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Archive for : New York

Repair Interview: Zhanna Veyts on Being a Refugee, Then Helping Others with HIAS

This interview is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s Passover campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis.

What if you had the opportunity to give back to someone or something who made a profound difference in your life? For Zhanna Veyts, that is exactly what happened. In 1989, when she was still a child, Veyts and her parents left the Soviet Union for America with the help of HIAS – the oldest international migration and refugee resettlement agency in the U.S. (and our partner in this month’s #SupportforRefugees campaign.)

Today, Veyts works for HIAS supporting refugees going through the same transitions she went through nearly 30 years ago. Repair the World recently spoke to Veyts to find out how her experience shapes her work and how, despite our differences, we all pretty much want the same thing.

Can you tell me a bit about your own refugee experience, and how it impacts your work at HIAS?
I’m originally from Ukraine and came to America with my parents in 1989 with help from HIAS. We went through Vienna and Italy like hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jewish refugees at the time. We had to figure out if we would be able to go to America or Israel. When we arrived in Los Angeles, our experience was not unlike everything that refugees experience today. You get an apartment, it gets furnished, there are social programs, you enroll in school or get a job, you have to learn English, and life starts anew. You get here and very quickly you’re on your own.

The process is quite complicated, but HIAS has been doing it for 130 years. I realized later that some of these big decisions that made a huge impact in my life at different crossroads were directly related to HIAS. It is so interesting to be working on the other side of it now.

What did it feel like to be an adolescent going through this experience?
When we left, we thought we would never see my grandparents again. That happens to so many people today. We did not know that years later, the situation with the Soviet Union would change and we’d be able to bring them here. We really thought we were saying goodbye, and that was really rough.

I also remember the dramatic difference between my life in Ukraine before the Iron Curtain fell, and what I found in Europe. It was Christmastime when we made it to Vienna and Italy. Everything was sparkly and clean, it felt like Disneyland. Before the Internet and with no access to Western television, I’d had no vision of what to expect when I left. Arriving there, I had a definite, “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moment. Soon after we came to America we moved to Los Angeles, and I attended public school the first year. I remember it feeling so much bigger and more diverse than anything I’d experienced. A year later I transferred to a Jewish day school and remember being really aware that there were differences between me and the other kids.

How did you end up working for HIAS?
It was kind of serendipitous. Going to Jewish day school and Jewish sleep away camps had a big part in shaping who I am. In college I attended Hillel events and went on service trips. The service part and social justice part of Judaism always made a lot of sense to me as a person from somewhere else who had been included. When I moved to New York, I got a job at the JDC working for their non-sectarian disaster relief department. I found the work really interesting, and it was in-line with my sense of Judaism to help others beyond our own community. When I got the job here three years ago, everything came full circle.

What do you do at HIAS?
I work in communications and digital media, running social media and our blog. I think of these things as different platforms for story telling. The stories of the people HIAS works with are what makes this work really compelling. This organization facilitates this completely transformative shift in people’s lives. I experienced that myself. I’m not going to sugar coat it, it’s the beginning of a whole journey that people go on. And it’s difficult and hard for many people. But so many people finally find safety and freedom.

I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to meet a lot of people HIAS works with in different capacities. I’ve seen programs in Africa and met Afghanis, Iraqis, and people from so many different corners of the world who all have their own stories and experiences. But the majority of them, when we ask them what’s the best thing about getting to America, say “feeling safe.” When it comes down to it, people really all want the same thing. They just want to have a nice, warm, safe environment for their families.

Find out more about HIAS’ work, and Repair the World and HIAS’ #SupportforRefugees campaign.

Photo: Veyts (second from right) making a home visit to a family of Ethiopian refugees living in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo credit: Glenna Gordon/HIAS

Turn the Tables on MLK Day with Repair the World

“What is it America has failed to hear? …It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King’s heroic legacy of advancing civil and human rights in America lives on, even nearly 50 years after his death. But in recent months, whether in Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, or countless other cities and towns across the country, there have been too many reminders that the work to ensure justice and freedom for all our country’s citizens is far from complete.

That is why this year, in honor of MLK Day, Repair the World is launching Turn the Tables – an initiative that promotes the principles at the center of Dr. King’s ideology, and works towards the promise of a more just society. The road ahead is long, so we must walk it together.

