a year for the high holidays, or more regularly. Historically, finding a safe and welcoming place to worship has been challenging for LGBTQ Jews. Starting in the 1970s, a handful of congregations formed that specifically served the LGBTQ community.

Today, more and more synagogues are becoming increasingly welcoming to all members, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. For Pride Month, Repair the World rounded up some historic and more recent congregations that were either founded by, or have made themselves particularly open to members of the LGBTQ community:

Am Tikva (Boston): Since 1976, this LGBTQ-congregation has served Boston’s community. Their first Shabbat service was held at the Boston University Hillel House, and in 2003 voted to become a formal congregation.

Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple (Beachwood, Ohio): Within this larger temple, located in the larger Cleveland area, exists a smaller synagogue called Chevrei Tikva Chavurah, which welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews and their families and friends for worship services.

Bet Mishpachah (Washington DC): Bet Mishpachah is a spirited, egalitarian congregation founded in 1975 to serve gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews, as well as anyone who wishes to participate in an inclusive, egalitarian, and mutually supportive community.

Beth Chayim Chadashim (Los Angeles): Badging itself as “the world’s first LGBT synagogue” (it was founded in 1972), BCC-LA continues to be a vibrant spiritual and communal center for Los Angeles’ LGBTQ community and allies. In 2011, the congregation moved into a beautiful, newly built eco-friendly synagogue!

Congregation Bet Haverim (Atlanta): Led by Rabbi Joshua Lesser, this Reconstructionist synagogue was founded by gay and lesbian Jews as a place where they could engage with Judaism and Jewish life in a full and safe way. Today the synagogue retains that mission, while opening itself to a diverse community of congregants.

CBST (New York City): Congregation Beth Simchat Torah has been a haven for gay Jews, their families, and straight allies since 1973. Their services, led by the visionary Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, attract a diverse crowd of including some celebrities. (Bravo’s Andy Cohen, Joan Rivers, and Cynthia Nixon have all attended high holiday services at CBST.)

Congregation Etz Chaim (Tamarac, Florida): First started in 1974 by seven gay Jews who had been attending services at Miami’s MCC church (at the time, the only place in South Florida that welcomed openly gay people), they created an independent Jewish minyan. Beginning by holding services in people’s homes, they now hold services at the Conservative-affiliated Temple Beth Torah in Tamarac.

Congregation Or Chadash (Chicago): Founded in 1976, this reform synagogue serves as the Windy City’s preeminent LGBTQ-friendly synagogue. It was founded as an answer to the prejudice that gay and lesbian Jews experienced in other synagogues, and continues to be a warm and welcoming place for all. This past spring, the congregation hired a new spiritual leader, Rabbi Cindy Enger.

Sha’har Zahav (San Francisco): Founded in 1977, this progressive and diverse congregation celebrates its history as a LGBTQ-centered community, while actively welcoming all for worship, learning, and celebration.

Temple Israel of Greater Miami (Miami): This reform congregation has within it a havurah (independent prayer group) called Ru’ach that specifically serves the synagogues LGBTQ community.

Valley Beth Shalom (Encino, CA): This 1800 family Conservative synagogue is one of the largest in the United States. While not an official LGBTQ congregation, the synagogue’s rabbinic and communal leadership actively and explicitly welcomes same-sex individuals and families.

Who did we miss? Let us know your favorite LGBTQ-friendly synagogue in the comments or by tweeting @repairtheworld #pridemonth.

Pride Interview: Justin Spiro and JQY

During Pride Month, Repair the World is featuring interviews with the people and organizations who are on the forefront of the LGBTQ movement. This week: New Yorker, Justin Spiro, talks about his role as facilitator for a teen support group with JQY – a nonprofit organization supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews and their families in the Orthodox community.

Tell me a bit about your own background in the Jewish and queer worlds.
I grew up in the Conservative movement, and became more observant in college. I had come out as gay in high school, and started the gay-straight alliance at my school. So I had that part of my identity, and then my Jewish identity became more central later. After college, I moved to NYC which is one of the few places that has a critical mass of queer Orthodox people. I got involved with JQY as a member and occasional volunteer. Many of the friends I have today I originally met through JQY.

