Archive for : ajws

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!

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.

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.

Shabbat Service: Jacob’s Disguise and Claiming Rights for Uganda’s LGBTI Community

Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:

The story: This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Toldot, includes a story filled with family strife, disguises, and deception. As this week’s dvar tzedek co-author, Lisa Exler writes, “At his mother Rebecca’s urging, Jacob covers his arms and neck with animal skin, disguising himself as his hairier brother Esau in order to fool their aging, blind father into giving Jacob the blessing of the first born.”

The “takeaway”: Exler writes that Jacob had the choice of whether or not to disguise his identity – and whether or not he made the right choice is up for debate. But “for many people around the world today, especially those who identify as LGBTI, disguising their true identities is not a choice, or a means to an end…but a necessity.” Sadly, when they reveal their true selves, like at the recent LGBTI Pride Parade in Uganda (the country’s first), they become more vulnerable to violence, discrimination, and oppression. The situation is dire: LGBTI people’s lives are literally at risk – just for being who they are. Most recently, a highly controversial anti-homosexuality bill was introduced in the Ugandan parliament. And yet for any change to happen, they and their allies must collectively stand up and stand out.

The “to-do”: Support the work of organizations in Uganda and abroad (like AJWS) that are working to create a safe, welcoming community for the country’s LGBTI citizens. And help put pressure on companies and governments around the world to lend their support.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.

Shabbat Service: The Importance of Staking Ground

Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:

The story: This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Chayei Sarah, opens with a brief mention of the death of Sarah (the matriarch) at age 127, and then is immediately followed by a much longer description of Abraham purchasing land from local citizens. They offer to give him the land as a gift, but he refuses – instead insisting that he pay for it in full. This week’s dvar tzedek author, Sarah Mulhern, asks the question “why is it so important to Abraham to purchase this land in precisely this way—at full price and in front of the entire community? And what is so crucial for us to learn from this process that the Torah sees fit to devote so many verses to it?

The “takeaway”: Mulhern writes that “we see that Abraham was a man of great foresight. He understood, as do…other indigenous and marginalized populations around the world, that land ownership is not something to be taken for granted.” Indigenous people all over the globe, particularly in developing countries, have to fight for their rights to the land they have often lived on for centuries. It can be a painstaking process, and the fight is not always successful – too often, big corporations are able to displace an entire people to fulfill their development goals.

The “to-do”: Support the work of organizations that are “doing crucial work to ensure that, like Abraham, people around the world today retain legal rights to their land.” American Jewish World Service partners with many of these organizations – like Il’laramatak Community Concerns in Kenya, which works with the Masai community. Find out more about their work at AJWS.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.

Set the Table for Global Hunger Shabbat, Nov 2 (Plus Get Interviewed for this Blog!)

Do you know where you’re having dinner on Friday, November 2nd? (Because, doesn’t everyone coordinate their Shabbat dinner plans two weeks in advance?) If you don’t have a firm plan yet, that’s great – seriously! – because now is the perfect time to start inviting people to your place for Global Hunger Shabbat.

Sponsored by Repair the World partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS), Global Hunger Shabbat is one of the core aspects of their Reverse Hunger campaign. All year round, Reverse Hunger aims to reform our country’s international food aid policy, create a fair food system that reflects our community’s values, and spark the Jewish voice for change by reforming the United States Farm Bill, which is up for renewal this year.

Global Hunger Shabbat is a weekend of nation-wide solidarity, learning and reflection around food justice. And it’s your opportunity to get involved in this super important work – to spread the word and take stock in the ways our tradition can inspire us to make a difference, while enjoying good friends and good food.

The fun all begins with dinner on November 2nd. Interested, but not sure how to plug in? Or do you want to attend or host a Shabbat dinner, but not sure where to start? AJWS has made it easy to get involved, providing educational materials to bring to the Shabbat table and resources linking food justice and Jewish global citizenship.

Click here to find a Global Hunger Shabbat meal with an open seat at the table near you. Or click here to access all the resources you need to plan and host an amazing, educational and empowering dinner.

Are you hosting or attending a Global Hunger Shabbat dinner? We want to interview you about it! Let us know in the comments below or email editor[@]www.werepair.org.

Shabbat Service: Seeing the Familiar with Fresh Eyes

Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:

The story: This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Breishit, brings us back to the beginning of the Torah once again. “In the beginning…” it starts, launching the year-long cycle of telling and retelling our story that Jews move through every year. This week’s dvar Torah author, Leah Kaplan Robbins, writes that although there is comfort in the familiarity of this cycle – of hearing the same words over and over again, year after year – it can grow kind of stale. “The rabbis, too, struggled against the receding of the familiar, and suggested ways to make the Torah come alive anew each year,” she writes.

The “takeaway”: Robbins writes that whether one is talking about the Torah or our work in the field of service and social justice, the only way to “revive one’s passion for the familiar,” is to “[engage] with it in a new way.” This is the time of year, she writes, to “take stock” of our lives and passions, and identify what areas can use a “jump start.” In the process, we often find ourselves rejuvenated and more committed than ever before. Robbins quotes Nelson Mandela’s beautiful words, which speak to this point, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

The “to-do”: Take some time today or this coming weekend to evaluate the places in your life that may have grown familiar and stale. Think about the commitments you made – to family, friends, your community – and how you might reinvigorate them. As Kaplan writes: “Though its words are well-worn, the Torah doesn’t remain stagnant, but changes as we change, revealing new interpretations over time. As we embark on this brand new year, may we take action to bring about changes in ourselves that open our eyes to the Torah in new ways; and through its wisdom, may we find the inspiration to go out and change the world.”

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.

Shabbat Service: Listen to Others But Also Yourself

Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:

The story: This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Vayelech, begins in fairly familiar territory. The Israelites are at the end of their 40-year desert trek and used to their relationship with a very active and present God, who feeds them manna and demands their obedience. They are also used to having Moses and later Joshua as their leaders.

But once they enter the Land of Israel, everything changes. As this week’s dvar tzedek author Adina Roth writes, “they will transition from dependence on an overt God and strong leaders to worship of a more concealed God and rule of law dictated by weaker, short-term judges. This evolving relationship with external authority will require a cognitive shift away from simple dependence towards greater empowerment.” In other words, for the first time since leaving Egypt, they will be more in control of their own destiny.

The “takeaway”: Roth asks: “This tension between depending on external leadership or finding an inner sense of authority within ourselves and our communities is a challenge we face in civic life today. Do we place our destiny in the hands of our leaders, those with official titles of power, or do we assume responsibility ourselves for maintaining our nations’ ethical course?”

Roth writes that the “ideal power structure is a balance: On the one hand, we need to honor the fact that ‘external’ leadership does matter—elected leadership has the capacity to bring about significant change. Yet, we must not forget the force and influence of our inner shirah (song)—the power of the people to lead their own way on a just path.”

The “to-do”: In any relationship you have – whether it’s with parents, friends, partners, teachers, or a boss – be respectful and listen to them, but don’t forget to listen to your inner song as well. Strive to find the balance between your voice and theirs, and everyone will benefit.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.