There are two ways to get involved over MLK Day weekend:

Host a Shabbat Supper
On January 16, turn your table into a forum for conversations about justice. Shabbat has traditionally been a sacred weekly time for Jews to gather with those closest to them. Repair the World invites everyone to use the Shabbat before MLK day as an opportunity to break bread and reflect on racial injustice issues that are on the minds of Americans following the tragic events in Ferguson, Staten Island and elsewhere.

Take Action
MLK Day is a nationally recognized Day of Service. On January 19, join thousands of Americans across the country in making our communities stronger and standing up to the challenges of racial inequality in meaningful and tangible ways. Sign up to make the commitment to make a difference for a cause you care about.

Learn more about Repair the World’s Turn the Tables initiative and get access to tons of resources for MLK Day and beyond.

Join Reboot On March 7-8 For the National Day of Unplugging

From sundown to sundown, March 7th to 8th, thousands of people across the world from New York and Tel Aviv, to Warsaw and Australia, will turn off their cellphones, log out of Twitter, shut down their Kindles and take a 24-hour break from technology. Sounds kinda familiar, right? That’s because the ancient Jewish tradition of observing Shabbat (the Sabbath) is the inspiration behind Reboot’s fourth annual National Day of Unplugging.

Based around 10 universal principles called the Sabbath Manifesto – things like “get outside,” “find silence,” and “give back” – The National Day of Unplugging encourages people to temporarily disconnect from their hectic, fast-paced lives and reconnect to the world and people around them. Some folks will join in because they are traditionally observant Jews who “unplug” every week. Some will join because they think it’s eco-friendly to give their electronics a little break. And some will join in simply because they want the opportunity to relax and spend time with family and friends. So why do YOU unplug?
Read more

Pride Interview: Alyssa Finn and Nehirim

During Pride Month, Repair the World published interviews with the people and organizations who are on the forefront of the LGBTQ movement. Pride Month 2013 is officially over, but we have one more interviewee who is too great not to share. (Think of it as a bonus feature!) New York resident Alyssa Finn talks about her transformative experience at a retreat led by Nehirim (a national community of LGBT Jews, partners, and allies), and how she transitioned from being an enthusiastic participant to a committed volunteer and board member.

How did you first find Nehirim?
It’s a funny story! Back in 2009 I was on J-Date and this person contacted me who said, “I don’t know if you and I would be good for each other romantically, but I think we’d be friends and I’d like to meet you.” So we met up and, as she thought, we totally clicked as friends. On our first meeting she told me about Nehirim and how they were hosting their first ever women only gathering. I’d never thought about combining my queerness with my Judaism, so this seemed like an interesting opportunity.

And how was the retreat?
It was incredible. I’ve never felt so whole in my entire life. Sometimes in life I think we inadvertently shine a light on different parts of ourselves depending on what the situation calls for. And by doing that, the other parts of our life grow temporarily dimmer. But at the retreat I felt like all my lights were on, and I didn’t have to dim anything. I found community I didn’t even know I needed.

What was it about the retreat that made it so powerful?
There was a good sized group of people all around my age, who were all experiencing a Nehirim retreat for the first time – so having a cohort to bond with and share the novelty of the experience with was really great. I was also blown away by the community as a whole. I’d thought everyone was going to be just like me – a bunch of Jewish queer folks all getting together. But we were all really different in ways I didn’t anticipate – religiously, our ages, socio-economically, racially. It gave me more freedom to be who I was because, while we came together with one commonality, we all had our own special take on it to share.

How did you stay involved after the retreat?
I actually kind of became a Nehirim junkie! I immediately signed up for a multi-gendered retreat, which was four months later, and ended up going to another retreat that same year. Along the way, queer Jewish community has become my norm instead of something I thought I could never have. It changed the way I viewed myself and also encouraged me to find Jewish queer circles outside of the retreats. In Massachusetts, where I was in medical school until recently, I also participated with a lot of Keshet programs – I actually met my fiancé Lisa through a Keshet shabbat potluck! Then about two years ago, I was asked to play more of a facilitator role at a Nehirim retreat. That’s when I started really owning the experience and realizing I could play a creation role in this work. There was this shift from just taking things in to being like, “wow, I can help give this experience to other people.”

What does it mean to facilitate at a Nehirim retreat?
We have these small groups that meet three times over the course of the retreat, which allows people to get to know some of the other participants really well and have a smaller, safe space to listen and be listened to. I helped facilitate one of those small groups. During the third meeting we do a “blessing circle” where each person steps into the center and asks for a blessing to bring with them after the retreat ends. So everyone stands around them and gives their blessings at the same time. With everyone talking over each other it’s not about individual words, but about the act of bestowing and receiving blessings. It’s really powerful.

