Archive for : Israel

Food Justice Interview: Gidi Kroch of Leket Israel

This fall, Repair the World is building a movement to Inspire Service, focusing on the critical issue of food justice in conjunction with Hunger Action Month.

Meanwhile, we’re spotlighting the work of awesome food justice organizations around the world. First up: Leket Israel – the country’s National Food Bank and largest food rescue network. Leket’s mission is to lead the safe, effective, and efficient collection and distribution of surplus nutritious food in Israel, to those who need it. We spoke with Leket’s CEO, Gidi Kroch, about what makes their work so critical, what he finds most challenging, and what inspires him.

Why is the work you do around food so important in Israel right now?
There is a lot of food waste all around the world, including Israel. At the same time, Israel is in line with the world’s largest agricultural production, even with its limited space. In addition, like other western countries, unfortunately, the need is growing and the gap is widening. Our government is not doing its part to financially support the food insecure. All of this contributes to the criticalness of Leket Israel’s work in food rescue and redistribution to those in need across the country.

Can you share a story that demonstrates Leket’s impact?
In addition to Leket Israel rescuing more than 30 million pounds of produce and perishables that would have been destroyed annually, we advocate for the nonprofits we serve and many others providing food to the poor. A recent example of this was our appeal to the Ministry of Health regarding a bill they were planning on passing that would have negatively affected the work the nonprofits were doing.

We were successful, and the Ministry of Health granted a four year extension which allows NPOs the ability to continue their work feeding those in need. Another important step that Leket is taking is to encourage resistant food donors who currently do not donate their surplus food by drafting and promoting the passing of Israel’s first Food Donation Act. Modeled after the U.S. Good Samaritan Law, this would protect all donors’ food donations given in good faith. We hope that this will pass in Israel in the immediate future as we believe it will not only minimize waste but will greatly enhance the amount of food currently being rescued.

In what ways do volunteers get involved?
Leket Israel enlists over 60,000 volunteers each year. They lend a hand in a range of projects such as volunteering with Project Leket (gleaning in the fields), picking fruits and vegetables for distribution to Leket’s nonprofit partner agencies, and sorting food at Leket Israel’s main logistics center in Ra’anana. There, the volunteers sort produce from the large agricultural bins and repackage them into smaller crates in preparation for delivery to the NPOs. Volunteers are also an integral part of Leket to Table, Leket Israel’s meal rescue program. Volunteers go out during the day and at night to collect excess meals from corporate cafeterias, restaurants, event halls.

What are your biggest challenges? And what inspires you most?
One of the biggest challenges we face is that there is just so much more surplus food out there, and we can not get to all of it – knowing that fresh, nutritious food is going waste instead of feeding someone who is food insecure. On the other hand, it has been truly inspiring to witness the willingness of Israeli farmers to donate their produce to Leket. The farmers, in many cases, are struggling themselves but this does not prevent them from giving their excess fruits and vegetables to help others.

Find out more about Leket Israel’s work around food justice on their website.

Spotlight On: The Shmita Project

Imagine a world where every 7 years, everything changed – like really, radically changed. For one whole year, business as usual would cease. No one would plant or harvest anything from the land. It would like fallow and rest. All debts between people, meanwhile, would be forgiven and the slates would be wiped clean.

Jewish tradition contains within it this exact scenario: shmita. Literally meaning “release,” shmita arrives in Israel every seven years to ensure that society remains fair and just. Of course, there’s often a big difference between biblical ideals and what happens in real, practical life, so Hazon and the Jewish Farm School came together to create The Shmita Project – an initiative working to “expand awareness about the biblical Sabbatical tradition, and to bring the values of this practice to life today to support healthier, more sustainable Jewish communities.” They are not suggesting that everyone practice shmita down to the letter of the law, but to simply ask – what might being more mindful about the practice do to change my life, and my community, for the better?

The shmita year began on Rosh Hashanah and extends for one full year until next Rosh Hashanah. How might you incorporate some of it’s teachings of sustainability and justice into your daily life? How might letting go – and hitting the metaphorical “reset button – in certain areas help transform things in positive ways?

To learn more, check out Hazon’s shmita educational resources. They have all the info you need to get inspired,, learn about shmita’s relevance to contemporary life, organize a shmita-inspired event in your community, and join a network of people around the country doing the same.

