Category Archives: Tikkun Olam
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the timely and insightful sermon which Student Rabbi Miriam Farber gave on Friday evening, April 19, repeated here for the benefit of the few who were there, and of the many who unfortunately were not there.
The local bookstore might be an endangered species, replaced by Amazon and e-books. But, if you find yourself in a Barnes and Noble, or even, imagine, an independent bookstore, somewhere in that shop is a shelf filled with Chicken Soup for the fill-in-the-blank Soul. Chicken Soup for the Teen Soul, Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul, Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul, Chicken Soup for the Cancer Survivor’s Soul – the list of titles goes on and on. Chicken soup, that delicious Jewish penicillin, able to fix any ailment, physical or emotional, is now available in book form to provide sustenance, inspiration, and healing.
There are so many places to turn to when we need comfort. As Jews, as the People of the Book, chicken soup in book-form makes sense. Our own sources – the Torah, the prayerbook, the libraries full of the Jewish wisdom of the ages – provide comfort and healing. When we said Mi Shebeirach a few moments ago, we drew strength from the Torah itself. Chicken soup in its literal form makes sense to us too. Comfort food, whether it is chicken soup, mashed potatoes, ice cream, or whatever dish works for you, is a physical response to our emotional pain. On Monday afternoon, after a harrowing day of watching the news and avidly scanning social media, waiting for my friends in Boston to check in – I turned off the TV, went into the kitchen, and felt calmer making dinner than I had all day.
Our tradition offers us many options for how to respond at times of tragedy and trauma, whether a personal loss or a shared communal event. We have prayers and mourning rituals, and we seek the wisdom of those throughout our history who have struggled with the same questions and struggles we face now.
Our double Torah portion this week is called Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. Acharei Mot occurs immediately after the death of Aaron’s sons. The opening words of the portion, which give the parasha its name, mean, “After the death.” The other half of our double parasha, Kedoshim, falls at the center of the Torah. It consists of the Holiness Code, two chapters filled with laws guiding us in our human relationships. The Holiness Code lays out how to build a holy society. The word Kedoshim means holy, appearing at the beginning of Leviticus 19: Kedoshim tihyu – You, the people of Israel, shall be holy.
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. After death…holiness. After moments of trauma and fear, our tradition teaches us, through the juxtaposition of these two portions, that we must respond with acts of holiness and kindness towards our neighbors, towards strangers, to continue to build a holy society, even at the time when that holiness seems least attainable.
The stories of acts of kindness in the past several days have almost blocked out the blackness of Monday’s tragedy. First responders, including medical personnel who only expected to treat dehydrated runners, ran towards the explosions, saving countless lives. They took to heart the words we find in our Torah portion this week, “Lo ta’amod al dam rei’echa – do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” Marathon runners, physically exhausted from the exertion of running 26 miles, kept on running past the finish line, to give blood at Boston’s hospitals, embodying the value that pikuach nefesh, saving a life, takes precedence over everything else. Over one thousand Boston residents opened up their homes to host marathon runners from all over the world who found themselves without a place to sleep on Monday night. These generous hosts taught us what it might mean to fulfill the commandment, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him…you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” ’doshim tih’yu ki kadosh ani Adonai Eloheichem. You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy. Our human capacity to do holy acts is a result of our creation b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.
Earlier tonight, in the Gevurot, we praised God as the someich noflim – the Lifter of the fallen and as the rofei cholim – the Healer of the sick. We credit God with these acts of kindness, but perhaps God acts through us, through the human hands that reach out to lift someone off the ground, through the wisdom of human doctors and nurses, through the human arms that embrace the person who just needs an understanding hug, through the human shoulders upon which the bereaved cry.
The Talmud teaches, “Just as God clothes the naked, so should you; just as God visited the sick, so should you, just as God comforted the mourners, so should you; and just as God buried the dead, so should you.”
Rabbi Shai Held adds, “Just as God is present when people are vulnerable and suffering, so should we be.” We are holy when we act in the ways that God acts, when we run to do our small part to build a holy civilization.
