This piece was originally published as part of AJWS’s Chag v’Chesed series.
Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s partner, Steven Goldstein, holding his daughter Amalia.
My daughter was born in Mumbai, India, between the Hindu and Jewish celebrations of lights—Diwali and Chanukah. We have sweet memories of lighting Chanukah candles in the hotel dining room in India, celebrating the transformation that her birth brought into our lives.
Both holidays are likely related to the ancient celebration, Saturnalia, a holiday of lights leading up to the winter solstice. Chanukah appears in this context to be tied to a universal human desire to resist the encroaching night by adding light of our own when the heavens grow dark.
Last July I traveled back to India, this time with American Jewish World Service and 17 rabbinic colleagues, in order to understand better how a very small group of people can bring some light to an often very dark place. The community we worked with, Bhakaripurwa, was literally dark at night with no electricity.
We were tasked with improving the school for the children of the village. Alongside the capable villagers, we paved the schoolyard so that the children didn’t have to play in the mud during the rainy season, and we refurbished the kitchen and a classroom floors, as well. Read More
Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, so I’ve been thinking about the lives of women and girls around the world.
Zeenat, a 17 year old girl from the impoverished community of Hyderabad, India, has already been married and divorced three times. All three of her marriages took place against her will, and all three husbands abused her.
Unfortunately, Zeenat’s experience is not uncommon in her community. Like many girls living in poverty in Hyderabad, Zeenat was forced to drop out of school and did not have any vocational skills. Her parents viewed marriage as a way to relieve a financial burden on their household.
For more than two years, American Jewish World Service has been working to improve the way the United States delivers life-saving food assistance to millions of hungry people worldwide. Thanks in part to the efforts of committed AJWS activists, AJWS and other allies were able to push forward incremental improvements to food aid programs in the Senate Farm Bill. A vote in the House of Representatives for even stronger reforms fell short by just nine votes.
The United States’ well-intentioned, but ill-advised food aid response in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti demonstrated that the U.S. food aid system was long over-due for a makeover. Typhoon Haiyan and the ongoing massive humanitarian crisis in the Philippines, has only added urgency to that fight. Read More
What is it about the holiday of Sukkot that makes it so powerful? Tradition teaches that the energy of Sukkot is so intense, so visceral and delightful, that seven mythic figures leave the Garden of Eden to join in the light of our earthly sukkot (temporary shelters). But why? What is it about the sukkah that compels even those who have tasted Paradise?
These spirit guests, known as the Ushpizin, are invited each night into our sukkot. Groupings of Ushpizin vary by community, and include biblical prophetess, revered sages and modern heroes, invoked in turn each night of Sukkot. Jewish mystical tradition suggests that each guest also serves as a reminder of an action through which the brokenness of our world is repaired.
AJWS’s small but mighty marathon team will soon embark on a journey that will test their physical and mental strength: the 2013 New York City Marathon. Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, these nine runners have already spent months tirelessly training to tackle 26.2 miles.
In addition to training for the race on November 3, the team is dedicating its efforts to raising money—more than $21,000—to support AJWS’s work in the developing world. You can support the team here.
So, who are these runners and what motivates them to seize this challenge? Here’s what they had to say for themselves:
This post is also featured on the blog of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.
Marvin Goodman, far left, traveled with an AJWS rabbinic delegation to India.
This July, I traveled to Lucknow in northern India with American Jewish World Service and a group of 17 rabbis from across the United States. Our goal was to personally see and understand AJWS’s important international work. And, as I look back at the trip, we certainly accomplished that—but we also got a more powerful crash course in the profound disparities between the conditions and expectations for human rights in the U.S. versus the developing world. The experience was overwhelming, surprising, uplifting, depressing and eye-opening. Read More
Posted in Giving, Human Rights, Jewish Justice, Letters from the Field
Tagged caste, human rights, India, Poverty, rabbis, travel, violence, women
This week, the Ugandan parliament approved a piece of legislation that violates its citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms, effectively ending true democracy in the country. The final text of the “Public Order Management” bill has not been released, but the most recent draft of the bill will essentially muzzle free speech.
If that bill becomes law, it will give the Ugandan government unprecedented power to prevent and halt any public gatherings of a political nature. The law will outlaw any “group” of people, defined as three or more, from meeting in any public place to discuss or critique the government, its laws or its programs. These kinds of everyday debates will now require prior permission by the head of the Ugandan police force. The meetings have to be requested a full week in advance, cannot be held after 6 p.m. and can be quickly dispersed if police feel they are disrupting the peace.
AJWS President Ruth Messinger described the situation in a statement:
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) recently hosted Meena Seshu for a visit to our headquarters in New York City. Meena is the secretary general of SANGRAM, an AJWS grantee in India that educates and empowers sex workers to overcome their most challenging health and human rights issues.
While she was here, Meena stopped by The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, New York City’s public radio station. She talked with guest host and actress Martha Plimpton, star of the Fox television show “Raising Hope,” about SANGRAM’s efforts to help Indian sex workers curb violence and keep themselves safe from HIV.
Translated as “the ninth day of the month of Av,” Tisha B’Av marks the destruction of the two great Temples that once stood in Jerusalem, and over time it has come to mourn many of the tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people. Tisha B’Av embodies our collective history and struggles, and it is one of the most challenging days on the Jewish calendar. Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning.
On the eve of Tisha B’Av, we read the book of Eicha (Lamentations). It begins, “how lonely sits the city once full of people,” bearing witness to the destruction of the Temple and the exile from Jerusalem. But remembering alone is not enough. Jewish tradition tells us to observe Tisha B’Av by removing the amenities that provide us comfort and make up our daily lives and instructs us to fast, sit on the floor (a traditional sign of mourning), and to refrain from bathing, beautifying or applying cosmetics. These practices express collective mourning and remind us, once again, of what was and still is greater than ourselves.
Staff and friends of American Jewish World Service marching in the 2013 NYC Pride March.
Staff and supporters of American Jewish World Service hit the streets of New York City last week, joining the NYC Pride March and serving as the Jewish voice for LGBTI rights worldwide.
My colleagues and I were so excited to show our pride, celebrate the latest victory in the struggle for marriage equality in the U.S. (the Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8) and make it clear that our work will not be done until the human rights of people of all sexual orientations are respected worldwide.