array(1) { [0]=> int(22) }

Archive for : ajws

Shabbat Service: The Power of Inclusivity

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), Nitzavim, comes at the end of the annual Torah-reading cycle. In it, there’s a description of a ceremony undertaken by the people of Israel to “enter into the covenant of Adonai [their] God.” It’s all well and good except, as dvar tzedek author, Sarah Mulhern writes, the Israelites have already “affirmed their commitment to God’s covenant before the revelation at Mount Sinai.” So…”why is Moses orchestrating a second entry into a covenantal relationship that already exists?”

The “takeaway”: Mulhern writes that some contemporary commentators explain the second covenant ceremony as a do-over, a chance to fine-tune the previous covenant to make it more inclusive to the entire community. “The covenant ceremony in Parashat Nitzavim repeatedly emphasizes inclusion and participation. The ceremony begins by declaring that all members of the community are present—“You stand this day, all of you, before Adonai”—and then goes on to list the groups who are represented: “Your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer.” The message is powerful: everyone – not just the most elite or the holiest – is welcome to take on the covenant.

The “to-do”: In this high holiday season, strive to find ways to nurture a sense of inclusivity and openness in all of your work or studies.

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: Revealing Our True, Authentic Selves

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), Ki Tetze, contains an unusual commandment (actually it contains 74 commandments, but this one is particularly noteworthy): “A man’s apparel should not be on a woman, and a man should not wear a woman’s clothing, for whoever does these things is an abomination before Adonai your God.” At first glance it’s a confusing and rather offensive commandment, especially for people who identify as transgender.

But as this week’s AJWS dvar tzedek author, Sigal Samuel, writes, “according to rabbinic interpretation [however], this law is not about preventing people from wearing clothes traditionally associated with another gender. It is about preventing deception—the veiling of our true identities—and the harmful results of gaining access to restricted spaces by means of that deception. Read in this light, the verse urges us to ensure that we create spaces that are safe, appropriate and consensual for everyone.”

The “takeaway”: Put simply, the commandment can be read as a biblical encouragement to be our full, authentic selves – whoever that is – and not be afraid to share that with other people. Around the world, however, GLBTQ people have faced a great deal of discrimination while simply attempting to be who they are. Sigal writes, “For many transgender and gender non-conforming people across the globe, particularly in developing countries, this translates into crippling social and economic hardship. India, for example, is home to approximately one million transgender people. Because the majority of them are denied access to job, education and housing opportunities, they are forced to inhabit slums and engage in sex work to survive.”

And yet slowly, gains are being made – like Burma’s first International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which was held this past May.

The “to-do”: Support a world where everyone feels comfortable sharing their true and full selves, regardless of who they are or how they identify. Support the work of transgender advocacy organizations in America (like these) and abroad (like these).

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: Using Our Power Wisely and Compassionately

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: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Eikev, Moses gives a moving presentation to the Israelite’s about God’s power. He says:

“And now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God demand of you? Only this: to revere Adonai your God, to walk only in God’s paths, to love God, and to serve Adonai your God with all your heart and soul… Adonai your God is God supreme and Adonai supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.”

In other words, Moses says, God’s kind of a big deal (except, for real).

The “takeaway”: This week’s dvar tzedek author, Rabbi David Singer, writes, “This is a provocative theological message, to be sure, and one that has crucial practical import for those of us who concern ourselves with the work of global justice.” Too often, he writes, our public discourse splits between people who want to show their power by force, and those who want to show a subtler type of power, offering “empathic aid as a means for influencing change in the world.” Many of us, he writes, are “uncomfortable with thinking of our social justice work as exercising ‘power,’ but by asking us to emulate a God who does so to overcome injustice, our tradition invites us to embrace our empathic force and not to be shy about using it.”

The “to-do”: When we help others – as volunteers, as educators, as activists – we exert a type of power in the world. Sign up for an activist training that teaches you how to lead with empathy and humility, listen to others and work with a community to help bring change for everyone.

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: Who are We Responsible For?

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), Va’etchanan seems to ask the question, who are we responsible to? Are we supposed to look out for just ourselves and our own interests? People in our family or community? Just other Jews, or the whole world? Where, in other words, are the boundaries of our obligation?

Dvar Tzedek author, Wendi Geffen believes that the parsha – at first – seems to argue for a narrow field of obligation, saying: “Be careful, then, to do as Adonai your God has commanded you. Do not turn aside to the right or the left: follow only the path that Adonai your God has enjoined upon you.”

But on closer inspection, she said, the scope is actually wider than it first appears. A little later the parsha reads: “You should surely keep the mitzvah of Adonai your God; God’s testimonies and statutes that God commanded you. You should do what is hatov v’hayashar (good and right) in the eyes of God.”

The “takeaway”: Geffen writes that most Jewish commentators see that commandment to do what is “good and right” as going beyond the specific commandments, to be just in all of one’s actions and interactions with others. She goes onto explain that the notion of hatov v’hayashar offers a “compelling argument that Jewish sources indeed endorse and mandate our global justice pursuits.”