And what do you do with JQY now?
I am a facilitator for a monthly teen group in the Five Towns, Long Island. It’s a safe space for LGBTQ people who are currently or formerly religious to discuss about the issues they have, and realize that they are not the only ones facing those issues. In my professional life I have a masters degree in social work and work as a therapist with teenagers in the Bronx. My experience with that age group plus my own personal experiences in the queer and Orthodox communities made me a good fit for this particular program. The group is still pretty new, and its founding was one of luck and circumstance. We got a grant from Federation to put something like this together, and Five Towns, which has a large Orthodox community, seemed like a great place to jump in. We’re hoping it eventually spreads to other communities.

What unique challenges do queer Orthodox teens face?
One issue has to do with their internal moral compasses. Since they were young, they were taught that whatever the Torah says you have to do. More liberal movements can be more interpretive and open about Jewish law, but in Orthodoxy there is a deeply ingrained sense of right and wrong, as well as punishment and reward from God.

But as upsetting as that might sound, that feeling often pales in comparison with the social and community pressures the teens face. By far kids say they are more stressed out about how their parents or peers are treating them rather than about halachic (Jewish law) issues. It may be a matter of kids making jokes in the hallway, or rabbis and teachers who try to be helpful but say unhelpful or hurtful things. That’s what really stresses them out.

Do you think the Orthodox world is becoming more accepting of LGBTQ people?
I see a lot of movement in that direction. On the one hand, if your goal is to have an Orthodox rabbi perform a same sex ceremony, that is unlikely to happen. But in the Orthodox world, and particularly the modern Orthodox world, people are talking about the issues, which is ground breaking. It doesn’t change halacha, but it does acknowledge that these issues exist and that life can be a real struggle. Allowing people to share their full selves with the community is a step in the right direction.

Interestingly, the Five Towns group is endorsed and sponsored by two Orthodox rabbis in the community – without that, we never would have gotten it off the ground. So these changes are not across the board – they’re not happening in every synagogue – but it’s starting.

The most important thing is exposure. In any community, knowing someone in your family or friendship circle who is gay makes a huge difference. Then it becomes not a foreign concept, but something that impacts people just like us. Enabling people to come out safely in their communities is the single most powerful way to foster acceptance.

How has being a part of JQY impacted you personally?
It makes me feel good to see kids make progress in their lives and feel better about themselves. Personally, I am at a good place in my life – I have stable identities as a Jew and a gay individual. But many people are still unstable in one or both identities, so I feel like this work lets me give back. It’s my duty and I’m happy to do it.

Find out more about JQY’s work at their website.

Pride Interview: Shanna Katz and Keshet

During Pride Month, Repair the World is featuring interviews with the people and organizations who are on the forefront of the LGBTQ movement. This week: Colorado native (and current Denver resident), Shanna Katz, talks about her volunteer work with Keshet – an organization “working for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews in Jewish life” – and the important role Keshet has played in her own journey.

How did you get involved with Keshet?
When I moved back to Colorado from Arizona in early 2011, I felt very engaged in the queer community, but very disconnected from the Jewish community. Several months later, I started getting emails from friends saying “I saw this poster for a queer Hanukkah party that you might like.” I checked it out and thought it looked fun, plus it was being held at my favorite vegetarian restaurant. I hesitated because my partner is a transman and not Jewish, so I wasn’t sure he’d be welcome. But it turned out that there were people there from all walks of life and Judaism. It immediately felt like a safe space to be my kind of Jewish and talk about issues relevant to the LGBT and Jewish communities. For the last year and a half since then, I’ve gotten much more involved.

In what ways have you gotten involved?
I’m on Keshet’s Young Adult Planning Team. There’s this fear across the Jewish community that we’re losing people in our 20s-30s, so the original idea of the team was to make sure that the events we were planning felt relevant and meaningful to the younger adult community. We got a grant through a local foundation that paid for a year-long salon series, so we planned fun and educational events like a talk on transgender issues within Judaism. I taught a class on sexuality and Judaism, and we hosted a spoken word performance by Harvey Katz’s Athens Boys Choir. We held the salon series in coffee shops, bars, people’s homes – places that felt distinctly different from the traditional Shabbat service space.

