Category Archives: Hunger

How to Support Relief Efforts in Somalia

From the NY Times:

Much of the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, has been struck this summer by one of the worst droughts in 60 years. But two Shabab-controlled parts of southern Somalia are the only areas where the United Nations has declared a famine, using scientific criteria of death and malnutrition rates.

I commend to you this report from Charity Navigator, which includes essential information about this tragic, urgent crisis along with the highest rated orgs currently doing relief work in the region.

Volunteering + Values: What’s Motivating the Jewish Young Folk?

Repair the World, has just released “Volunteering+Values,” a report commissioned  “to understand the full extent of Jewish young adults’ volunteer habits and preferences.”  I’d say its findings/recommendations contain implications that North American Jewish communal institutions would do well to heed.

Conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis
University and Gerstein|Agne Strategic Communications, V+V surveyed a sample of Jewish young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and investigated their volunteer commitments and attitudes.

Among the findings I found notable:

Only a small portion of Jewish young adults prefer to or actually do volunteer with Jewish organizations … The minority of Jewish young adults who volunteer through Jewish organizations do so to support their own people and community. By contrast, the vast majority of Jewish young adults say it does not matter if they volunteer with a Jewish or non-Jewish organization.

Hand in hand with this finding, the report noted a growing universalist identity among Jewish young people:

Jewish young adults are primarily drawn to service through universal rather than Jewish-based values or identity … Only a very small portion of Jewish young adults volunteer as a means to represent the Jewish community to the larger society.

Not surprisingly to me, many Jewish young people seem to be turned off by what they perceive as the overly tribal concerns of the organized Jewish community:

Today’s Jewish young adults have grown up amidst and are at home with ethnic and religious diversity … As a result, most are concerned for all victims of poverty or injustice, not just those who are Jewish. It appears that they do not believe that Jewish organizations share this concern for universal causes.

I was particularly struck that Israel ranked consistently at the bottom of the list of priorities of young Jews. According to one graph, only 1% of those surveyed cited Israel/Middle East Peace as an “issue focus of primary volunteer work” (at the top of the list: “Material Assistance to the Needy.”) Another graph charted the geographic focus of primary volunteer work thus: 79%: Local Community, 13%: Domestic Non-Local, 4%: Developing World, 3%: Israel. (This trend is particularly noteworthy since the primary sample used by V+V was the Birthright applicant pool – a data base of 300,000 young Jews who either participated or applied for a Birthright Israel trip between 2001 and 2010.)

Among the many strategic implications identified by the study, this one resonated for me in particular:

Efforts are needed to educate Jewish young adults of the deep connection between Jewish thought and volunteering without implying that it is an exclusively Jewish perspective or only pertains to support of the Jewish community. Jewish young adults, regardless of denomination or level of religious involvement, should be encouraged to “own” a Jewish perspective on service. Widespread efforts are needed that draw attention to and link the universal and Jewish values that Jewish young adults already hold with the causes about which they care most deeply.

As always, I’d love to hear reactions.

How to Market Gaza as a Complete Success Story

If you want to cut through the morass of misinformation being disseminated about the siege of Gaza, you should read Gaza Gateway – a website created by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.

GG presents essential information on Gaza Strip border crossings by carefully monitoring the amount of traffic that Israel allows to pass through.  They also provide critical background information, such as the amount of goods allowed through relative to the needs of the population of Gaza.

I particularly recommend GG’s latest post – an ironic piece they call “How to Market Gaza as an Israeli Success Story: The Complete Guide.” It was apparently inspired by a recent report by the Government of Israel that summarized Israel’s “humanitarian activities” for the Gaza Strip in 2009/2010.

Here’s a taste:

Take things out of context. When you say that, “41 truckloads of equipment for the maintenance of the electricity networks were transferred”, you do not need to mention that those spare parts were waiting for many months for clearance, and that, at the end of 2009, the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company reported that 240 kinds of spare parts were completely out of stock or had dipped below the required minimum stock. Likewise, “There was a significant increase in the number of international organization staff entering the Gaza Strip” does not require explanation that, were the productive sector in Gaza not almost completely paralyzed, so many aid workers would not be needed and the number of aid recipients would not be so high. You also don’t need to explain that the high number of staff you quote might be misleading, since it’s likely you are counting individual entrances and not unique visitors (the same international aid workers enter and exit multiple times per month).

