Global Justice Awaits Our Action

Over the past six months I have been privileged to participate in the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) Global Justice Fellowship program for rabbis. This program brings together a diverse trans-denominational cohort of rabbis to educate them about global issues of concern and equip them (us) to become effective advocates. As part of this program I will participate in AJWS’s Wellstone Organizing Training in February as well as the AJWS Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C. in May. The program will culminate with a trip to Guatemala next summer to learn from AJWS partners in that country.

In addition to the personal fulfillment I derive from learning with my colleagues in the program, my understanding of, and commitment to, global justice has deepened. It is my hope to identify ways WRJ can partner more closely with AJWS to pursue this work. WRJ has always advocated for the rights of women and girls around the world. We endorsed the Millennium Development Goals and are working with others as an NGO at the United Nations on issues of global concern. But there is so much more we could do to advance this work, and I call on you to join me in these efforts.

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I-VAWA? WE-VAWA: We All Must Do Our Part to End Violence Against Women and Girls

One out of three women worldwide will be physically, sexually, or otherwise abused during her lifetime. In some countries, it’s as many as seven in ten. Violence against women is a human rights violation that devastates lives, fractures communities, and prevents women from fully contributing to the economic development of their countries.

Take a minute to think about the things we do every day: go to work, go to school, provide food for ourselves and for our families. We generally do not equate these tasks with putting ourselves in danger. But, that’s not the case everywhere. Often, the perpetrators of violence against women and girls commit that violence while women are on their way to work or to collect food and water, or while girls are on their way to school—that is, if they are allowed to go to school at all.

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Voices of WRJ: Tol’dot

by Marla Goldberg

V’eleh toldot Yitzcak: This is the line of (a.k.a. generations of) Isaac, son of Abraham.” After clarifying Rebekah’s lineage via patriarchal descent—which is how it was done back in the day—Isaac pleads on behalf of his wife, as she was childless. The theme of infertility presents in two out of two matriarchs—so far. This time, it is Isaac, husband of Rebekah, who takes it upon himself to do the advocacy work. He pleads to God for intervention, and lo and behold, Rebekah becomes pregnant.

While Rebekah is silent here, later in this parashah, she displays less than subtle favoritism toward one of her children and commandeers family dynamics in a rather large way. Earlier, when sensing the pressing of children in her uterus, she simply questions her role in life, asking “…why do I exist?” She then has a one-on-one with God, who foretells her carrying two peoples (nations) with the elder serving the younger. She gives birth to twins: Esau and Jacob. From that point on, we read about forays of stealing birthrights and blessings—and overall, this story line seems to mirror contemporary soap operas or reality television.

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I Want a Bat Mitzvah at the Kotel!

by Doris Schyman

On October 24th, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, 12-year-old Sasha Lutt of Beer Sheva read from a Torah, completing the first ever full bat mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Irina Lutt, the proud mother who moved to Israel from Russia when Sasha was just a baby, looked on and supported her daughter during the ceremony.

After Women of the Wall’s Torah was banned at the entrance to the public holy site, an alternate scroll, a tiny, 200-year-old Torah, was brought into the Western Wall, under the radar of the authorities. This 28-centimeter Torah belongs to John and Noeleen Cohen of London and is certified Kosher by an Orthodox Sofer Stam. Mr. Cohen’s great-grandfather carried this Torah with him from Lithuania to South Africa in 1880. He loaned the family heirloom to Women of the Wall. Cohen said, “The purpose of a Torah scroll is to be read and I can think of no better place for the Scroll to be on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan than at the Kotel, in the women’s section, being read by women who want and have every right to read Torah at the Wall and, in my view, at every other place that a man can read Torah.”

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A Woman's Place is in the House and the Senate

100 Women in Congress: When Underrepresentation Marks a Milestone

This post originally appeared on RACblog.

