Honoring God, Who Gives Life to All Flesh

by Rabbi Ari Hart

Rabbi Ari Hart is a founder of the Jewish-Muslim Volunteer Alliance and of Uri L’Tzedek.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1), God is called “Elohei haruchot l’chol basar,” the one who gives spirit to all flesh (Numbers 27:16).

In that spirit of a God who gives life to all beings, I ask that those who, like me, support Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas’s civilian targeted missiles, stop and read the names below of the children who have died in Gaza since the fighting began. Know that the same God that breathed spirit into you breathed spirit into them.

Seraj Ayad Abed al-A’al, 8
Mohammed Ayman Ashour, 15
Hussein Yousef Kawareh, 13
Bassim Salim Kawareh, 10
Mousa Habib, 16
Ahmad Na’el Mehdi, 16
Dunia Mehdi Hamad, 16
Amir Areef, 13
Mohammed Malkiyeh, 1½ years old
Ibrahim Masri, 14
Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra, 4
Nidal Khalaf al-Nawasra, unreported age
Ranim Jawde Abdel Ghafour, a young girl

Though I hold Hamas responsible for this war and for the tremendous suffering they have inflicted on innocent Israelis and Palestinians, I also acknowledge that no matter how precise Israel’s strikes are, innocents will be killed as a result. Including children. Children who have the same goofy smiles, the same dreams, and the same fears as our children. Israel’s right to self defense is not free. It comes with a profound human cost that we, as a people who strive for moral grandeur, must face.

2014′s top 7 seder supplements and themed haggadot

I thought for one foolish moment that 5774 offered a shallow harvest for Pesach supplements. But I was totally wrong and many thought-provoking, educational, and even downright moving contributions to Passover religious life. Here Jewschool collected this year’s notables and even further below are more fascinating options from previous years. [Updated: Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps released theirs today. Make that the top 8.]

The Bard Prison Initiative at Bard College has produced a beautiful and moving supplement on an important American issue on mass incarceration and education. Highlight: “Our fellow citizens who are prisoners are incarcerated because of crimes they committed mostly as young men and women. They are individuals who did not have the privilege to learn and study. We Jews believe that learning is a form of prayer and that learning and studying are the foundation of judgment.”

Keshet’s truly inspiring seder supplement should receive a special award in my eyes. This short but deeply touching piece is based on a true coming out story and reworked to be read by anyone: “Several years ago, Keshet member Adina Koch came out at her family’s Passover Seder. In true Koch family fashion, she did so by offering words of Torah. [...] This Pesach, we offer Adina’s words of Torah as a teaching for all of our Seder tables.”  More »

Asher Lopatin to head Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Rabbi Asher Loptatin, current spiritual leader of the modern Orthodox Congregation Anshe Sholom Bnai Israel in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, will assume leadership of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale NY beginning in June 2013.  Yeshivat Chovevei Torah was founded in 2004 as a liberal Orthodox alternative Rabbinic training school to Yeshiva University’s RIETS by Rabbis Avi Weiss (Riverdale Hebrew Institute), champion of the notion of “Open Orthodoxy.”

More »

Fes-TAV-al celebrates Uri L’Tzedek’s 100th restaurant

Mazel tov to Uri L’Tzedek, the Orthodox social justice organization that pioneered an fair wage certification, has reached their 100th certification! If I weren’t at a bris this weekend, I’d be there.

Ve-Nahafoch Hu: Making Your Way Through an Upside-Down World

This is a guest post by Joshua Schwartz, editor-in-chief for Uri L’Tzedek’s “Ve-Nahafoch Hu: Making Your Way Through an Upside-Down World.”

It with great pride and attendant humility that I announce the release of Ve-Nahafoch Hu: Making Your Way Through an Upside-Down World, a collection of essays, reflections and calls-to-action on the theme of Purim, published by Uri L’Tzedek. I was privileged to serve as the editor-in-chief on this publication, and I am deeply grateful for all of the amazing work my teammates and fellow contributors donated to its production.

“…these days, on which the Jews had rest from their oppressors, this month in which sorrow was turned to joy, mourning to festivity, to make them days of feasting and celebration, sending gifts to friends and giving to the poor.” (Esther 9:22)

Would it be so weird to take Purim seriously?

