Community Social Justice Collaboration

For a number of years I’ve been involved with my local choice food pantry.  Currently I serve on the executive board and I am a representative on our community efforts toward coordinated customer-focused services to those in our area who are in need.  A number of communities throughout the country use such a model with great success.  The push-and-pull amongst the various agencies, needs, perceptions of customers/clients and personalities makes for a dynamic and fluid process.  It will be interesting to continue to watch it develop.

Are similar customer-focused, co-located or shared social service/social justice models happening in your community?

A Month of Firsts….and Lasts

Today was the first day of the month of Elul, the last month on the Jewish calendar before the New Year begins with Tishrei. In the northern hemisphere, the month often occurs as it does this year, during the time of the new school year, the approach of fall, the beginning of new projects – – a time when new things dawn. On the Jewish calendar, we enter a month of intense reflection and preparation for Rosh Hashanah (the New Year).

It may seem odd to have a time of beginnings in general western culture be a time of endings in Jewish culture, yet we know that the endings bring us back around again in a month to a new beginning, the start of a new year, 5772.

On the Devastation in Japan

The devastation and destruction in Japan from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami are overwhelmingly unbelievable.   My heart breaks for those in northern Japan, their friends, family and compatriots every time I see pictures, read a news story or watch video.  At times like these it may seem like there is little to do. We can help from near or far by assisting with the relief effort, by reaching out in support to those who are still looking for loved ones, by reaching out to those who have received the terrible news of the death of a loved one and by donating to one of the many organizations collecting funds and goods for the relief effort.

We can also take action at home, wherever we are. We can become more aware about earthquake risks where we are (faults exist even in the the middle of the US of A), we can educate ourselves about what to do in an earthquake, we can reach out to those in need in our own community who may be dealing with quieter struggles that aren’t splashed on the news. We can pray. We can study. We can engage with the teachings of our tradition. We can act on behalf of the environment.

May each of us choose to do what we can to help bring peace, hope, healing and justice to our world.


We had been waiting for days and weeks…a teacher in space.  Nearly our teacher in space.  The physics teacher in my high school was the runner-up for teacher in space from our state.  A great educator, coach (he coached our Science Olympiad team) and passionate advocate for science, we were disappointed that he didn’t get the honor of being the first teacher in space.  Sad and disappointed until launch day…then we were relieved.

January 28, 1986, the day of the launch of the Shuttle Challenger our school was abuzz.  Teachers did all they could to contain us and keep us focused on the task at hand.   The school did not have enough tv carts for tvs in each classroom, so the sciences classrooms got them first.  I had a writing class at the time of the launch and that week we were doing research in the library.  We were asked to stick to our tasks and watch the launch in the lunchroom or later in one of the classrooms that had tvs.  Thus, I was trying (unsuccessfully) to immerse myself into research as the shuttle lifted off.  Suddenly a student walked into the library shouting “it exploded, it exploded.” Everyone in the library immediately tried to get to a classroom with a tv.  The librarian took pity on us and let us watch the coverage on a small personal tv she had in her office.  We couldn’t believe our eyes.  We stood there watching the constant replays, listening to the commentators and were stunned.

There has been much written about the accident, the political pressures to launch that day, the weather and the shuttle crew.  Many people shared their reflections on blogs and facebook pages.  Here are just a few sites as we remember the brave men and women who gave their lives for exploration, scientific discovery, human understand and for the future.  May their memories be a blessing and an inspiration.

NASA on the Challenger Disaster

PBS facebook posting and comments with people’s remembrances of that day.

Information on astronaut Judith Resnik, first Jew and second woman in space (from JWAOnline)

On Hatred and Violent Speech

Our country has once again been shocked by gun violence.  A young man and possible co-assailant (I am purposely not adding to the publicity the young man is getting by not naming him) allegedly opened fire with an semi-automatic weapon with extra clips.  In a matter of seconds, he shot about 25 people who had gathered at a grocery store for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s meeting with constituents.   At least 5 people were killed, including 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and Gabe Zimmerman (Gifford’s director of community outreach who was engaged to be married.)