The end of the 113th Congress will mark a milestone for women in politics: for the first time in history, 100 women are serving together in Congress. Since Democrat Alma Adams (NC-12) was sworn in on Wednesday (replacing Mel Watt who left Congress to the run the Federal Housing Finance Agency), the 113th Congress is closing out with 20 women Senators and 80 women Representatives, up from the 79 who served for most of the term.

In the 114th Congress, the number of women Senators will remain at 20, possibility rising to 21 should incumbent Mary Landrieu (D-LA) win her runoff in Louisiana, and anywhere from 81 to 85 women will serve in the House, depending on the outcome of races still too close to call. Read more…

Voices of WRJ: Chayei Sarah

Last month, I received an email from WRJ inviting me to share my understanding of this week’s Parashat Chayei Sarah. I began my research, hoping to uncover a mesmerizing commentary. I knew that many of you were knowledgeable about the early Genesis stories. In Chayei Sarah, for example, we learn that Abraham buys burial ground from his Hittite neighbors, land that gives us Jews a claim to our promised homeland; we meet Rebekah at the well and she becomes Isaac’s bride.

I read, I studied, and I reflected. What I felt was a deep tug to travel in an entirely different direction. I finally realized that I wanted, or needed, to share the tale of a contemporary matriarch who was intimately connected to the Reform Movement throughout her 92 years. I needed to tell you her story. Her name was Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Schwartz z”l.  Ellie, who died September 18th just two months shy of her 93rd birthday, was the second Executive Director of NFTS (now WRJ), serving from 1976-1992.

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In Honor of Veterans

by Karen Maes

In the United States of America, Veteran’s Day is an official holiday honoring all those who have served in the Armed Forces. (America remembers our fallen service members on Memorial Day.) Veteran’s Day is on the same day as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are memorial days for those who have fallen in defense of the Commonwealth Nations and in Canada, respectively. All three are commemorated on the same day: the end of major hostilities during World War I (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918).

Veterans across the United States, Canada, and the Commonwealth countries are men and women, young and old, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. We veterans fit no mold yet, here in America, we all have one thing in common: we have all raised our right hand and recited these same words and sworn, “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”*

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Report from Crimea

by Alex Kagan

I spent 5 hours flying back and forth from Moscow, as well as many hours travelling across Crimea, visiting three cities, Yevpatoria, Kerch, and Simferopol, and meeting with community members, their children, and random people in the streets. My visit enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of the forces at play and how they have affected our community members.

Some thoughts:

Netzer Youth: First, they are present and very active. There are Netzer clubs offering diverse activities. Our communities are alive and well–and have a future. Our youth really want to attend the interregional camps in Minsk, and they deserve to go despite the high transportation costs. They want to be with other youth from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, to share their experiences and to get away from the pressure they were (and some still are) under. We need to try and raise funds to make this happen.

During discussions with young men and women of Netzer, I repeatedly asked the same question: “Are you happy this happened to you?” Their unanimous reply: “Yes, of course. If it had not happened, there would have been a war similar to the one in the eastern regions.”

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Voices of WRJ: Vayeira

This week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, contains several stories with which we are all familiar. It opens with God revealing through three mysterious visitors that Sarah will have a child. Next comes the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In it, Abraham argues for the potential innocent when God threatens to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. In the end, there are not even ten innocent people, so God destroys the city. After the story of those two cities, Isaac is born. Sarah pushes for the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael who almost starve in the wilderness, but are saved at the last minute.  The portion ends with the story of the Akeda in which Isaac is almost killed by Abraham but is saved at the last minute by God.

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Voices of WRJ: Lech L’cha

No two words resonate more deeply within the Jewish psyche than Lech L’cha. God’s injunction to Abram to “Go forth” from his father’s homeland involves much more than a physical journey.

Abram’s wanderings with Sarai, Lot, and their household present problems, resolutions, and, ultimately, the supreme declaration by God of a particular covenantal relationship with Abram and Sarai’s progeny.

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