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Archive for : ajws

Shabbat Service: Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

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 Tisa features the dramatic story of the Golden Calf. Moses is still up on Mount Sinai and has received the Ten Commandments. God breaks the news that the Israelites have panicked in his absence and begun to worship an idol. God is, understandably, angry and let’s Moses know that he plans to let his “anger blaze forth against them,” and “destroy them.” Moses pauses before answering God – perhaps listening, and perhaps not sure what to say. Eventually he responds by saying, “Let not Your anger, O Lord, blaze forth against Your people, whom You delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand.”

The takeaway: Moses’ response is curious. Why does he not speak up right away? Is there doubt in his own heart? Does he care about the Israelites, but not know how to advocate on their behalf? Whatever the reason, Moses hesitates to make his voice heard on an issue he cares about. Sounds familiar, right? We have all had moments where we felt passionate about something, but failed to spring into action – or waited for an invitation to become involved.

The “to-do”: Learn to rise above your hesitations and speak up for what you believe in! Take a public speaking course or participate in a leadership training to learn tips and gain confidence in your ability to express yourself. Learn how to write an effective letter to Congress, or how to craft an op-ed for a publication. Then take a deep breath, focus yourself, and speak up!

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website.

Shabbat Service: Housing is a Basic Human Right

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), Terumah, opens with the Israelites building the Mishkan – a portable sanctuary for God. Despite being a temporary/portable structure, it’s a remarkably elaborate piece of construction: “Speak to the children of Israel,” God commands Moses, “and have them take for me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take my offering… you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson wool; linen and goat hair.” (Exodus 25:2-4)

The takeaway: This week’s dvar tzedek commentator, Leil Leibovitz writes that there are some startling comparisons between the parsha’s story and today’s modern day economic woes. “[Today’s economic catastrophe] was brought about largely due to unhealthy mortgage practices that allowed individuals without much capital to buy houses well beyond their means. And here, as the story begins, are the Israelites acting like the most irresponsible of homeowners. Despite being a nomadic desert tribe, they squander their fortunes on erecting [the Mishkan.]

But, Leibovitz writes, God’s request for a lavish dwelling place acutally helps teach the Israelite’s some important lessons – namely, the importance of sacrifice and of respecting home. He writes, “for a collection of ancient tribespeople becoming progressively accustomed to life on the move, insisting on one particular, fixed structure as holy sends a powerful message: housing—whether Divine or human—should never be taken lightly. Home is imbued with holiness. A home is a basic human right.” It’s a message we would do well to remember today.

The “to-do”: Work to realize God’s lesson in parsha Terumah that “home is a basic human right.” Learn more about the Fair Housing Act, and get involved with organizations like Housing Rights Inc, and Fair Housing Justice Center which fight for equal access to housing for everyone.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website.

Shabbat Service: Serving with Open Ears

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), Yitro, Moses receives an unexpected visitor. Yitro, a priest of Midian (and Moses’ father-in-law) visits him to check out Moses’ leadership of the newly freed Israelites. After surveying for a bit, he ultimately delivers the following critique: “The thing which you are doing is not good.” Considering Yitro does not live amongst the Israelites, it’s a pretty bold statement for him to make. And yet, as an elder and Moses’ father-in-law, he also offers his viewpoint from a place of authority.

The takeaway: According to this week’s AJWS author, Adina Roth, Yitro’s status as an insider/outsider offers “a powerful model for global justice work.” When working with people outside of our own community, especially on justice issues, it can be all too easy to make sweeping assertions about how to fix things based on limited observation. Instead, Roth writes, “we need to visit [people’s] communities and listen to their stories” before we can truly help. In other words, as volunteers and as advocates for change, it is imperative to keep a sense of humbleness and a pair of open ears.

The “to-do”: More and more, justice and human rights organizations are beginning to understand that, in order to make effective change they must listen carefully to and work directly with the people they are helping. No organization understands this better than American Jewish World Service, which collaborates closely with on-the-ground partner organizations in all of the countries they assist – from Ethiopia to El Salvador. Get involved with AJWS through one of their service learning programs, or make a donation to support their global service work.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website.

Repair Interview: Rebecca Weintraub’s Alternative Break with Hillel and Yahel

The end of January has arrived, which means two things: 1. Super Bowl Sunday (yay!) and 2. the end of winter break (not so yay). Students across the country are buckling down and getting back in the groove of papers, quizzes and homework. Meanwhile, daydreams of winter breaks just-past still dance in their heads. Especially for students like University of Maryland senior, Rebecca Weintraub.

Weintraub, along with 15 other students, joined Maryland Hillel and Repair the World for a life-changing alternative break trip in Israel. The students volunteered with Repair the World grantee-partner Yahel (learn more about Yahel here), for a 10-day whirlwind of learning and serving with Israel’s Ethiopian community. Weintraub took a minute from her busy back-to-school schedule to tell Repair the World about planting gardens with Ethiopian-Israelis, trying injera and other new foods, and how the trip influenced her relationship with Israel.

