Tu BiSh’vat, also known as Chamishah Asar B’shevat (the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat) is commonly known as the New Year for trees and falls this year on February 3. Historically, it was the date on which trees in Israel were determined to be mature enough for their fruit to be harvested. Tu BiSh’vat was the date designated because by then, the early winter rains had largely subsided and the period of “budding” was just commencing, making the holiday a celebration of renewal.
In a world fraught with tension and uncertainty, it can be easy to lose sight of some positive changes and some ongoing issues that need our attention. Across the globe, religious freedom remains a dream and not a reality for far too many people. Freedom of religion and conscience are not only critical for individuals and communities, but studies have shown that there are many reasons why religious freedom is important and has effects beyond the realm of freedom of worship. Not only has a lack of religious freedom been linked with gender inequality, but also, freedom of religion is significantly associated with global economic growth. Read more…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…