When did you join the Nehirim board?
I joined last October. It’s been a pretty loose commitment so far, but we have a board visioning retreat at the end of June. We’re transitioning to a new executive director, so at the retreat we’ll talk about how to best move forward and transition with our new leadership. We’ll also envision what our roles on the board could and should be. I’m looking forward to it because our board members are spread all over the country, so this is the first time we’ll all be face-to-face. This is my first time on a board, and I’ve found it really interesting. Overall, it’s great to be able to help take something that has been powerful for me and try to bring that energy outward to other people.

Find out more about Nehirim’s work at their website.

Pride Month Events 2013

Not sure how or where to celebrate Pride Month this year? Repair the World has got you covered!

The festivities begin during the last days of May and continue throughout the end of June, and there are events going on all around the country. Check out our roundup of fun, fabulous (and in many cases free!) events, talks, film screenings, parties, marches and shabbat dinners celebrating LGBTQ rights during Pride Month.

May 31: Join Keshet for “Erev” Pride Week Shabbat services and dinner in Sommerville, MA.
June 1: Congregation Am Tikva in Brooklyn, MA is hosting a Pride Liberation Seder – aka a retelling of the story of the LGBT liberation following the Passover seder model.

June 22 and 23: Chicago’s annual Pride Fest helps kick off summer in the second city!
June 24: Congregation Or Chadash is hosting a beach-side BBQ and Shabbat service to launch the city’s Pride Week.

June 14: Shabbat services and a picnic lunch are at the heart of this Keshet-inspired Pride Month event.

Los Angeles
May-June: There are a ton of events going on in West Hollywood before and during Pride Month, from a discussion of LGBTQ rights around the globe on June 18, to the official LA Pride Parade on June 9. For more events in and around Los Angeles, click here.

June 5: Temple Israel of Greater Miami is hosting a ru’ach pride seder, celebrating the freedoms and remembering the challenges of the LGBT community.

New York
June 22: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah is hosting a multigenerational pride picnic in the park.
June 28: Join other New Yorkers for the Pride Week Kickoff Rally at Pier 26.

San Fran
June 9 Keshet is hosting a LGBTQ mixer and Pride Month picnic in Delores Park.
June 28: Join the Jewish Community Federation for a gay pride Shabbat celebration.
June 29-30 San Franciscans know how to party during their annual Pride festival.

June 28: JConnect in Seattle will host their annual Pride Shabbat with services, music, food and mingling.

Washington DC
May 29: Join in on the fun at the Big Queer Jewish Pride Kick Off Happy Hour event hosted at Mova Lounge.
June: The Washington DC JCC’s LGBT group GLOE is hosting several fun events, all worth checking out.
June 8: Join in the annual Capitol Pride Parade, and March with GLOE.

Did we miss a great Pride Month event? We want to hear about it! Share it below or tweet us at @repairtheworld #pridemonth.

Women’s History Month Events – 2013

March is halfway over! Have you celebrated Women’s History Month yet? If not, don’t fret – there are still tons of interesting lectures, panels, film screenings and other events going on around the country to honor Women’s History Month (which is especially relevant this year, because 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage march on Washington!). Check out the options below:

This month marks 100 years since the Woman Suffrage March in Washington, D.C.

  • Brooklyn, New York On March 20, the Brooklyn Museum will host a panel (moderated by Gloria Steinem!) called Gender and Genocide: Sexual Violence During the Holocaust and Other Genocides. The panel will feature co-editors of a book about the topic, among other speakers.
  • Brooklyn, New York On March 23, the Brooklyn Museum will host another fascinating panel discussion – this time on women, art and body image, and particularly the body mass index (BMI).
  • New York City On March 25, check out a screening of the film Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines at the Chelsea Recreation Center in Manhattan.
  • Rochester, New York The University of Rochester is screening Oma & Bella, a documentary by filmmaker Alexa Karolinski about her grandmother Regina and her best friend Bella, two Holocaust survivors who now live, reminisce, and cook together in Berlin. On March 25th, the school is also hosting a Women in Music concert that’s open to the public.
  • San Francisco On March 25th, Artists’ Television Access will host a screening of “Half the Sky,” an inspiring book based on the Nicholas Kristof book about global women’s issues.
  • San Francisco Did you know that the bicycle played a role in the suffrage movement? Celebrate women’s history month on two wheels, with a Women’s History Month bike ride coordinated by the SF Bike Coalition.
  • Washington DC On March 20, head to the United States Capitol Historical Society for a book signing. Author Maurine Beasley will be signing copies of her book, Women of the Washington Press: Politics, Prejudice, and Persistence.
  • Washington DC Celebrate women’s contributions to the world of jazz at the third-annual Washington Women in Jazz festival from March 20-27.

