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Repair Interview: Elie Lowenfeld

Elie Lowenfed, 23, is the founder of the Jewish Disaster Response Corps (JDRC), which he started while still an undergraduate at NYU. In August 2009, he organized JDRC’s first official relief trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a year after flooding had devastated the city (and the entire eastern half of the state), taking out ten square miles of its downtown. He and fourteen other Jewish students (seven from New York and seven from the Midwest) went to help with the long term rebuilding process. That first trip was done with a whole lot of do-it-yourself gumption. “We just grabbed some people and 300 dollars and one written page and just started going,”  he noted. Since that first trip, he has organized three alternative spring break trips during his senior year.
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Vayera 5771

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Jimmy Taber.

This week, in Parshat Vayera, Avimelech, king of Gerar, faces a grave threat to himself and his household. Avraham enters the town and repeats his prior ill-fated decision to present Sarah as his sister instead of his wife upon arriving in a foreign land. Unaware that Sarah is married, Avimelech takes her for himself. To Avimelech’s great surprise, God confronts him in a dream, threatening to kill him unless he returns Sarah to Avraham. Following an animated exchange Avimelech concedes, but only after God once again threatens death and this time extends the potential sentence to “all that is yours.” Avimelech returns Sarah to Avraham and he and the women of his household are healed from the infertility that had been inflicted upon them as punishment for seizing Sarah. ((Genesis 20: 1–18))
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Pursue Heads Out Into the Fields for a Day of Gleaning

A few weeks ago, Repair the World blogged about an upcoming day of gleaning at the Adamah farm being co-sponsored by the organizations Pursue and Hazon.

The event came and passed successfully – and one participant was inspired enough by the day of service, sunshine and sustainable agriculture to share her experience on Pursue’s blog. We’ve reposted her essay below – with the Jewish harvest holiday of Sukkot just around the corner, it is an inspiring read.
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Ki Tetze 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Aviva Presser Aiden.

In Parshat Ki Tetze, the Torah describes the mitzvah of yibum, the levirate marriage, which is invoked when a man dies without children. Yibum requires that the man’s eldest brother marry the widow and father children that will bear the name of the deceased, in order that the lineage not be lost from Israel. ((Deuteronomy 25:5.)) Acknowledging that this role can be difficult or at times impossible to perform, the Torah provides an alternative: In the event a man could not, or would not, accept the responsibility of yibum, chalitzah is done, a ritual in which the brother must publicly declare that he will not accept this responsibility. The widow is then free to marry outside her deceased husband’s family. ((Deuteronomy 25:7-10.))

In the modern day, yibum is practically nonexistent. How then, can we approach this mitzvah without relegating it to the pile of the obscure and irrelevant? It begs a reimagining, enabling contemporary Jews to relate it to our own experience of death, descendants and legacy.
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Chukat 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Rabbi Rachel Kahn Troster.

As the Israelites wind down their adventures in the desert and prepare to enter the Promised Land as a free generation, they must again confront their faith in God’s ability to protect and provide for them. At the heart of Parshat Chukat is the puzzling episode of Moses and the rock that yields water. ((Bamidbar 20:6-11.)) Through Moses and the costly mistake that he makes, ((c.f. Bamidbar 20:12. The explicit consequence of Moses’s mistake is that he loses his right to enter into the Promised Land.)) this parshah teaches us the proper way to express trust in God. The challenges that Moses and the Israelites face in finding the right way to engage in and express their belief in God challenge us to think about the ways we demonstrate commitment to our values in the public sphere.
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Tazria-Metzora 5770

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Daniel Bloom.

Much of the double portion of Tazria-Metzora deals with the laws governing tzara’at, an enigmatic affliction which takes the form of a skin disease in people, but which can also afflict clothing and houses. Due to its symptoms of skin discoloration and the requirement that the victim be quarantined, tzara’at has often been mistakenly identified as leprosy. However, it is not caused by infection or a biological imbalance; rather, it is the physical but supernatural manifestation of an individual’s spiritual malaise.

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Speak Your Mind: Ma’yan Political Theater Takes the Stage

That’s Not Fair! Virtually everyone has uttered that phrase once before, and likely many times – when someone cuts in line or says something intentionally hurtful; or when a hidden societal injustice gets exposed. Last night, that ubiquitous cry was further illuminated at The JCC in Manhattan during, That’s Not Fair: a performance by The Ma’yan Political Theatre Apprentices.

The cast of eight performers – junior high and high school girls ranging from age 12 to 17 – were in fine form, weaving together theatre, puppetry and music in an ensemble exploration of tough questions surrounding privilege, power and oppression. “Most of the content was taken from things we experience in our every day lives,” said performer, Esther Lenchner. From there, they collaboratively created images and scenes (along with their artistic director, political theatre veteran Jenny Romaine) that educated the audience without forcing them to a particular viewpoint. “We don’t have all the answers,” said Dylan Corn – so we wanted to let the audience draw their own conclusions.

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The Great American “Compassion Boom”

Sick of depressing headlines? Try this one on for size: according to a recent article in PARADE magazine, America is in the midst of a “compassion boom.”

A recent PARADE poll showed that public service is becoming a way of life in the United States, and that 94% of Americans believe it is “important to be personally involved in supporting a cause [they believe].” Even better, 78% of respondents believe that “the actions of one person can improve the world.”

Despite the economic hardships that many Americans face, citizens are engaging in service (from organizing food drives and participating in a charity walks, to cleaning up public parks and mentoring students) and discussing the importance of activism with their children.

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Two is Stronger than One: Hillel and City Year

The national non-profit organization City Year, believes in empowering young people (aged 17-24) to make a difference in the life of a community through citizen service. Since 1988, when the idea was first cooked up by then-college roommates Michael Brown and Alan Khazei, City Year has united participants with diverse backgrounds in a year of full-time service.

This year, City Year Care Force teamed up with Hillel to create an amazing hybrid: a week-long alternative spring break for Hillel students that combines the best of both organizations’ missions. I recently spoke with City Year’s Care Force Senior Project Manager, Vanessa Meisner, to learn more…

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This Week: AJWS’ Global Hunger Shabbat

Regular Shabbat observers and novices alike are invited to join the first annual Global Hunger Shabbat this week on March 19-20. Spearheaded by the international organization, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) as part of their Fighting Hunger from the Ground Up campaign, it offers an opportunity for local communities (AJWS estimates participation from 5,000 people) to raise awareness and solidarity around issues of unjust food access, poverty, and hunger across the world.

Participation can include anything from hosting a Shabbat dinner or lunch conversation around the issue of food access, giving a speech or sermon at your synagogue, JCC or in your house, bringing the topic into the classroom, or organizing a day of action in the fight against hunger.

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