After all, Purim is that most confusing of conflations. On one hand, Purim is the craziest day of the Jewish year, a day on which we are encouraged to indulge ourselves. But on the other hand, Purim is the only holiday in which giving to others is a central practice. What does it mean when the day on which we let ourselves go is the very day on which we are commanded to provide for others?

Download the booklet.

Read this Book

I could probably just about build a raft and sail around the world with all the books advocating for Jewish Social Justice that have come out in the last couple of years. Several of them are very good. I particularly like Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ first book, which is both thorough and excellent.
But I want to recommend a book that’s a little bit different.

Rabbi Shmuly Yankelowitz, the founder of the Orthodox social justice movement Uri L’Tzedek, has just come out with a book very simply titled Jewish Ethics and Social Justice (Derusha Publishing). Unlike most of the the other books in this burgeoning genre, Rabbi Y’s book is a collection of essays previously published in newspapers journals and blogs. This is both a strength and a weakness, which I will touch on later. More »

Self Reflection and Social Action for the High Holidays

Chevre, I’m pleased to offer Uri L’Tzedek’s High Holiday supplement, Mah Ani, for free download here. Read, share, enjoy. Wishing you all a shana tova and a year full of sweet, sweet justice.

A new food justice series: “Chewing on Food Justice”

food for allBrought to you by Pursue: Action for a Just World and co-sponsored by HazonUri L’Tzedek, and the Brooklyn Bridge CSA, comes Chewing on Food Justice, a series of events offering a breakdown of our broken down global food system. The kick-off is tomorrow night on the topic of defining “food justice,” and followed by food sovereignty in July and food workers in August.

Details below the fold. More »

Chancellor Eisen tweets, new studies, pork memoirs, and lots of Middle East mishegaas

  • The Jewish Theological Seminary goes social, launching a Twitter account for its Chancellor Arnie Eisen and a blog, Conservative Judaism: A Community Conversation, with podcasts.
  • Israeli leftist Larry Derfner and American Jewish leftist Richard Silverstein open a new blog to dialogue about their differences on Israel, IsraelLeft.com. (How long will it remain civil?)
  • The documentary film Budrus about the budding Palestinian non-violence movement is now available for purchase on DVD online. (Seeing this film during its Ramallah premiere was inspiring for me.)
  • Friend-of-the-blog Jeff Yoskowitz launches a blog Pork Memoirs, the first cultural archive devoted to the other white meat (and presumably, also the first started by a Jew).
  • Jewish Jumpstart released its 2010 study of social entrepreneurship in the Jewish community — and its recommendations for supporting it.
  • Limmud NY and Uri L’Tzedek are hosting fundraisers — Limmud NY honors their founders and Uri L’Tzedek honors Dr. Jeffrey Sachs. (PS — Mazel tov to David Wolkin on his hire as the formers’ new Executive Director!)
  • It had to happen sooner or later — Jewishfail.com chronicles incidents of hypocrisy and irony for us to giggle and groan.
  • A new poll of Palestinian public opinion (Word doc) reveals that 70% believe a third intifada is brewing and also that 74% believe violence is in Israel’s interest, and another 70% believe that firing rockets into Israel is bad.
  • President Obama gave a speech this morning outlining a new policy towards every nation in the Middle East…except Israel and Palestine.
  • The Forward announces Eli Valley as Artist-in-Residence — somebody tell the guy who writes “Dry Bones” that his days are waning!

Filed under Mishegaas


Food Justice at the Seder Table

Below is an overview of the Uri L’Tzedek Food and Justice Haggadah Supplement by a former Uri L’Tzedek intern, Yitzi Raizner. The supplement, featuring 26 articles and insights about food, justice and Pesach, is available for free download here:

Justice at the Seder Table
by Yitzi Raisner

The Seder is an orchestrated affair with fourteen movements, from Kadesh to Nirtzah. At my family’s Seder, though, there is a prelude which marks the true beginning of the meal, long before the first cup of wine is poured. One might call it Bechira, “The Selection.” For you simply cannot approach the Pesach table without a thoughtfully chosen Haggadah (and pillow, for that matter). My grandmother is loyal to the Szyk Haggadah for its aesthetic offerings. My sister, on the other hand, appreciates the Abarbanel’s unique insights. It’s a highly personal choice and no two people end up at the table with the same one.