Now’s the time to dig in – find out more on Hazon’s website.

LGBTQ Movements Around the World – What’s Going on Globally

In the last decade, conversations about LGBTQ rights – from healthcare to the right to marry – have skyrocketed in America. And while the United States is by no means free of bigotry and injustice directed towards gay people, overall acceptance of and support for the LGBTQ community has also made great strides, with campaigns like It Gets Better making mainstream headlines and national impact.

But the struggle for LGBTQ rights is hardly just an American issue. Around the world, people of other countries are fighting just as passionately for justice. Below, we’ve offered a few snapshots (by no means an exhaustive list!) that paint a picture of the global LGBTQ movement.

Brazil In May, Brazil became the third (after Argentina and Uruguay) and largest Latin American country to give a “defacto greenlight” on same sex marriages by saying that government offices that issue marriage licenses cannot turn away gay couples. It’s a big move for a country that is predominantly Roman Catholic. More than a million people celebrated this year’s pride parade in Sao Paulo.

China: A few years ago, China celebrated its first Pride Week – though much of the celebration was muted by governmental interference. More recently, an activist and organizer of this year’s Pride March was disconcertingly detained.

France: In May, France signed gay marriage into law – it is the 14th country to do so (after New Zealand, which legalized same-sex marriage about one month earlier.) Not long after, the first gay wedding was celebrated. However, at the same time, tens of thousands of people turned out to protest the new ruling.

Israel has positioned itself as a haven for the country’s LGBTQ population, especially in Tel Aviv (less-so in more conservative Jerusalem). Gays can serve openly in the army and gay marriages from other countries are honored – though gay marriage is not sanctioned within the country itself. (Bonus: watch this sweet It Gets Better video by an Israeli family speaking about their transgendered family member.)

Nigeria: Known for its vocal intolerance of the LGBTQ community, the Nigerian House of Representatives recently passed an anti-gay bill, that criminalizes same-sex marriage, relationships and even membership to gay-rights groups (the country’s President has not yet signed it into law). Punishment includes jail sentences of up to 14 years. Despite the horrendous pressures against the gay community, Nigerian gay-rights activist organizations like Alliance Rights, Nigeria and Queer Alliance Nigeria, continue to fight for LGBTQ rights.

New Zealand In April, New Zealand’s parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage, making them the 13th country to do so, and the only one in the Asia-Pacific region. After the bill’s passing, spectators in parliament (and some of the lawmakers themselves) burst out into joyous song.

Curious about other countries’ stances on gay rights? Check out Global Post’s interactive graphic that lets you search by country for info.

In 2012 Repair the World, the leading national nonprofit organization mobilizing Jewish volunteers in the U.S., released a research study, entitled “Serving a Complex Israel: A Report on Israel-based Immersive Jewish Service-Learning,” which highlighted the potential of Israel-based immersive Jewish Service-learning programs (IJSL) to serve as “a core strategy for Israel engagement, demonstrating significant positive gains in connection to Israel and an enhanced sense of connection to other Jews.” This year, Skilled Volunteers for Israel and theConservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem are partnering with Repair to transform the Volunteer and Study program into an immersive Jewish Service-learning program (IJSL). Volunteer & Study was launched in 2012 to enable participants to “live and learn Israel.”

Volunteer & Study (V&S) offers the opportunity to spend 3-6 weeks in the summer in Jerusalem learning at the Conservative Yeshiva and volunteering in a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization. Participants, who range in age from 18 through pensioners, divide their time between formal learning focused on Hebrew language, Jewish text and values, and customized volunteer experiences. The 2013 program has added courses associated with service in the Jewish tradition and strengthened the connections between the program’s service and learning components.

“Serving a Complex Israel” suggests that respondents’ reasons for volunteering often resonated more strongly with universal values (such as “working to make the world a better place is my responsibility as a human being”) than they did with particularistic Jewish values or ideology (such as “I consider working to make the world a better place to be a Jewish act”).

The changes to V&S attempt to offer participants an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between their Jewish values and service. Four V&S courses – Torah in Action, Jewish Theology of Human Rights, Creating Inclusive Communities, and Engaging with Israel – together with reflection activities and a “Torah in Action” themed Shabbat are structured to deepen participants’ understanding of the Jewish tradition and values of service and Tikkun Olam.

