Weekly Torah: Parshat Shlach 5771

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Shira Fischer.

For many of us, the situation in Sudan feels hopeless. In Sudan’s western region of Darfur, a genocide has continued for eight years, claiming the lives of more than 450,000 people and displacing millions of others. Meanwhile, decades of civil war between the North and South had finally ended in 2005, only to suffer repeated flare-ups like the latest clashes in Abyei, ((Gettleman, Jeffrey, and Josh Kron. “Warnings of all-out War in Fight over Sudan Town,” New York Times, 22 May 2011.)) which threaten this fragile peace.

So many people have died already in this conflict that sometimes it is hard not to feel like our efforts to pursue peace are futile. Lately, when I receive e-mails urging me to take action about Sudan, I often give in to my feelings of hopelessness and do nothing at all.
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Weekly Torah: Parshat Beha’alotcha 5771

This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Rachel Travis.

For years I kept a Jewish calendar on my wall. It was my weekly guide to Shabbat times and my monthly reference for Jewish holidays. Now I have a Jewish calendar app on my phone and refer to Chabad.org each Friday to check candle lighting times. The technology has changed, but the fact that much of Jewish observance is embedded in time remains the same.

Holidays, Shabbat, fast days and special Torah readings are all inscribed in the Jewish calendar. And if we miss an observance during its appointed time, there is generally no making it up. If we fall ill on Yom Kippur and must eat, none of us would try to compensate by fasting the next day. Anyone who has scrambled to finish Shabbat preparations on a Friday afternoon understands that the circumscribed nature of time-bound mitzvot imbues their practice with a sense of urgency. It’s a do-it-or-lose-it system.
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Join Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village for a Family Service Learning Experience

Looking for meaningful summer vacation ideas for your family? This August, Repair the World grantee-partner the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is offering the opportunity of a lifetime with their Family Service Learning Trip to the ASYV village in rural Rwanda.

This unique family trip combines service with opportunities for touring and cultural exchange. Participants will explore Rwanda’s beauty and biodiversity with a visit to Akagera Game Park (home to hippos, giraffes and more), hike through local rice paddies and take a guided tour of the nation’s capital city, Kigali. And with service options ranging from working with villagers to make art and create a gallery space, to playing sports with the kids and teens and farming in the ASYV farm – everyone in the family will have an opportunity to volunteer in a way that is meaningful to them and impactful for the village.

Like all of ASYV’s programs, trip participants will come away with a deeper understanding about the devastating Rwandan Genocide, which killed more than 800,000 people, orphaned nearly 1.2 million children and left the country in ruins. And it will give participants the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of the ASYV villagers.

ASYV’s Family Service Learning program costs $1200-1500 per person (excluding airfare) and includes all meals and transportation in Rwanda, accommodations, and classes/learning sessions with ASYV Staff and Educators. To find out more, contact Rachel Olstein Kaplan at rachel[@]asyv.org or 212-863-1352.

Find out more about ASYV’s service learning programs and other opportunities to volunteer here, or on their website.

Photo Essay: JDC Jewish Service Corps in India

This photo essay was originally published on JDC’s In Service Blog (JDC is a Repair the World grantee), and was contributed by JDC Jewish Service Corps fellows, Rachel Feuerstein-Simon and Geraldine Gudefin who just returned from a youth group summer camp in India, where they organized and led camp programming.

Camp is a critical time for the Indian youth to bond, attend learning sessions and grow with fellow members of the Jewish community, as the chaos of everyday life in Mumbai usually prevents. This past May, the Jewish Youth Pioneers (JYP) – the Indian Jewish community’s youth group – conducted its bi-yearly Youth Camp. The camps are planned in collaboration between the JDC Jewish Service Corps members and the JYP committee, and we have to say it was a resounding success.
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Up All Night: Studying Service and Social Justice on Shavuot

Tonight is the beginning of Shavuot, the Jewish calendar’s most learning-focused holiday. Traditionally, people stay up all night studying Jewish texts, fueled by coffee, cheesecake and curiosity.

Last week we posted about the relaunch of On1Foot – an online database founded by AJWS that houses more than one thousand service and social justice-themed Jewish texts and study guides. Today, in honor of the holiday, here’s On1Foot’s Shavuot guide called “From Charity and Dependency to Dignity and Sustainability.” And below, you’ll find a round up of several other online text resources and Shavuot tikkuns (classes) around the country, where you can find inspiring information and insights to help keep the discussion going until sunrise this Shavuot. Dig in!

  • The Religious Action Center (RAC) offers their “Standing Together: Social Justice Guide for Shavuot,” focusing on economic justice, the environment, world Jewry and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) issues and advocacy.
  • The New Israel Fund is sponsoring 35 learning sessions in Israel focused on Jewish tradition, social justice, tolerance and pluralism. Click here to find a session to attend, or to download their study materials.
  • IKAR in Los Angeles is organizing a Shavuot gathering called “It’s The End of the World As We Know It: Revolution, Climate Change, Culture War, Communal Paradigm Shift – How Does Judaism Respond to the Chaos and Unpredictability of a Changing World?
  • Jews United for Justice in Washington DC is co-hosting a night of learning about Torah, food and just communities with Etz Chayim
  • The Moishe Kavod House in partnership with many other organizations in Boston are hosting an all night Tikkun covering everything from food justice to domestic violence, climate and The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.
  • The University of San Francisco is co-hosting their third-annual Social Justice Shavuot Program, beginning with a vegetarian dinner.

Know about other service and/or social justice-related resources for Shavuot? Leave them below in the comments.