How did you spread the word about the series?
We put flyers out at local synagogues and bars, and got an add in the local queer newspaper. We felt like we had the Jewish spaces pretty well covered, and more wanted to find queer Jewish people who did not typically come to Jewish events. The salon series did pretty well – my class, for example, had about 20-25 people.

Are you involved in other Keshet programs?
Through Keshet I’ve volunteered for our local meals on wheels program, and we have an upcoming event with Ekar, a local urban farm that provides food for Jewish family services. Each year, we march together with other Jewish groups in the Pride Parade, and recently my partner and I hosted a Keshet Shabbat. We alternate between religious and non-religious locations and usually have a lay-led service followed by a potluck. Our Queer Seder, which we hold during Passover is also one of the largest in the country. Last year we had about 150 people attend.

What role does Keshet play in your own life?
Growing up, I had a bat mitzvah and was president of Hillel during college, but then I lost my connection with the Jewish community. I had no ideas Jews had something to say about issues I cared about. So for me, Keshet been an important pathway back into Judaism, and I think it has the potential to do the same for many other people.

Find out more about Keshet’s work at their website.

Shavuot: The Holiday of New Beginnings

Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that starts on Tuesday night, is a holiday of bellyaches. For a group of people known for our, ahem, “issues with lactose,” it seems almost cruel that one of the Jewish calendar’s major holidays would come along with the tradition of eating cheesecake, cheese-filled blintzes, gooey lasagna and other dairy-licious foods. (Bring on the Lactaid!)

But Shavuot is fortunately about other things too. It commemorates the day that God gave the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, which is arguably the single most important day in Jewish history. Receiving the Torah marked the beginning of an entirely new and exciting chapter for the Israelites – one that opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

Shavuot is also connected to the ancient grain harvest in Israel, specifically the end of barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. During the festival, people would bring the bikkurim (“first fruits”) from their fields to the Temple in Jerusalem as thanks. Harvests mark the culmination of a season’s worth of toil, and the final bounty that comes after weeks of patience and preparation. But with every ending comes – you guessed it! A new beginning, and a new opportunity to envision the future we want to live in.

As we enter Shavuot, how can we make the most of this season of new beginnings, of newness and possibility? One way is to begin to plant seeds – both literal and metaphorical – that, with time, can bring the change we hope to see in the world. On a personal level, try making a list of three goals, hopes, or dreams you have for the coming months (or years). Ask yourself: what steps can I take now, at the beginning, to get on a path towards something great?

On a global level, support people who are following their own dreams. Here are several awesome micro-lending organizations and other orgs that let you support small farmers and business people who are making the world a better place:

  • KIVA – Support artisans, farmers, and small businesses with loans that they repay (so you can lend again and again!)
  • Slow Money – Help farmers support and finance sustainable agriculture across the country.
  • Women Advancing Microfinance – Support women in reaching their education, career and leadership goals.

How will you celebrate Shavuot’s season of new beginnings? Let us know in the comments or by tweeting @repairtheworld #shavuot.

Green Your Passover Part 1: Preparing for the Holiday

Ahhh, spring is in the air. Which means so is the sweet smell of bitter herbs. Passover gives us a lot to chew on (literally—and not all of which is that tasty) as we retell the really, really ancient story of our exodus from Egypt, finishing on a note to plants seeds of hope for the future. So what better way to start this spring than by making your Passover green?

Our three-part Green Your Passover series gives you all the tools you need to bring eco-friendly style to your seder. (After all, the Passover talk about locusts and lice and vermin can get a little buggy.) Read Part 1 about preparing for your holiday, then check out Part 2, which is all about the seders.

How are YOU greening your Seder? Send us your photos through Facebook or Twitter and you’ll be entered to win a gift from Repair!



Use sustainable cleaning supplies Getting rid of the chametz (leavened foods) is a big job, but also an opportunity to get a jump start on spring cleaning. While you’re emptying your cabinets of cereal and crackers, and scrubbing down your fridge until all those little crumbs disappear, be sure to use eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaning supplies – like these, or make your own – that rely on plants instead of chemicals to do their job. (Just keep an eye out for toxic additives that may be hiding in even the greenest-looking supplies.) Your house will smell and look great, will be chametz-free, and you won’t enter the holiday with any eco-baggage.