Demonstrate impartiality. Present the transfer of 44,500 doses of swine flu vaccine as having nothing to do with you. There is always a chance people will forget it is a border-transcending epidemic and that the head of the Gaza District Coordination Office himself said an outbreak in Gaza would endanger Israel.

Make it look like you are paying the bill. Use vague language such as “In 2009, Israel continued to supply electricity to the Gaza Strip”. Count on the fact that most people don’t know that Israel charges full payment for the electricity by deducting the amount from the VAT and taxes it collects for the Palestinian Authority via import into its territory.

And here’s a PS on my last post:

The Associated Students of UC Berkeley met Wednesday evening to debate and vote on whether or not to override their Presidents veto of the divestment resolution. After a marathon nine hour session, the vote came up short. As the evening ended, they voted to table a final vote on the bill. So it’s stay tuned…

Passover Supplements Galore!

The Passover 2010 seder supplements are arriving fast and furious. In my last post I shared my JVP supplement – here are a few more you can download and use to spice up your seder meal:

– The “Moral Voices” initiative of Penn Hillel has published “From Chains to Change” – a supplement that connects the lessons of Pesach to the contemporary scourge of human trafficking;

– Workingman’s Circle’s “10 Modern Plagues” demonstrates how our contemporary bounty is diminished by the suffering of others;

– J Street’s supplement asks “Four More Questions” about the prospects for the peace process in the coming year;

Tikkun Magazine’s supplement, thoughtful as ever, is so verbose that it could be its own haggadah…

The new supplement created by American Jewish World Service focuses on disaster relief:  “Dayenu: Supporting the Long Journey from Disaster to Recovery;”

– Jewish Funds for Justice highlights immigration reform with “For We Were Strangers;”

A print-out placemat from Mazon asks a 5th question: “Why On This Night are Millions of People Going Hungry?”

A zissen Pesach – all the best for a sweet and liberating Passover…

Gaza: Give Life a Chance

Today was the second monthly fast day for Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza. To mark the occasion, a series of public vigils were held around the country (including one at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia) and as far away as Glasgow, Scotland. Here in the Chicago area, it was my honor to lead a vigil at the Evanston lakefront with my good friend and colleague, Rabbi Rebecca Lillian. Here we are with some of the participants, below:

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Our campaign continues to grow. As of this writing we currently have 627 supporters, including 71 rabbis. I encourage you to join us, if you haven’t already – just click on the link above to become a supporter. We are continuously uploading important articles and resources, so be sure to check in regularly.

Speaking of important resources on the Gaza crisis, I commend to you the new report from Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement entitled “Red Lines Crossed: Destruction of Gaza’s Infrastructure.” See below for the full report. Click above to watch “Lift the Closure – Give Life a Chance” – a new online film recently released by eight Israeli human rights organizations to mark the two years of closure that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip.

The Season of our Sustenance: A Sermon for Erev Rosh Hashanah

As I sat down to write my sermons this New Year, I somehow found myself returning to the theme of “sustainability.”  Click below for my remarks on Erev Rosh Hashanah:

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“Amahoro” Means Shalom

On Shabbat we began our day with a study and discussion of the Torah portion – the central themes of Parshat Pinchas (zealous violence and its complex aftermath) were uncannily appropriate to our experiences of the past few days.

The central experience of our Saturday was a visit to CHABHA (Children Affected By HIV/AIDS) – an NGO that supports youth-led initiatives serving children left vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. A myriad of local children turned out for our visit. CHABHA’s Rwanda director, Richard Mutabazi greeted us and welcomed us on behalf of the organization, and helped us to converse with the children. As has been the case everywhere we went, our presence in the town caused a great sensation: children sprinted up to us as their shouts of “Muzungu!” (“white people”) filled the air.

These particular children were part of a local youth-led initiative called Amahoro (“Peace” in Kiryawanda). Amahoro presents a remarkable model of young Rwandan leaders who support and educate children orphaned by AIDS. The AMAHORO Association now counts more than 2500 orphaned children, many of whom live with one parent or other family members.