V&S’s parallel emphasis on study and service will provide an experience that reinforces the relevance and centrality of service in Jewish tradition while providing the opportunity for participants to engage in service that speaks to their universalistic desire to contribute.

Skilled Volunteers for Israel’s process to identify real community needs for volunteer placements reflects Repair the World’s standards for authentic service. For the service portion of the program, V&S places participants in volunteer positions within Jerusalem-based organizations, and invites leaders from the non-profit sector to present to the Conservative Yeshiva community. Skilled Volunteers for Israel develops the volunteer positions through its network of relationships with Israeli non-profits and its expertise in developing customized volunteer engagements that match the interests and skills of the participants with the needs of the receiving organizations.

Examples of volunteer service done by the 2012 V&S cohort include working with refugee children in a summer kindergarten, facilitating strategic planning for an organization that specializes in inclusionary programming for children with special needs, contributing to the annual report for a social justice organization focused on monitoring fair employment practices, and abstracting interviews for an oral history archive dealing with World War II and holocaust survivors.

The program’s volunteer experience and contact with nonprofit leaders exposes participants to the complex issues and challenges of Israeli society. The “Serving a Complex Israel” study looked at the potential impact of such exposure to Israel’s challenges and problems and found that “in the context of service, such exposure did not weaken participants’ commitment to or interest in the country. On the contrary, connection to the country and its people seems to have been consistently intensified by exposure V&S 2012 participant Gabriella Meltzer, a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate interested in the African refugee issue in Israel volunteered at the Reform Movement’s Beit Shmuel preschool which cares for the children of foreign workers and African asylum seekers. Gabriella’s experience echoes this finding, saying that her “eyes were opened to the issues that children of refugees and their families face while in Israel.”

“Serving a Complex Israel” highlights a few key elements: The importance of Israel experiences within the array of immersive Jewish service-learning opportunities as having the potential to deepen participants’ understanding of and connection to Israel. IJSL programs can be “a significant Jewish experience” for participants, particularly those who come to the programs with less active engagement in Jewish life. It also describes the influence of Israel-based IJSL programs on participants’ service, Israel, and Jewish identities. The findings are most clear on the impact of these programs on participants’ service and Israel identities. Less consistent is the impact on participants’ Jewish practice and attitudes.

The V&S program is designed to maximize impact on participants’ Israel, service and Jewish identities leverages the diverse expertise of the three program partners. The Conservative Yeshiva is an inclusive and egalitarian Jewish learning environment with experience in teaching Jewish text. Skilled Volunteers for Israel specializes in authentic service through customized volunteer placements. Repair the World is an expert in Jewish Service-learning.

Volunteer & Study provides a rich, substantive experience for participants and just as important, a fun and meaningful experience in Israel.

For more information write [email protected] or visit conservativeyeshiva.org/volunteer-study-summer-program

Marla Gamoran is the Founder and Director of Skilled Volunteers for Israel.

Alternative Break Interview: Yonatan Isser on Visiting Israel with Yahel

Right now, colleges and universities across the country are kicking off their spring breaks. As students prepare for their time off, we thought we’d check in with someone who chose to spend his last break making a difference.

Yonatan Isser, a senior at University of Maryland, participated on an alternative spring break program in Israel with Yahel. While there, he and his fellow participants lived and volunteered with members of the Ethiopian community. Yonatan found the time to chat with Repair the World about why he chose Yahel and how this trip changed his life for good.

Why did you decide to join the Yahel trip last winter break?
I knew that I wanted to go to Israel for winter break, as I have done in the past. I come from a modern Orthodox background, so my previous visits usually included visiting family, going to the Kotel, and learning at a Yeshiva. This time around I wanted to see what it is like to really live in Israel as a citizen – to get the day-to-day experience for people with different backgrounds than mine. I wanted to see other sides of Israel I had not been exposed to before, and Yahel seemed like the perfect way to do that.