Dust off your good dishes Passover is a great time to break out the fine China and celebrate in style. The seder is modeled after a lavish Greek symposium, so all the more reason to use your best fancy-pants dishes. If you are planning on going disposable, however, make sure to stock up now on recycled paper dish ware or biocompostable goods (plates, cups, cutlery made from plants instead of plastic). Check out the goods from World Centric and VerTerra (they make their plates from – no joke – fallen leaves!)

Stock up on organic matzah. One thing is certain: you are going to eat a lot of matzah over the eight days of Passover. There’s not much you can do to make matzah taste like a warm loaf of bread, but you can make sure the matzah you’re eating is certified organic. Try Aviv organic matzah (which many Whole Foods locations carry around the holiday) or Lakewood Matzoh (which makes an organic spelt matzah). Even Manischewitz offers an organic line, bringing tradition into the eco-friendly 21st century.

Sprout your own karpas. Karpas is the green vegetable on the seder plate that evokes springtime and rebirth (and gets dipped in salt water to remind us of the tears the Israelites shed while living in slavery). The word comes from the Greek word “karpos” which means fresh vegetable. Most families use parsley, celery or lettuce for their karpas, but why not sprout your own? Quinoa is kosher for Passover and makes delicious crunchy sprouts in just a couple of days. Learn how to sprout your own (be sure to leave yourself about 3 days for the process from start-to-finish, then enjoy homemade karpas at the seder.

Start the holiday with eco-friendly candles. Passover, like Shabbat and many other Jewish holidays, begins with the lighting and blessing of candles. Start the holiday off on a green foot by using eco-friendly candles. Conventional candles are made from paraffin, which is derived from petroleum (an un-renewable and polluting resource). Instead, light your holiday the sustainable way, by blessing candles made of a green material like beeswax.

For additional ideas and Passover inspiration, check out Hazon’s healthy and sustainable Passover resources, as well as Uri L’Tzedek’s, Bend the Arc’s, and The Shalom Center’s food, justice, and earth-focused haggadot.

Touch Screens and Too Many Memes

I’ll admit it.  I’ve been a little overtexed lately. Our whole society has been, really. Over-screened, over-GIFed, and over-memed. I’m sort of over it. And so is Reboot, which is why they’re spearheading the National Day of Unplugging on March 1. Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 10.59.15 AM

Yes, the National Day of Unplugging is on Shabbat, and that’s no coincidence. But before you skip it over and say “I don’t do Shabbat,” or assume that you’re going to be asked not to use elevators or take the subway –pause. Ask yourself: when was the last time you spent a WHOLE day without looking at your cell phone (let alone looking at your cell phone while watching TV and checking Buzzfeed on your laptop)? When was the last time you sat in the same room with your friend or roommate or partner and “spent time together” while you faced separate touch screens – or you were talking, and they weren’t? Tell me that doesn’t piss you off.

That’s why National Day of Unplugging – be it on Shabbat or Sunday or some day next month – is a great idea, and a great excuse. It’s an opportunity to create a personal practice around Shabbat (if that’s what you’re looking for). Or, it’s a chance to avoid your mom’s phone calls, a flood of “urgent” emails from your boss, and endless repeats of Say Yes to the Dress. It’s an excuse to be alone – if it scares you a little – and to remember what it’s like to feel connected to your community…without 3G.

Reboot, an organizations seeking to reinvent Judaism for the modern age,has made a very basic, and very adaptable Sabbath Manifesto to help you get started. It includes things I buy into like: “connect with loved ones” and, “eat bread” (you don’t ever have to ask me twice to indulge in a few extra carbs) – as well as a few tougher sells like, “avoid commerce.”

While it is still likely you will still find me running to the store to pick up a few forgotten ingredients on the National Day of Unplugging or failing to light candles, I’m choosing the practices that are more meaningful challenges for me – like finding silence, or putting away my phone.

Confession: I haven’t spent 24 hours away from my phone since 2003. So I’m actually really excited for the opportunity to tune in – to enjoy scrabble instead of Netflix, a quiet date night at home, or some solo reading time. And if I get to you call that Shabbat, then that’s fine by me