What inspired you to go on the alternative break trip?
There were several different alternative break trips being offered through Hillel – like one to San Diego that focused on immigration, and another to Ghana with American Jewish World Service. But the one that caught my eye was one in Israel with Yahel. It seemed different than the typical Israel trip where you visit Masada and the Kotel – it delved into social justice issues and seemed like it could help both deepen and challenge my relationship with Israel.
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Shabbat Service: Bring Freedom to All

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), Bo, we flash forward a couple of months to Passover by learning about Chag haMatzot a.k.a the Festival of Unleavened Bread. We also learn the difference between matzo – the thin, cracker-like “bread of oppression” vs. its seeming opposite, chametz, which you might call the “bread of freedom.” (Because only free people have the time to let bread rise, let alone bake it until it forms a nice chewy crust.)

The takeaway: All this talk about matzo and chametz in the parsha brings up questions about the meaning of freedom. When you get down to it, there are actually two types of freedom: There’s freedom “from” things – mostly bad stuff, like oppression and slavery. But there’s also freedom “to” things – like the freedom to make our own decisions, and the freedom to create new realities. By accepting our freedom, we meanwhile accept a type of responsibility to ourselves and to others. In other words, “our newfound freedom [obligates] us to bring about the same transformation for others in our world.” It obligates us to “be the change,” as Gandhi famously put it, and to help others find their own freedom.

The “to-do”: There are still three months until Passover’s week-long matzo-fest begins (whew!). In the meantime, why not get a jump start on embracing your freedom, by helping ensure it for others. Volunteer with or support human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Youth for Human Rights, or Rabbis for Human Rights North America.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website.

Shabbat Service: Support The Rights of Indigenous People

Shabbat Service is a weekly column 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), Vaera, God comes to Moses and tells him that he and the Israelites will soon be free of Pharoah’s harsh rule in Egypt, and will inherit the land of Israel. “I will bring you to the land,” God says, “concerning which I raised My hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and I will give it to you as a heritage.”

The takeaway: The idea of “land” is a huge focus of this week’s parsha. The story brings up all sorts of questions about homeland, about land ownership, and about what happens when a group of people find those rights taken away. Think about more recent times when indigenous communities across the world – especially in South America, Australia, and Southeast Asia – have lost– and continue to lose their land and traditional way of life to logging, industrial agriculture and other outside pressures. What happens then?

The “to-do”: There’s not much we can do about the olden days, but today, we can support  peoples’ rights to live on their land without industrial interference by volunteering with or donating to organizations that work to preserve healthy indigenous communities, like AJWS, Indigenous Community Volunteers in Australia, and Rainforest Action Network.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website.

Remembering Haiti

Two years ago on this day, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake took the lives of over 300,000 Haitians, displacing thousands and thousands more, and causing vast amounts of damage to the region. Like many natural disasters and world-events, the earthquake may have happened two years ago, but its impact is still felt today. Today, one and a half million people are still displaced, 550,000 people continue to live in camps, and the number of orphans nearly doubled. Thanks to the support of devoted volunteers, NGOs and service-workers who rushed down, some progress has been made. According to the The Huffington Post, 50% of the debris has been removed and 20% has been recycled. Nearly 369,000 people have been provided access to clean water, 2.4 million with health services and hygiene education, and 3 million with cholera treatment prevention. But the work is far from done.

As global citizens – and as Jews – we are responsible for helping to alleviate each others’ suffering. Below are some ways you can still give your time and effort to help Haiti in its efforts to rebuild:

Volunteer, Support & Learn

  • AJWS: AJWS’ long-standing partnerships in the region made it possible for them to respond within 48 hours of the earthquake.  Today, AJWS funds 40 extraordinary organizations in Haiti and is a leader in the U.S.-based movement for Haitian-led redevelopment.
  • JDC’s Inside Haiti: Volunteer with JDC in the fields of medical assistance, educational support and humanitarian relief.
  • Tevel B’tzedek’s Haiti Program: The IsraAID – Tevel b’Tzedek delegation began its work in Haiti one month after the quake. They’ve been implementing community development techniques such as women and youth groups and informal education in three villages in the Leogan district ever since.
  • Habitat for Humanity: Habitat’s commitment to Haiti dates back 27 years before the 2010 earthquake. Today, they continue to be a leading organization in helping to rebuild Haiti.
  • Aid Still Required:  “Just because it left the headlines, doesn’t mean it left the planet.” Aid Still Required has helped support Haiti’s growth to self-sufficiency, including women’s empowerment efforts, child services, and reforestation. Use hashtag #AidStillRequired to spread the word about Haiti.
  • American Red Cross: Two years after the Haiti earthquake, the American Red Cross is helping Haitian people rebuild their homes and their lives and improving communities with health, water and sanitation projects.
  • On1Foot.org: Interested in hosting a text study on disaster relief in general? Check out this resource for texts which explore a moral obligation to respond to humanitarian crises.