What type of activities were you involved with during your time there?
We spent a lot of time with the Ethiopian community, hearing about their lives and experiences. We had organized home stays within the community, where we got to know the families, and helped their kids with homework at night. That was wonderful for developing deeper relationships. We heard a story from one resident who had immigrated to Israel and joined IDF. He ended up being one of the soldiers on duty for Operation Solomon, which meant he got to help bring many other Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

We also did lots of hands-on service. We helped plant a community garden so that people in the community could partake in recreational agriculture. We painted a mural on a wall, and helped an elderly woman in the community with some light construction in her house. We painted her kitchen, fixed cracks in her walls – things like that. That was a more informal opportunity to connect with a community member; she had heard that we were going to be in town and asked for our help through an NGO in the community.

What was most special about this type of service for you?
Unlike my other trips to Israel, this trip really pushed me out of my comfort zone. It compelled me to emotionally connect with the world around me, and experience things on a much deeper level. It wasn’t like the typical acts of chesed (kindness) I learned about growing up. We actually got to know the people we were helping, and got to speak with them and hear their struggles first hand. It was about getting the deeper story. I came back to the United States with a desire to keep volunteering at this level as an important part of my life. The trip inspired me to do more.

New study finds exposure to challenges in Israel encourage community service

NEW YORK (JTA) — Jewish young adults exposed to complex issues surrounding Israel come away with a connection to the Jewish state, according to a new study.

Commissioned by the Jewish Agency for Israel and Repair the World, a Jewish service learning group, thestudy surveyed 332 young Jewish adults who participated in 12 different Jewish volunteer programs and found that working to address various inequities in Israeli life does not alienate them from Israel.

“There’s no need for program providers and funders to present a rose-colored version of Israel to our young people,” said Dyonna Ginsburg, the director Jewish Service Learning of the Jewish Agency. “Quite the contrary, we should be looking for additional ways to present Israel as it really is.

The study found that 92 percent of participants felt more attached to Israel after completing a social justice program there. Exposure to issues like the divide between secular and religious Israelis and the status of Israeli-Arabs increased their desire to pursue further opportunities in Israel.

“The more people understand about their service, the more committed they will be to it. What’s more, we know that young people — particularly those from affiliated households — become more passionate when their service brings a connection to their own personal heritage,” said Repair the World CEO David Eisner. “We hope these insights will spur collaboration among providers and funders in Israel to build content and positive experiences for those motivated to volunteer.”

Youth Gain Attachment to Israel When They ‘See It as It is’

A new study co-sponsored by the Jewish Agency shows that fears of Jewish youth turning against Israel by being exposed to the country are totally wrong and that their experience actually encourages them to volunteer in Israel.

“Repair the World” and The Jewish Agency released the conclusions of the study on Thursday and it shows that the more these young men and women learn about Israel, warts and all, the more they are motivated to engage in more Israel-based service.

“There’s no need for program providers and funders to present a rose-colored version of Israel to our young people,” said Dyonna Ginsburg, Director of Jewish Service Learning at the Jewish Agency.

“Quite the contrary, we should be looking for additional ways to present Israel as it really is. Immersive Jewish Service-learning (IJSL) participants have not been shying away from Israel based on their time there. They are clearly strengthening their connections to Israel, their heritage and the Jewish people.”

David Eisner, CEO of Repair the World, said, “The more people understand about their service, the more committed they will be to it. What’s more, we know that young people, particularly those from affiliated households, become more passionate when their service brings a connection to their own personal heritage. We hope these insights will spur collaboration among providers and funders in Israel to build content and positive experiences for those motivated to volunteer.”

The study found that volunteering in Israel often deepens versus distances a young Jew’s feelings for the country precisely because of its social complexity. Exposing young Jews to multifaceted issues underlying Israeli life, such as the divide between secular and ultra-Orthodox society, the security situation, the status of Arab-Israelis, and the growing income gap in Israeli society can, in fact, bolster their desire to serve and enroll in future opportunities.

An overwhelming 82 percent of the respondents reported that they have strengthened their commitment to social justice and at the same time, 92% said they felt more attached to Israel.

“I absolutely think it is important for North American Jews to come volunteer in Israel,” said a 27-year-old study respondent. “They will be exposed to elements that they certainly will not see on [other programs]. Understanding what issues are swept under the rug, and why, is very important to understanding Israel, and understanding Judaism.”