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.

Weekly Torah: Parshat Naso 5771

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

The conversations at the seder table tend to stay with me long after the proclamations of “Next year in Jerusalem” have stopped echoing in my ears, as I draw new inspiration every year from the Israelites’ bondage-to-freedom narrative. This year, I found myself confronted with an issue that dug deeper than usual.

Helping us relate our people’s experience of slavery in Egypt to examples of modern-day oppression, a relative brought up the plight of orange harvesters in Florida who are exploited by commercial producers who sell to many of the most well-known orange juice companies. Initially, the story did not make a huge impression on me. I added orange juice to the growing list of unethical products of which I am aware, unsure of whether or not I would feel compelled to pay a few extra dollars for a more responsibly produced juice on my next trip to the supermarket.
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Get Ready for World Blood Donor Day – June 14

June 14th is World Blood Donor Day – a day dedicated to spreading the word about the important act of donating blood all year round.

According to the American Red Cross, “every minute of every day, someone needs blood” – an average of 1 out of every 7 hospital patients. Currently only 3 out of every 100 people in America give blood, which means the country’s needs are not yet being met. Jewish tradition considers pikuach nefesh (saving a life) to be one of the most important things anyone can do, and donating blood is an active way to help others in need.
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Relaunch of On1Foot Brings Service and Social Justice Texts to the Masses

Have you ever wished there was a place to find an array service and social justice-related Jewish texts, all in one place? It would make those last-minute Passover seder speeches, those d’vrei Torah (sermons) at synagogue, those college papers, and those text study sessions so much easier and more meaningful to prepare!

For the last two years, the website On1Foot has done exactly that, housing text sheets and suggested texts on topics ranging from Civil and Human Rights and Education to Gender and Sexuality, the Environment, and Labor Rights. And today, as they near their second anniversary, On1Foot is relaunching to be bigger, better and more collaborative than ever before.
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