Know of other great women’s history month events in your community? Share the news in the comments below or by tweeting us @repairtheworld.

Shalom TV Daily News 11/6/12

Repair Hero: Rabbi Stephen Roberts on Providing Spiritual Service After 9/11

Rabbi Stephen Roberts is a professional chaplain – the person to turn to in a crisis for support, advice and spiritual counsel. But he’s also a deep believer in service, both within and outside his official job description. So when the New York branch of the American Red Cross wanted to build an interfaith team of chaplains to serve New York City residents after disasters, he jumped at the chance to volunteer and organize.

That group, which coincidentally started their official service about one week before the attacks on September 11th, ended up playing a pivotal role in providing spiritual care and comfort during the country’s darkest days. Rabbi Roberts took the time to speak with Repair the World about his commitment to serving others, his definition of the word “mazel” (luck in Hebrew), and the role we all play in rebuilding and looking forward after a tragedy.

A couple of years before 9/11 you’d started to recruit chaplains for the American Red Cross. What inspired that?
It was really a story about paying it forward. A close friend of mine – really more of a brother – was killed in a plane crash close to 25 years ago. When he died, one of the ways I got through it was because of some amazing spiritual care from a Rabbi. It really made a difference in my life. Many years later I heard that the American Red Cross was putting together a team of chaplains to provide spiritual care after aviation disasters. I believe deeply in service, and wanted to help create a core of colleagues to do this work. About 2 years before 9/11 I began recruiting a diverse group of chaplains in New York from all the faith traditions. We had actually just completed our preparatory work a week before 9/11. We had been working as a group for months – we were ready to knock on doors, we even had an application form for volunteers.

Wow, what incredible timing!
You know, we normally think about the Hebrew word “mazel” as meaning luck, but I think there’s something more to it. If you read the word backwards, the letter “lamed” (L) stands for limmud, or study, the letter “zayin” (Z) stands for zaman or time, and then there’s the letter “mem” (M), which stands for makom, or place. The notion is, if you have put in the “time” and the “study” into preparing for something, when you finally arrive at the “place,” you are ready for it. That’s really what luck is all about.

What types of care did your team of chaplains provide after 9/11?
We basically had to ramp up our efforts much faster and larger than we’d expected. When I showed up to the Red Cross they told me, “Rabbi – you’ve done all this planning…well now you’re live.” I got on the phone and called my team in. I said, “We’re live starting tomorrow morning – if you can show up, then show up.” We began screening volunteers – imams, rabbis, ministers, and buddhist priests, men, women, black, white, hispanic. Our team ended up including 800 volunteers.

In the first few days after 9/11 we served in front of the family assistance centers – the place where people came to report who was missing, or where biological material was brought to make matches. People stood in line for hours trying to determine if their loved ones were alive or not. So our chaplains wandered the lines and made themselves available. Sometimes, the most powerful spiritual care is about being present. Our presence allowed people to let out their shock and make it through those darkest first days.

How did the work change as the days and weeks went on?
A week and a half or so later, when the memorial services began, we had chaplains there. We handed out water and napkins, and through that work people came to us. We were really a ministry of presence. A month after 9/11 we took over at ground zero, providing chaplains 24/7 in the recovery. We created things like a non-denominational prayer for whenever a body part was recovered. That was for the workers and volunteers – they need a sacred moment, and a reminder that the work they were doing, even if it was happening in the most horrible conditions possible, was sacred. We were there for 9 months until they finally closed the site.

What can rabbis, chaplains and community leaders be doing now – 11 years later – to help their congregations and communities move forward while honoring and remembering?
I co-edited a book with Reverend Will Ashley about training clergy to deal with disaster and spiritual care. I recommend that people read that because it talks about how disasters are a given in life, but what’s most important is how well you’re prepared for them. Our job as clergy is to help the community come back to a new beginning after a tragedy, but really anyone can help facilitate that for their community.

Learn more about the American Red Cross’ work around Disaster Relief, and find out how you can get involved.