Archive for : shabbat

From Dialogue Comes Understanding: MLK Shabbat

This post originally appeared on The Schusterman Blog on January 31, 2017

By Jason Crain

This story comes to us from TableMakers, a Schusterman initiative that helps REALITY alumni to create and host dynamic Shabbat experiences for their peers. The experience described below was organized by Jason Crain, a Technical Product Manager and Entrepreneur in Residence at Amazon.com in Atlanta, GA. He graduated from Morehouse College, and hails from Kansas City, Mo. Here, Jason shares his thoughts from our MLK Day Shabbat dinner hosted in partnership with Repair the World. The dinner was part of Repair’s Turn the Tables dinner series and an extension of their #ActNowForRacialJustice campaign.

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A Racial Justice Shabbat Dinner with Michael Twitty

Shabbat dinner naturally has a lot going for it. The food (challah! matzo ball soup!), the singing, the camaraderie, the chance to truly rest and enjoy friends and family after a long week – it’s hard to improve upon. But one recent Shabbat dinner held in Atlanta, Georgia last week stands out from the pack.

On November 11, Repair the World hosted a #TurntheTables Shabbat dinner as part of our time at Facing Race: A National Conference – a multiracial, intergenerational gathering focused on racial and social justice. We had spent time at the conference engaging with and learning from community organizers, educators, interfaith clergy members, and other leaders of the racial and social justice movements, and it was time to rest and recharge.

Michael Twitty As night fell and the Shabbat candles were lit, more than 100 people joined together around the table (or rather, many tables!) for dinner, discussion, and a conversation with culinary historian and writer, Michael Twitty.

Twitty focuses much of his scholarship on the history and culture behind African and African-diaspora cuisines, as well as on the idea of “identity cooking” – his theory about the way people construct and express their complex identities through food. As a Black Jewish man, Twitty often writes about his own experiences melding the, as he writes on his website, “histories, tastes, flavors, and Diasporic wisdom of being Black and Jewish.”

With the results of the national Presidential election just 3 days old, he spoke about the commonalities and distinctions between the Jewish and Black experience as minorities in America, and the critical importance of loving and protecting one another as full and complex human beings.

During dinner, guests were also prompted to discuss questions around the table like, “Where are you coming from in your racial justice journey?” which gave them a chance to get to know one another on a deeper level. The dinner closed with an alternative take of the Birkat Hamazon – or the grace/thanks traditionally said after meals in the Jewish tradition. The words of the blessing said it all:

“Giving and receiving we open up our hands / from seedtime to harvest we’re partners with the land.
We all share a vision of wholeness and release / Where every child is nourished and we all live in peace.”

For more information about Repair the World’s #TurntheTables Shabbat dinner, check out the article in the Atlanta Jewish Times, read through the dinner guide Repair the World created, and listen to Twitty’s speech in full.

Touch Screens and Too Many Memes

I’ll admit it.  I’ve been a little overtexed lately. Our whole society has been, really. Over-screened, over-GIFed, and over-memed. I’m sort of over it. And so is Reboot, which is why they’re spearheading the National Day of Unplugging on March 1. Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 10.59.15 AM

Yes, the National Day of Unplugging is on Shabbat, and that’s no coincidence. But before you skip it over and say “I don’t do Shabbat,” or assume that you’re going to be asked not to use elevators or take the subway –pause. Ask yourself: when was the last time you spent a WHOLE day without looking at your cell phone (let alone looking at your cell phone while watching TV and checking Buzzfeed on your laptop)? When was the last time you sat in the same room with your friend or roommate or partner and “spent time together” while you faced separate touch screens – or you were talking, and they weren’t? Tell me that doesn’t piss you off.

That’s why National Day of Unplugging – be it on Shabbat or Sunday or some day next month – is a great idea, and a great excuse. It’s an opportunity to create a personal practice around Shabbat (if that’s what you’re looking for). Or, it’s a chance to avoid your mom’s phone calls, a flood of “urgent” emails from your boss, and endless repeats of Say Yes to the Dress. It’s an excuse to be alone – if it scares you a little – and to remember what it’s like to feel connected to your community…without 3G.

Reboot, an organizations seeking to reinvent Judaism for the modern age,has made a very basic, and very adaptable Sabbath Manifesto to help you get started. It includes things I buy into like: “connect with loved ones” and, “eat bread” (you don’t ever have to ask me twice to indulge in a few extra carbs) – as well as a few tougher sells like, “avoid commerce.”

While it is still likely you will still find me running to the store to pick up a few forgotten ingredients on the National Day of Unplugging or failing to light candles, I’m choosing the practices that are more meaningful challenges for me – like finding silence, or putting away my phone.

Confession: I haven’t spent 24 hours away from my phone since 2003. So I’m actually really excited for the opportunity to tune in – to enjoy scrabble instead of Netflix, a quiet date night at home, or some solo reading time. And if I get to you call that Shabbat, then that’s fine by me

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.

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.