Our partners in Africa have been writing to us to share their reflections on Mandela’s legacy. Here are a few: Read More
Category Archives: Jewish Justice
This piece was originally published as part of AJWS’s Chag v’Chesed series.
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.
These two holidays have overlapped only once before, in 1888. And, according to calculations by Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, this Thanksgivukah miracle won’t happen again until 2070 and then again in 2165. After that, Chanukah and Thanksgiving aren’t set to coincide until 76,695!
Food and gratitude are at the center of my Thanksgiving and Chanukah celebrations. So, it will come as no surprise that I’m eagerly awaiting the convergence of two culinary traditions.
So, as you prepare your own Thanksgivukah menu, I wanted to share my recipe for cranberry-lathered latkes—a mash-up of two signature dishes that will be front and center at my holiday table. Read More
We’ve all been horrified and saddened by the images in the news since Typhoon Haiyan struck land on November 7 in the Philippines: flattened buildings, smashed boats and displaced people. Families digging through the wreckage of their homes and lives. Parents searching desperately for lost children. One of the most powerful typhoons to hit land in recorded history has left thousands dead and many more homeless and desperate.
In the midst of all this tragedy, AJWS supporters have turned to us to help. Our donors have contributed nearly $500,000 for typhoon survivors, and we have been working around the clock to get this critical funding to people who need it most. Read More
This week, AJWS Los Angeles is thrilled to venture to Mexico with our inaugural group of Global Justice Fellows. Ranging from ages 22 to 68, this group includes rabbis, entertainment professionals, Jewish communal professionals, lay leaders, philanthropic leaders and nonprofit executives. Hailing from broad geographies and diverse communities, these fellows truly represent the vitality and variety of Los Angeles.
In August, the Los Angeles fellows began their year-long program designed to help them become activist leaders in support of global justice. By traveling to meet AJWS’s grantee partners in Mexico and witness their struggles and stories, we hope to return inspired and ready to lead the charge of repairing the world.
Meet the Los Angeles fellows below, and watch for updates on their experience in Mexico in the coming weeks!
On April 28, 2007, a day after my 24th birthday, my father passed away after a six-month battle with brain cancer.
My father’s recipe for living was tikkun olam, healing the world and working to leave it a better place than he found it—both professionally and personally. Following a family tradition, he became a physician. He truly embodied the image of the small town doctor who took care of all, regardless of background or circumstance. He cared about each and every one of his patients, and he always went out of his way to make sure they got exactly what they needed. This often meant making house calls, going head to head with insurance companies or lobbying to change hospital policy. He even stood on his head as a reward to a patient who quit smoking! In his own way, he strived to heal the world, one patient at a time. In his personal life, he was a very involved and loving father, husband, son, brother and friend. He always did his best for everyone who touched his life.
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.
Is apathy inherited? Is inaction passed on from generation to generation? Will our lack of responsiveness to global anguish be passed on to our children?
When it comes to the question of whether our sins will be visited upon generations to come, Sinai and the Golden Calf offer us a clue.
While the story is likely familiar to us, its connection to Yom Kippur may be less well known: Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive God’s law. But he was gone so long that the Israelites doubted he was coming back. In their panic, they turned to Moses’ brother and lieutenant, Aaron, to help them build a totem to stand in for God. (Exodus 32:1) Aaron instructed his people to turn over their gold jewelry and he melted it down to mold the golden calf.
When God observed this heresy and distrust, God was disgusted and enraged, vowing to destroy the entire people and start a new line from Moses. But Moses went back up the peak to talk God down, asking what was the point of destroying a people so recently delivered. God relented and on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei (Yom Kippur), Moses returned to his flock with a message of atonement. But God made clear that the leniency was not open-ended, saying, “[God] does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:7)
The sinner’s descendants pay a price.
Whether one thinks it’s fair to punish a child for a parent’s missteps, there’s no escaping the reality of inherited sins. If our children see us lose our temper with a waiter, aren’t they likely to mistreat people who serve them in the future? If our children watch us texting while we’re talking to them, haven’t they learned that one needn’t give someone full attention? If our children see us choose to go to a yoga class instead of a colleague’s shiva, haven’t we taught them priorities? And on a more indelible scale, if our children see that our most generous acts are done almost entirely for our inner circle of family and friends, rarely for the stranger—the factory worker we don’t know in Bangladesh, the nurse toiling without medical supplies in Tanzania, the child (whose blistered feet could be our child’s feet) walking miles to school in Mexico—then how should they possibly absorb the message that we have a responsibility to alleviate suffering, no matter how distant the pain?
I can’t hold myself up as a role model. For the last three years, every Thursday I’ve helped serve breakfast at dawn to 100 homeless people at our synagogue. But I don’t do anything for them the rest of the week, nor am I involved in efforts to change the system that keeps them homeless.
I participated in Hurricane Sandy relief, but only while the crisis was acute.
I hosted children from the Fresh Air Fund two summers in a row, but couldn’t figure out how to remain in their lives without feeling intrusive or awkward, so we lost touch.
So what do my children see? That I’m involved, but to a point. That I give of my time and money, but that my most generous moments involve the people closest to me. That I rarely broach the world’s horrors with them because I worry they’ll feel traumatized instead of galvanized. That I don’t enumerate the checks my husband and I write because it feels inappropriate to list donations.
All of us justify our own action or inaction but I think we too readily say, “I’ve done enough.” It’s actually not enough. We all know that the international need is bottomless, and granted, guilt is not a constructive motivator. But when we think about what kind of people we want our children to be, (and I hear so many parents fret about how to make their kids aware of privilege), perhaps we should look at whether we’re laying the groundwork for future benevolence or careerism? Do we send the message that we value good work as much as good grades? Are we committing sins of silence that our children are destined to recommit?
God may have been harsh and punitive in promising to “visit the iniquity of parents upon children,” but it’s a warning worth hearing. When we don’t act, our children learn inaction. When we don’t read aloud from the morning’s toughest news stories, our children are untouched by them. When we aren’t willing to upend our comfortable routines to figure out how to help “heal the world,” then all our talk about the importance of tikkun olam is just talk.
I am the first to say that it’s hard to look at global heartbreak without flinching. It’s hard to internalize the world’s brokenness: girls who are robbed of an education; ethnic minorities who are denied jobs and healthcare; LGBT people who face relentless abuse of their basic human rights; garment workers who are not paid a decent wage; and millions of people who experience the chronic reality of hunger and violence. But our failure to look begets our failure to act. Which begets another generation of bystanders. On these days of renewal and repentance, let’s be honest about our sins of inertia and whether, like the ancient crime of the Golden Calf, we’re passing them on.
Abigail Pogrebin is a former producer for 60 Minutes and Charlie Rose, and has written for many publications including The Daily Beast, New York Magazine, and Tablet. She is the author of Stars of Jews: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish (2005), which is being adapted for the stage, and One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular (2009). She moderates an interview series at the JCC in Manhattan called “What Everyone’s Talking About” and for the last three years has co-authored Newsweek’s list of Most Influential Rabbis.