This year, Uri L’Tzedek, “an Orthodox social justice organization guided by Torah values, and dedicated to combating suffering and oppression,” has partnered with a number of like-minded groups to produce a Haggadah supplement tailored to the needs of a new generation of Jews. This is a generation, according to Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon and a contributor to the supplement, “striving to find meaning and wisdom in ancient tradition, and not merely in the abstract, but in relation to a wide range of complex and troubling contemporary issues.” Members of this generation will find a compelling treatment of one such issue in the Food and Justice Haggadah Supplement. Its message is simple: As we eat sumptuously and recount the story of the Exodus, we cannot ignore modern-day slaves, the impoverished and oppressed people of the world. Some of them, like the farm workers who pick the grapes for our wine, provide the backbone of our food security while enjoying no such security themselves. This is a grave injustice. More »

New York Muslims and Jews: Serving Together

It sounds like a dream: a Muslim woman wearing a full head covering, laughing and joking with an orthodox rabbi as they paint a mural of Run-DMC for Brooklyn schoolchildren. But on Martin Luther King Day, 2011, that dream was real.

On that day, over 50 Muslims and Jews gathered together in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn to participate in the kickoff event for United in Service: The Jewish Muslim Volunteer Alliance (JMVA). They came came from the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals New York Chapter, Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice, and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, or because they heard about the groundbreaking event from family or friends. Together, they painted several large murals inside IS 292 junior high school.

Kyla Pollack, the Co-founder and Chair of JMVA and Chair of Interfaith Service Initiatives for Uri L’Tzedek, explained that: “We formed the JMVA to create a group where Jewish and Muslim New Yorkers could unite around our commonalities and our shared interest in improving our city. By working on service projects together, we demystify each other and hopefully open up space for dialogue. It’s an opportunity for people who wouldn’t otherwise interact to come together around a shared, positive goal.”

Fariha Khaliq, a member of the JMVA steering committee, added, “It is important to educate ourselves about other cultures, traditions and religions.” Khaliq and Pollack, along with four other young New Yorkers, first met in October to form the JMVA and plan its events. By all measures, last week’s kickoff was a smashing success. More »

Looking for a job in NYC? Uri L’Tzedek is hiring

Uri L’Tzedek is fast-paced and fast-growing organization: This past year Uri L’Tzedek has grown
from a local, New York based organization to a movement with national importance. We are looking for a self-motivated indivudual who can join this dynamic national team working with the Director, Associate Director of Operations, President, Board, Chair, and many volunteers As a grassroots effort, we show that individual actions can significantly contribute to justice in the world.

The Director of Programs anchors the ambitious programmatic agenda of the organization. The
Director of Programs reports to the Director and also works closely with the Chair of the Board of  Directors.

Primary Job Responsibilities:
· Engagement: Recruit and cultivate relationships with Uri L’Tzedek’s core constituencies
including young professionals, students, congregations, Rabbis, and other stake-holders.
· Program Design and Implementation: Develop Uri L’Tzedek’s programmatic
vision. Oversee Uri L’Tzedek’s menu of programming including the Tav HaYosher, Uri
L’Tzedek university fellowships, and social justice Batei Midrash. Leads the day-to-day
operating and logistics for these programs.
· Program Evaluation and Improvement: Evaluate Uri L’Tzedek’s current programs
with a focus on national scalability and replication, innovation, and added quality.
· Management: Recruit and manage committee heads.
Oversee educational and
programming staff including the Tav HaYosher team, Chair of College Initiatives, Social
Justice Rosh Beit Midrash, and local teams.

Please send cover letter and resume to jobs (at) utzedek.org.