The “to-do”: Doing service and helping others – both in your community and beyond it – is a “good and right” thing to do, no matter what your personal justification for doing so is. But to have backing and support from the Jewish texts makes the work all the more meaningful and powerful. While there’s no specific “to-do” action step for this week, the parsha serves as a reminder of the importance of examining why we do what we do, and the importance of helping others, no matter who they are.

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: Join in the Long, Hard Fight to End AIDS

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: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Dvarim, the Israelites gather on the steppes of Moab, waiting for Moses to deliver his final speech before they enter their new home in the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert. It’s a beautiful, awe-inspiring moment, until Moses begins to speak and rebukes the Israelites at length about their sins in the desert.

The “takeaway”: This week’s dvar tzedek author, Leah Kaplan Robins, admits that “this oration stuns me every year…Why does Moses reiterate these facts when what [the Israelites] probably need is an inspirational message about how far they’ve come? I have always assumed that Moses simply lost control, succumbing to his bitterness that the people will enter Canaan without him.”

But, she writes, the big picture tells another story. “I’m seeing Moses’s speech in a new light this week, as my AJWS colleagues—and 49 of our grantees from around the world—are attending the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. For the 25,000 activists, scientists, NGO workers and policy makers gathering on their proverbial mountain top, it must be tempting to stoke feelings of relief at how far they’ve come since the first terrifying cases of HIV emerged in 1979. But emphasizing this progress obscures the devastating big picture.”

In other words, like Moses or today’s leaders in the fight against AIDS, sometimes one can lead best when they don’t let people get complacent, but continue to remind them exactly why they’re fighting. In the case of the AIDS epidemic, the reason for fighting is the memory of the 30 million people who’ve died of the disease, and in honor of the 33 million more currently infected.

The “to-do” Lend your support to the cause: sign this Declaration to End AIDS petition, which was created by major AIDS organizations in Washington DC.

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: War is Not Healthy For Children…

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: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Matot-Masei, the tribes of Reuven and Gad ask Moses if – instead of settling in Canaan with the rest of the Israelites – they can settle east of the Jordan River, where the pasture is perfect for raising their livestock. Moses doesn’t buy it, thinking they’re using farming as an excuse to avoid the battle necessary to conquer Canaan. “Your brothers are going to go to war,” he says, “and you are going to sit here?” Reuven and Gad relent, agreeing to fight in the war if they can then settle where they wish.

The takeaway: This week’s dvar tzedek author, Sigal Samuel, writes that Moses’ perhaps misread Reuven and Gad. “Although the men initially couch their request in terms of livestock, the issue of their children’s safety creeps into their speech. They explain that, while they’re off at war, “our children will dwell in the fortified cities.”

Reuven and Gad knew from experience the devastating effects war can have on children. Their stance was like a biblical take on the famous anti-Vietnam War poster in the 1960s that said, “War is not healthy for children or other living things.” Unfortunately, as Samuel writes, “we too have seen society’s most vulnerable members bear the brunt of war’s tragic consequences. According to UNICEF’s 1996 report, over the preceding decade 2 million children were killed in armed conflict, while 6 million were seriously injured or permanently disabled. This does not include the many children who became refugees, orphans or victims of rape, sexual slavery, disease or malnutrition as the result of war.” Perhaps Reuven and Gad had it right all along…

The “to-do”: Support organizations – like AJWS grantees AJEDI-Ka/Project Enfants Soldats and Friends of Orphans that are doing the vital work of rehabilitating children affected by war, throughout 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: Supporting Women Leaders and Entrepreneurs

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), Shlach tells the story of God instructing Moses to send men to the land of Canaan – the Israelite’s future home – to scope out the situation. Unfortunately they come back with a mostly negative report – of fierce people, fortified cities, and an inhospitable land. Not surprisingly, the report discourages the Israelites from entering Canaan and God punishes them with 40 years of desert wandering.

According to 16th century commentator, Kli Yakar, the tragedy might have been averted if Moses sent women spies instead of men. Why? As Dvar Tzedek author Sigal Samuel writes, “The Kli Yakar’s reasoning is simple: whereas the male Israelites show a lack of investment in the land, the female Israelites show great love for it. Had Moses sent female spies, the Kli Yakar suggests, they would have seen the same terrifying sights as their male counterparts; but, driven by their love for the land, they would have focused on long-term solutions instead of becoming discouraged in the face of difficulty.”

The takeaway: Samuel writes, the parsha reminds us that “like the Israelite women, the women of today’s world [ed. note: and particularly in developing countries] show a great aptitude for creating and implementing the future-oriented plans their nations need—when they are given equal opportunity to do so.” They tend to invest in education and long-term strategies for the health of their communities. (Read more evidence about that here.)

The “to-do”: Invest in the world’s shared future. Donate to micro-loan organizations that support the work of women (and men!) farmers, small business owners and entrepreneurs in the America and across the developing world. Orgs to check out: KIVA, WomenVenture, and Accion.

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.