What does it mean for us to be present with suffering, to run towards tragedy, rather than in the opposite direction? For us, this week, it doesn’t need to mean getting on the next flight to Boston or West, Texas, or being glued to the unceasing news coverage that has marked this week. Instead, perhaps the way that we become kedoshim, holy, is through remembering that our holy acts are needed all the time, not only at times of national tragedy. Kedoshim offers two chapters full of ideas for bringing God’s holiness into the world every day, starting with honoring one’s parents and celebrating Shabbat.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat teaches us what this might look like, writing, “God is in the friend who offers to hold a newborn so its exhausted mother can take a shower and get some sleep. God is in those who gather for shiva so the mourner can say kaddish in the presence of a minyan. God is in the friend who makes a pasta salad and brings it to the home of a woman whose husband has slipped a disc and can’t get out of bed. God is in the parent who rocks a sick child in the middle of the night. We find God in our acts of love for one another.”
These everyday acts of kindness bring God into the world, healing, slowly, our brokenness. Kedoshim is the Torah portion at the very center of the Torah. And at the very center of Kedoshim is the most simple, yet most difficult commandment: V’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha – Love your neighbor as yourself. Rabbi Hillel taught that this verse is the ENTIRE Torah – all the rest is commentary. The rest of the Torah teaches us how to love our neighbors, giving us concrete tasks to do, whether at a time of tragedy or on any old Thursday, those tasks of caring for the sick and feeding the caregivers, of being present with people when they are most vulnerable.
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, in an essay in which he struggles with belief in God after the Holocaust, declares, “Faith is living life in the presence of the Redeemer, even when the world is unredeemed.” Rabbi Greenberg suggests that there might be moments of redemption, even if we have not yet achieved a complete redemption for the entire world. Even at our darkest moments, when we lose our faith in humanity, in God, and in ourselves, we still hold onto the belief that redemption is possible, and even near. We search for those moments of redemption, sparks of light and hope that illuminate the dark night of helplessness and despair.
May we reach beyond our own brokenness and pain to make God’s presence felt in our world, by using our hands to ease the pain of the sick, our words to comfort the suffering, and our ears to listen to the voices of the scared. Y’varcheinu Adonai v’yish’m’reinu – May God bless us and protect us.
Contributed by Karen Semple, who says:
I understand people have different political points of view; however, this is an inspiring tribute to the late Margaret Thatcher that tells a little-known story about her part in saving an Austrian girl during WWII.
URJ Camp Kalsman JTFN! Partnership Announced.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: David Berkman, Director 425.284.4484 email@example.com
Naomi Skop Richter, Jewish Teen Funders Network 212.726.0177 x215 firstname.lastname@example.org
URJ CAMP KALSMAN TO LAUNCH JEWISH TEEN FOUNDATION THIS SUMMER
Bellevue, WA – March 6, 2013 – URJ Camp Kalsman was selected as one of 38 North
American summer camps to participate in the 2013 Camp Philanthropy Program of the Jewish
Teen Funders Network (JTFN), a youth philanthropy project of the Jewish Funders Network.
Through the JTFN Camp Philanthropy Program, Camp Kalsman will create a Jewish teen
foundation, in which campers will work together as a “foundation board,” giving away real
money to non-profit organizations of their choosing.
Located on 299 acres outside of Arlington, WA, URJ Camp Kalsman serves campers from the
greater Pacific Northwest community, from Oregon to British Columbia, Alaska to Montana,
Washington state, and beyond. Committed to core values of respect, peace, kindness, and our
relationship to teva (nature), we build a warm and caring community where campers have fun
and experience the excitement and warmth of belonging to a Reform Jewish community.
Recognizing the potential of Jewish youth philanthropy programs to empower and educate
teens about effective philanthropy and Jewish values, JTFN awarded 38 grants to Jewish
summer camps committed to creating high quality Jewish teen philanthropy programs. In
addition to a grant of $1,000, JTFN will work closely with grantees on program development and
Through the grantmaking process, campers will review grant proposals from non-profit
organizations, visit potential grantees, and determine which organizations to support; the
philanthropists-in-training will examine Jewish texts, traditions, and values related to giving. The
program encourages campers to “learn by giving” and will generate at least $38,000 in grants,
with each teen foundation awarding a minimum of $1,000. The program is generously supported
by the Maimonides Fund.
Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO, Foundation for Jewish Camp sees the pilot program as a valuable
contribution to the field of Jewish summer camping. “FJC sees this JTFN program as a
wonderful opportunity for campers to experience the act and the impact of Tzedakah on their
world. Besides benefiting the recipients, the campers are learning valuable life lessons of
responsibility and teamwork and gaining insight into the diversity of the non-profit world.”
URJ CAMP KALSMAN TO LAUNCH JEWISH TEEN FOUNDATION THIS SUMMER
Indeed, Camp Director David Berkman appreciates the power of Jewish youth philanthropy. “At
Kalsman our purpose is to create committed lifelong Jews. Campers are concerned about and
invested in the world around them. Our responsibility, therefore, is to help them learn to be
leaders in the community, which means the giving of time, of energy, and of money. With the
help of JTFN, our campers and staff will be better prepared to be the Jewish leaders of
tomorrow,” he said.
About URJ Camp Kalsman’s Project
About a dozen 11th graders, who are selected to be summer 2013 Camp Kalsman Counselors-
in-Training (CIT), will become the camp’s very first cadre of “philanthropists-in-training.” In
addition to learning how to be future Jewish camp counselors, the CITs will devote themselves
to learning about and alleviating food insecurity. The teenage grantmakers will collect donations
of food from camper families, as well as harvest fruits and vegetables from the gardens and
trees in camp, for delivery to a local food bank. The CITs will also visit area nonprofits to gain a
firsthand perspective on the power of tzedakah (justice, “charity”) and Gemilut Chasadim (acts
of loving kindness).
About Jewish Teen Funders Network
The mission of the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN) is to provide Jewish teens with hands-
on opportunities to engage in collective philanthropic giving with their peers, guided by Jewish
values. A program of the Jewish Funders Network, JTFN is committed to increasing the number
of Jewish youth philanthropy programs around the country, and the number of teens involved in
these programs. JTFN also aims to enhance the Jewish educational value of these programs by
providing curricular and programmatic resources on Jewish values and philanthropy.
Once again, it is time to start thinking about signing up for shifts at the local Domestic Violence Shelter for Women (Mercy Home), so that the dedicated 24/7 staff there can spend Christmas with their families.
Here are the shifts we need to fill:
- Monday, 12/24: 2-5 PM
- Monday, 12/24: 5-8 PM
- Monday, 12/24 8-11 PM
- Tuesday, 12/25: 8-11 AM
- Tuesday, 12/25: 11 AM — 2 PM
- Tuesday, 12/25: 2-5 PM
To comply with the Mercy Homes rules, men are welcome to help cover a shift as long as they are accompanied by a female. For those of you who have never done this before, it is a great mitzvah to help out with the Mercy Home and the women who reside at the shelter. Duties include answering the phone (a script is provided, and an on-call staff member is available if you need help), monitoring the alarms, and signing residents in and out. Residents often stay with friends or family members during the holiday, so there may be only 1 or 2 residents on the premises — or none, so be sure to bring a good book to read or a movie to watch.
If you are able to help, or have any questions, please contact Wendy Weissman at 727-4098 or email@example.com. The location of the shelter is confidential, so once I have the volunteer list, I will tell you where you need to be.
Thanks in advance.
In the days immediately following “Superstorm” Sandy, I watched from 3000 miles away as my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with New York-based friends and colleagues organizing volunteers, raising funds, and collecting donations to contribute to the relief effort. I sat in Los Angeles, feeling paralyzed by powerlessness, far from my East Coast home, yet in awe of those who leaped to help, even as they waited for power, heat, and water to return to their own homes.
A friend here in Los Angeles raised a different concern, one that is echoed by social service organizations everywhere immediately following a natural disaster. “What about donations to the food pantries here?” asked my friend, an assistant manager at a local food pantry. “Just because there is a disaster in New York doesn’t mean that the needs here disappear.”
Does this need to be a zero sum equation? Do we need to decide between supporting the victims of disasters far away (or not so far away, for that matter) and supporting the disadvantaged in our own city?
Rabbi Yossi offers us a Talmudic framework within which to make this decision (Talmud Bavli Nedarim 80b-81a). The limited resource at hand in Rabbi Yossi’s case is water, rather than donations. Rabbi Yossi rules that a town’s well is used first and foremost for the lives of the people of that town, then for the lives of strangers. His reasoning continues along this line: the town’s farm animals are watered before those of strangers and the town’s laundry is done before that of strangers. However, a stranger’s life takes precedence over the laundry of the town. Rabbi Yossi then contradicts himself, arguing that the laundry of the town comes before even the lives of strangers!