Filed under Uri L'tzedek


more from the Hazon Food Conference West

the following is another guest post by Andy Green, a student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. For another of his write-ups click here

And now… the exciting conclusion….:

Friday afternoon, I headed to Ted Merwin’s session on Jewish food in
pop culture. Those present were treated to an old Hebrew National hot
dog radio jingle, the classic yiddish song “Romania”, the deli scene
from “When Harry Met Sally”, and more. I found especially interesting,
the discussion recognizing the routine conflation of gastronomic
pleasure and sexual pleasure in representations of Jewish food
consumption in media. Also, I learned from this session that the terms
delicacy and delicatessen come from the same root suggesting that in
Eastern Europe, deli meats and dishes were consumed as rare
delicacies, far from standard fare.

Next, I hiked with a few other brave souls to the Walter Creek Ranch
Turtle Pond for a mikveh immersion in some exceedingly cold “living
waters.” The hike was about .6 miles each way and much of the trails
were muddy from earlier in the day. Before we stripped and immersed,
we paused as our certified lifeguard and fellow Hazonik Kyle Lebell
offered us some words of intention about mikveh connecting the three
traditional immersions with our experience and prayer for the past
week, present moment, and future week. However, with the exceedingly
cold temperature of the water, I was unsuccessful in retaining full
mindfulness of this intention while immersing.
More »

from the Hazon Food Conference West Coast…

If you’re interested in seeing what types of sessions are being offered at the Food Conference out in Sonoma County you can see the program here.

the following is a guest post by Andy Green, a student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and first-time participant of a Hazon Food Conference, who has shared some of his experiences at the conference currently in progress.

Yesterday afternoon, following our over seven hour carpool from Los
Angeles, we arrived at Walker Creek Ranch for the 5th annual Hazon
Food Conference West at the gorgeous Walker Creek Ranch in Northern

We were greeted by friendly Hazon staffers and participants, provided
with schedules, snacks (including outstanding pineapple ginger
kombucha), and a short amount of time to unpack before the conference
began. An impromptu mincha minyan commenced to enable a participant to
recite kaddish.

For the first session, I briefly visited the babka making class where
I picked up the babka recipe, before heading over to the Fermentation
session. The babka class is making babka that will be ready for
dessert tonight (for our Shabbat evening meal.)

More »

Flaums’ Factory Workers to Speak Tonight at Uri L’Tzedek Beit Midrash

Hey New York friends,

Workers from the Flaum’s Kosher Foods plant will be speaking tonight at an Uri L’Tzedek Beit Midrash about their experiences at the plant and what the Jewish community can do to make change.

A little background: Flaums’ is a Satmar owned kosher food maker that for years was in violation of wage law for dozens of its employees (60-80 hour weeks with no overtime, some workers working below minimum wage, etc)… The workers tried to raise their concerns with the management and were all illegally fired. The workers took them to court, and the National Labor Relations Board and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor, fining the company $300,000 in back pay. However, the company is stalling payment. That’s where we (and you if you can make it) come – we’re trying to put some communal pressure on Flaum’s to pay what they owe the workers in back wages. For more info, read this Forward article.

Come tonight and we’ll learn some Torah around workers’ rights and Jewish law, in addition to hearing from some of the workers themselves. The event is happening at 7:30 PM, at the Drisha Institute. 37 w. 65th street, 5th floor

Mishegaas for Iyar

Happy Rosh Chodesh, everyone!

Studs Terkel's Working: A Graphic AdaptationHarvey Pekar, best known for his American Splendor comics, is working on the provocatively titled How I Lost Faith in Israel (via Bleeding Cool). Incidentally, I recently stumbled across Pekar’s graphic adaptation of Studs Terkel’s Working, which is a perfect match of adaptor and source.

• If your friends are anything like mine, then you’ve probably already seen the New York Times article about Delis about 30,000 times. Where to begin. The title, “Can the Jewish Deli Be Reformed?” made me want to point out that most of the delis are already on the liberal side of the spectrum, but when the article quotes a deli owner as describing kosher meat as “meat that gets blessed by a rabbi” without correcting him, I wanted to cry.

• If you happen to be looking over my shoulder when Twitter is on the screen rather than Reader, then surely you’ve already seen the list of Joshua Venture Fellows, the first since the Venture rose from dormancy. You’ll note some of Jewschool’s favorite (and previously blogged-about) projects among the list, including G-dcast, Uri L’Tzedek, and Challah for Hunger.

