Tag Archives: Holidays
lighting candles in a menorah

Light a Candle for Understanding

This time of year, it’s hard not to be drawn into conversations about the place of religious expression in public life. Christmas decorations abound, and religious minorities play up the celebration of a winter holiday to stake out a place in their communities. There is always a conversation about how important Hanukkah is in the Jewish tradition, probably a result of the effort I described to feel represented in a community or society where there is a widely-celebrated religious holiday.

Often, communities, local governments – particularly schools – also struggle with this question of representing different religions. The December Dilemma, as it is often called, describes the often uncomfortable conversation parents, students and other community members have to have about how not to make people feel alienated in their community.

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The author's family

Celebrating What Really Matters in December

I get asked a lot if I’m “half.” Often, people are referring to my mixed Caucasian and Asian American heritage, their curiosity sparked by my Korean last name on my Jewish business card or by whatever other seeming tip arises on a given day. Other times, particularly as the holidays overlap in December and my family brings out our menorah alongside our Christmas tree, people ask whether I’m “half Jewish,” assuming my dual holiday celebration must mean some part of me is not Jewish. They couldn’t be more wrong. Read more…

WRJ Hanukkah Project

Hanukkah Miracles and Mitzvot for Children

This post originally appeared on the WRJ Blog.

At the moment of rededication, the Maccabees relit the ner tamid, the eternal flame in the Temple. The ner tamid symbolizes God’s constant presence with the entire Jewish people. Because it is perpetually lit, the ner tamid also signifies a hope that God’s presence will continue to dwell with us from generation to generation (BT Shabbat 22b). What could be a better symbol for our hopes for a sustainable future than the ner tamid? Thus, as we kindle the Hanukkah lights, we think about how we can nurture our children and pass along a better world to them.

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Workers protesting low wages with a sign saying "Hard work deserves fair pay!"

Treating Our Labor Well During Hanukkah

In this season of giving and shopping surrounding Hanukkah, we need to consider where our gifts are coming from and how the workers who help us make these purchases are treated. We need to keep worker’s rights in mind as we pursue this work and ensure that everyone is treated justly.

Labor movements remain to be a key and integral part of our work in advocating for just workplaces. Unions are organized groups of workers formed to protect and to ultimately further the workers’ rights as well as their interests. As independent employees, workers may face harassment, unsafe working conditions, and poverty-level wages. Through unions, workers can advocate that they are treated fairly in the work place: they can advocate for sufficient paychecks, adequate benefits, safety in the workplace, equal opportunities, and most importantly for respect. Workers have fundamental rights to have fair, safe, and healthy workplace environments, and unions help enable ensure that this is a reality.

Unions don’t just fight for workers within that specific union – they push for all workers to have higher minimum wages, encouraging support for better workplace practices at all levels. When workers earn more, they can perform better – unions help create the connection between better workplace practices and an improved minimum wage. The U.S. Department of Labor has also shown that union members are more likely to have health benefits and pensions than non-union workers.

Unionized workers are more likely to earn more than non-unionized workers, showing how the unionized workers see the impacts of these measures. This is especially true for people of color in the workforce. Additionally, as union membership has fallen, the share of household income going to those in the bottom 20% has also fallen and poverty levels are highest in states that are the lowest in union membership. States with higher levels of unionization also have stronger social safety net programs.

Our Jewish community has a long history of being involved with the labor movement, and many of the first labor activists were Jewish. Jewish texts further affirm our commitment to worker’s rights. The Torah, Talmud and various other commentaries discuss ethical labor practices including minimum wage, just working conditions, and a safe workplace. Moreover, this commitment to justice resonates for our community, given our history of forced servitude and affliction. As Deuteronomy states: “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer,” which is a dictum we should take to heart (24:14-15).

We have a guide on ethical practices in employing domestic workers. We also have resources for Labor on the Bimah that relate to Labor Day and opportunities to discuss workers from the pulpit. You can also urge your Members of Congress to advocate for a higher minimum wage, which would help all workers. Take action today to encourage your Member of Congress to raise the minimum wage!

The Latest Bzzzzz: Our Work to Fight Malaria Continues

As we approach the joyful holiday season, it is important to remember the challenges that so many across the world continue to face. Malaria, which is transmitted from the bite of a single mosquito, causes 200 million illnesses per year and kills more than 600,000 people, most of whom are children under the age of five. Jewish tradition teaches us that human life is sacred because all of humanity is created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Thus, we must make sure to treat each life with equal value, and fight this disease that is both treatable and preventable.

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Lit up menorah

Give the Gift of Tzedek: Our Hanukkah Social Justice Gift Guide 5775

In search of a unique gift for the social justice junkie in your life? Look no further than our Social Justice Hanukkah Gift Guide, with eight suggestions full of tzedek – one for each night!

Give the Gift of Life
Help your loved ones give the most meaningful gift of all – the Gift of Life – by having them join the National Bone Marrow Registry. Thousands of adults and children need blood transfusions or life-saving bone marrow transplants each year, and depend on matches from donors like you. You can run a drive in your community, donate the cost of processing a swab kit to Gift of Life, or order kits to get tested yourself!

Give Nothing but Nets
This Hanukkah, help eliminate malaria death in sub-Saharan Africa by joining the Union for Reform Judaism’s Nothing But Nets campaign. With a $10 donation you can provide a life-saving bed net to families who have fled conflict and are living in refugee camps. Make a donation and help save lives today.

Give Support to Ebola Victims & Families
Light a candle and give a gift to support those facing and responding to the deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The Reform Movement has partnered with American Jewish World Service to raise funds to assist with contact tracing, burial, and community outreach throughout the countries most hard hit by this terrible virus. Give the gift of relief today. Read more…

Praying for Rain Amidst Droughts and Storms

Last night we celebrated Shemini Atzeret, the last day of Sukkot. As the final day of the fall harvest chag, Shemini Atzeret includes a special prayer for rain called Tefillat Geshem. In the Biblical state of Israel (as opposed to in river-crossed Egypt) rain had incredible significance and was central to the continued viability of Israelite communities. Their gratitude to God for providing rain was necessarily a cornerstone of their religious identity.

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Education transforms girls' lives -- and entire societies

Restarting the Scroll for Education for Women and Girls Around the World

Last Saturday, October 11, was International Day of the Girl. Just two years ago, the UN established this commemorative day to raise awareness about all issues concerning gender inequality for young women and children around the world. The day is used as an opportunity for activist groups to come together with the goal of highlighting, discussing, and taking action to advance rights and opportunities for girls everywhere. Read more…