(Update 1/10/11) It seems that the alleged shooter had been influenced by the vitriol spewed in the last campaign, intolerance of those supporting health care reform, and websites listing political targets of Tea Party  some leaders, including the site of former Alaskan Gov Sarah Palin.  (Please note I said seems, as we won’t know what motivated him until the suspect talks.)   Although it now seems that the alleged gunman may or may not have been directly influenced by intolerant and violent speech and behavior, such speech has impacted people in the past.  For example, take a look at the Insurrection Timeline – a website which lists instances when vitriol contributed to violent actions.

It seems to me that in recent years political reporting (esp on the 24 news channels) and political discourse has focused on accusations, yelling, over simplifications and pointing fingers.  The price for this trend may have begun to reveal itself with violence like what happened today.

As the Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (the county where the shooting occurred) said,

‎”When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” the sheriff said. “And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

Proverbs 18:21 teaches us that life and death are in the power of the tongue. I hope that Sheriff Dupnik’s words lead us to work to end the anger, hatred and bigotry so prevalent today.

Most of all I pray for a refuah sheleimah (a complete healing) of Rep. Giffords and all those injured in today’s shooting.  I hope and pray that the families of those murdered find strength in one another and that their loved one’s memory is a blessing.

Bringing Light into Darkness

[The drash below is written in memory of my grandmother, Joan Bluestein (z”l) who died 11 months ago today (on the Jewish calendar) and for whom we have now ended the 11 month period of daily kaddish.]

This week’s Torah portion is Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) and includes the last few plagues. Our tradition teaches that one of the more difficult plagues was the ninth plague, the plague of darkness. Darkness surrounded the Egyptians, spreading so extensively that “They did not see one another, nor did any of them rise from their place….” (Exodus 10:23)

The darkness halted regular life for the Egyptians.  Not only did daily activities cease, but the people were unable to connect with one another.  Physical sight impeded seeing the humanity within oneself and others.  Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter (HaRIM) illuminates the potency of the darkness in his comment on verse 10:23:

The worst darkness is that blindness in which one person will not ‘see another,’ refusing to look upon his misery and to help him.  He who will not ‘see another’ will himself become incapable of ‘rising from his place;’ that is, of growth and development.*

Darkness swallowed the ancient Egyptians, temporarily disconnecting them from their lives.  Unable to truly those around them they feel deeper into the darkness until the end of the plague.  Sometimes challenges can bring us into despair or darkness and we need others to see us and help us rise from that place.

My grandmother strove every day to truly see the others in her world and bring us light.  She did this for her parents, her brother (and his family), her husband, children, grandchildren, patients, co-workers, volunteers, friends and for herself.  She faced challenges in her life, times where she had to find a source of light.  Her strength, courage and faith helped her rise from those places.  As a wife, mother, grandmother and businesswoman she took care of those around her with dedication that brimmed with love.  As a dietician she provided her patients (and her family) with healthy food that took into account their individual needs.  As a volunteer she brought light and her strong work ethic to WGUC, a second family of friends.  As a Jew she was dedicated to the growth and development of a strong Jewish identity in her daughters (and granddaughters).  A Classical Reform Jew from birth she loved the teachings, values, traditions and foods of her heritage.  A quiet champion of hard work, family, Judaism, love and community she encouraged all around her to grow and develop, to see the potential within them and bring light into the world.  I am lucky to have known her, called her grandma and be nourished by her.  May she continue to inspire us to illuminate the world.

*Source text = Hiddushei HaRIM as presented in Wellsprings of Torah: an Anthology of Biblical Commentaries, by Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman, translated by Gertrude Hirschler, New York:The Judaica Press, 1980, page 127.  HaRIM was the founder of the Ger dynasty of hassidic rabbis lived from 1799 to 1866 and unfortunately knew much sadness in his own life.  Many of his thirteen children died in his lifetime.  Read more about him in the Jewish Virtual Library.