It is clear from Rabbi Yossi’s argument with himself that the question of allocation of life-preserving resources has never had a simple and clear-cut solution. It is up to us to prioritize our giving, especially in times of extreme need.
One organization, Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization, quickly made such decisions in the days immediately following Sandy. Yael Keller relates the story of arriving in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with cases of bottled water. Immediately, residents eager for water, which had suddenly become a scarce resource in downtown Manhattan, surrounded the volunteers. However, this water had been designated for homebound seniors, whose mobility was even more severely limited as the loss of power stranded them on the upper floors of apartment buildings. When Yael and the other volunteers explained this, rather than the complaints they expected, the clamoring residents started shouting out the locations of stuck seniors.
The response of those Lower East Side residents reminds us that there is an alternative to panicked greed in a time of crisis. They remind us to think of those who are even worse off, a difficult task indeed for those in a disaster area. There is enough to go around. Although as individuals, we may not have unlimited resources to donate to both long-term local needs as well as to immediate disaster relief; as a community, our resources are far greater.
Perhaps we need to learn from the example of Uri L’Tzedek and all those engaged on the ground in relief work and practice radical generosity, giving all that we can, rather than the minimum to assuage our comfortable guilt. As a community and as a society, we have enough resources to ensure that all who need food, shelter, and water can access it. We need not get caught up in worrying about our laundry, when the lives of another city are at stake.
Try out some radical generosity! The Union for Reform Judaism’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Uri L’Tzedek (indicate that it’s for relief efforts) are both doing great work on the ground in the areas most affected by Sandy.
Helen Cherry led us in a great program this Yom Kippur; to make a donation of the food we did not eat while fasting.
Well, the results are in. Over Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur, our congregants donated 65 pounds of food, which was all delivered to the Great Falls Food Bank.
Todah Robah to all for your generosity!
Editor’s Note: I have known about this poem for some years now, and thought I would share it with you. It seems especially appropriate for this time of year:
Meriam Nagel brought this to my attention.
In 1996, Israeli master violinmaker Amnon Weinstein began to collect and carefully restore violins that had extraordinary histories of suffering, courage, and resiliency. These violins are precious artifacts from one of the greatest human tragedies. Some were played by Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps; others belonged to the Klezmer musical culture, which was all but destroyed in the Holocaust.
Today, Amnon receives visitors bearing priceless instruments in shambles. The restoration process is complex, sometimes taking years to revive a single instrument. But when a violinist moves his bow across one of these instruments, the message resounds.
A project of national significance comes to Charlotte in April 2012
The Violins of Hope have never before been exhibited or played together in North or South America. With the support of the Charlotte community and our partners in the arts and education, the College of Arts + Architecture at UNC Charlotte presents a project that promises to inspire, illuminate, and educate.
In April 2012, UNC Charlotte’s College of Arts + Architecture will bring Violins of Hope to Charlotte for a series of exhibitions and performances focused on 18 instruments recovered from the Holocaust. Acclaimed musicians from across the country and around the world will play alongside Charlotte musicians, giving voice to the violins’ former owners and expressing the hope that comes with restoring to these instruments the power to play again.
Also search for violins of hope on YouTube.
As we all learned today, the town of Joplin, MO has been devastated by terrible tornado. We have just heard news of the synagogue from Joplin through the URJ Small Congregations mailing list.
Per emails to that list, we now know that the synagogue is intact, and the synagogue’s president and much of the congregation is now homeless.
The URJ requests that interested donors provide aid through the URJ Disaster Relief fund. Information on how to donate and how the funds will be used is available after the link.
By Helen Cherry
Each year several churches collect diapers on Mother’s Day, diaper Sunday, to distribute to St. Vincent de Paul. For many years, Aitz Chaim has supported this most worthwhile endeavor. Please bring contributions of diapers or funds to purchase diapers to either services Friday May 20 or the Lag B’Omer celebration at the Weissman’s Saturday May 21. Either Helen Cherry or Meriam Nagel will make sure the funds or diapers are collected and distributed to the intended recipients. Your donations will be much appreciated, even if they are 2 weeks late.