• There’s been a lot of hipster/Hasid synergy lately – did you catch the report on NPR about how Williamsburg is one of the neighborhoods with the lowest census returns in all of New York, thereby screwing New York City out of federal funds and representation?

• Have you signed on to The Charter for Compassion yet? “We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion…”

• I haven’t tried it out in person yet, but Magic Yad looks like a super cool mashup of Leap Frog and Torah.

• The West End Synagogue in NY is having a one-day symposium about “The New Pluralism in American Jewish Life” this coming Sunday. Here’s a link to a PDF of their flier. I hope what they lack in graphic design they’ll make up in content. NB that our very own BZ is one of the speakers.

• One of our favorite blogs, DovBear, interviews a Reform Rabbi! See, most of DovBear’s readers are Orthodox, so whether the interview itself is interesting or not, the comments surely will be. (And by “interesting,” I might mean “a shit show.”)

Filed under Mishegaas


The Tav HaYosher is Turning 30!

Thirty restaurants signed on that is. Thirty kosher business owners who have stepped up, allowed for us to ensure that they are treating their workers according to basic ethical to ethical standards, and been awarded the Tav. Ethical kashrut is real folks. Uri L’Tzedek has gone from having 7 businesses in Manhattan when we launched less than a year ago to 30  across the nation today. This is real grassroots change happening in the Jewish community. If you’re in New York, come support and celebrate with author and Rabbi Joseph Teluskin, Dyonna Ginsburg of B’Maaglei Tzedek in Israel, and assorted other rockstars.

Wednesday March 10th
7:00-8:30 P.M
At Cafe 76 – the JCC
(76th & Amsterdam – 1st floor).
Dinner and suggested donation is $18.

Decade in Review: Social Justice

Jewschool’s decade-in-review series began with the best JewFilms of the 2000s, Independent Minyanim, and the Jewish Food Movement and continues with this roundup of the Social Justice phenomenon.

Organizations which either didn’t exist or hadn’t yet gotten their voice a decade ago: Progressive Jewish Alliance (with regions in Los Angeles and San Francisco), Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, which launched in New York, and now has branches in DC, Chicago and New Orleans, the environmental group Hazon, American Jewish World Service (actually AJWS with Ruth Messinger—whole different thing than AJWS), Jewish FundS for Justice, the New York group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jews United for Justice in Washington DC, Boston’s Jewish Organizing Initiative, Minnesota’s Jewish Community Action. In addition, the eminence grise of Jewish social justice organizations, Chicago’s Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, hired Jill Jacobs, a Conservative Rabbi as Director of Outreach and Education in 2004, and started a summer seminar for rabbis (modeled on Interfaith Worker Justice’s “Seminary Summer”) which integrated Torah study and the practice of social justice. (Jacobs was then hired away from JCUA by JFSJ).

Cautious embrace of some social justice goals by the institutions of the Conservative and (to a much smaller extent) the Orthodox movements: Spurred on by the exposure of the unjust treatment of workers and the abuse of animals at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here -this is not an exhaustive list- for various JS posts on this never ending source of nausea) in Postville, Iowa, the Conservative movement launched the so-called heksher tzedek. This is a kosher seal of approval which guaranteed that the product under supervision was manufactured ethically—that workers’ rights were being respected and that animals were not being abused. An Orthodox group called Uri L’tzedek (“Awaken to Justice”) organized shortly afterwards to the same end. Also during this time, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly approved a decision (a “responsa”) authored by Rabbi Jill Jacobs (by then having moved to the Jewish Funds for Justice as their Rabbi in Residence) requiring synagogues to pay their employees living wages. There is also a concurring responsa by Rabbi Elliot Dorff.
Finally, the latest Rabbinical seminary on the block, the Modern Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCC) has a social justice track which culminates in doing a social project (Canfei Nesharim was started by students at YCC).

Add it all up: the old split between the Jews who are interested in ritual practice and Jews who are interested in ethical practice is finally being eroded. The practice of social justice as a Jewish textual and ritual and political practice got a solid footing in the past decade. Keep it up.