By far the highlight of our visit was a dance performance by the children of AMAHORO. As we watched, transfixed, the girls went up to our group and invited us to join them. As I danced with one particularly gifted dancer, huge shouts of laughter went up from the crowd (and I don’t think they were responding to my dancing prowess…)

We had a similar experience in JRC’s last trip to Africa – I remember all too well how dancing can be the “great equalizer” for peoples from vastly different social contexts. I guess that is my fancy way of saying it was so wonderful to connect with these children in this joyous way, even for this brief moment in time.

PS: Another member of our group, Hannah Gelder (above), is blogging about our experiences as well. I encourage you to read her very eloquent personal impressions of JRC’s journey…

Don’t Just Stand There

If you are reading the news about recent global crises and you’re feeling overwhelmed and impotent, I’ve always found that actually doing something seems to help allay my feelings of helplessness.

To help aid victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, I’m encouraging donations through the International Development Enterprises. IDE Myanmar opened in 2004 and is one of the few organizations that is doing both relief and development work in all of the affected areas and also has government permission to go into them. Donations to IDE Myanmar will be used for relief aid to survivors of the cyclone in the Irrawaddy Delta region, many of whom have no shelter, food or fuel. Most critically, IDE will initially focus on providing immediate relief but will also plan for rebuilding communities to be self sufficient in the long-term.

On a wider front, Avaaz.org is organizing a campaign to deliver the following petition to G8, UN and EU leaders to respond to the growing world food crisis::

We call on you to take immediate action to address the world food crisis by mobilizing emergency funding to prevent starvation, removing perverse incentives to turn food into biofuels and managing financial speculation, and to tackle the underlying causes by ending harmful trade policies and investing massively in sustainable agricultural productivity in developing nations.

(For important background on the food crisis, I recommend this excellent NY Times editorial.)

Feed the World, Improve Your Vocabulary

egyptian_white_rice.jpgNow this is interesting: a website called FreeRice.com hosts an online vocabulary game that actually feeds the hungry. Here’s how it works: you’re given a specific word and are asked to click on the multiple choice answer that best defines it. For each word you get right, they donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.

Apparently, FreeRice.com is a sister site of Poverty.com – a private website dedicated to raising awareness about world poverty. (According to their tally, Free Rice has donated 9,868,446,910 grains of rice to date.)

Having played this game several times, I can safely attest two things: it is seriously addictive, and my vocabulary isn’t nearly as stellar as I’d like to admit. But what more noble reason to bust out the thesarus?

A Shout Out for Food Banks

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While you’re thinking about end-of the-year tzedakah, you should also think about helping out your local food bank. According to news reports, rising food and energy costs, together with reduced help from the federal government, have created growing shortages for food pantries nationwide. (In a particularly perverse economic twist, a relatively healthy agricultural economy is contributing to this shortfall as there is less surplus available for food banks to purchase.) For further reading, here is a recent article from the New York Times, and another from the Chicago Tribune.

Next time you’re out shopping, why not pick up some extra food items and swing them by your local food bank? Obviously individual donations themselves will not overcome the shortfall, but I do believe every gesture makes a difference (especially if we encourage others to donate as well). If you aren’t sure about what to buy, here is what is commonly considered “one standard allotment” for a family of six or less:

Canned Meat: Meat Meal or Pasta Meal, Tuna or other Canned Fish

Beans: 1 Dry, 1 Canned

Canned Fruit: 1

Peanut butter

Jelly

Canned Vegetables: 2

Juice: Canned Concentrate, if possible

Pasta Sauce or Canned Tomatoes

Soup: 2 cans + Ramen or Dried Soup

Pasta

Macaroni and Cheese

Breakfast Cereal or Oatmeal/Grits

Rice or Potatoes

Frozen/Refrigerated Food: Bread, Meat (1 per standard allotment), Produce, Milk

PS: Though not in a “standard allotment,” food pantries often need diapers too.

PPS: Thanks to my friend, journalist Emily Hauser for raising my awareness of this one…