Archive for : American Jewish World Service

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.

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.