All over the United States, people who have been struggling with unemployment, the lack of healthcare, and the rising costs of living have taken to the streets. Many in the AVODAH community have participated in and been leaders of this movement.
AVODAH alum Rosa Gaia Saunders created a video sharing a sample of voices from Occupy Chicago:
Another alum, Ari Daniel Shapiro, reported on Occupy Boston’s Sukkot festivities on NPR. Listen to his piece here.
What issues are you taking a stand for?
By: Rachel Van Thyn
After some initial hemming and hawing, I decided to join my roommate for Kol Nidrei on Wall Street. It is not that I take issue with public prayer (or prayer in general) or the protesters downtown. But I have been to protests and gatherings that are sometimes co-opted or taken over by other causes, and I was wary about what could happen. You show up for one reason, and all of a sudden people around you are chanting or saying things you aren’t sure you agree with. However, I reasoned that a group of people gathering for the non-violent purpose of prayer ran little chance of that kind of appropriation, or for interference from others. I didn’t have any particular responsibilities for Yom Kippur leading, so I hoped I could represent some of my friends or fellow seminary classmates in their stead—many of whom expressed that they would have been there in a heartbeat, had circumstances afforded it. In Abraham Joshua Heschel terms, I prayed with my feet.
Regardless, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. And I am still processing different sights, sounds, and experiences from the evening. But that night I found:
- People engaging in worship: Many who may not have had the opportunity or ability to go elsewhere on this holy day.
- A vast range of people: Old and young, ranging in political affiliations and religious practices.
- Joy: People celebrating the freedom to pray, standing in solidarity in community with others.
- Recommitment: People committing themselves to doing better, asking for forgiveness for not fully seeing humanity when in front of them, and calling for the recommitment and responsibility of everyone to make true and lasting change.
- Cacophony of voices: People acting as human microphones for others so everyone could participate; a range of melodies and words that spanned multiple spectrums, both religious and secular.
- Inclusion: People making room for individual practices, time for introspection, and widening the space for a variety of sentiments about why they were there and what they believed.
- Values: People living out Jewish and human ideals, heeding the prophetic call to support the stranger, the hungry, and the needy in their midst.
It certainly left me a great deal to contemplate. As I went to synagogue the next morning, the voices of the hundreds of people present rang in my ears: Aleinu—it is upon us to make the world a better place. Aleinu—it is upon us to not remain silent. Aleinu—it is upon us to show our children a more just world. Aleinu—it is upon us to do this because no matter our background, we have the responsibility to help others, to acknowledge our own transgressions and to attempt forgiveness for those who have wronged us. Our future depends on it.
Avinu Malkeinu—let the new year be a good year for us.
Rachel Van Thyn originally hails from Toronto, Canada, but moved to New York in 2004 to participate in AVODAH. Her placement was with Project Renewal, helping previously homeless folks with various issues prepare to re-enter the workforce. After her time in AVODAH, Rachel held several positions in the Reform Movement, including 7 years of work in their summer camps. She then joined AVODAH’s staff as their Communications Associate in NYC. Rachel is currently in rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College and works as a Rabbinic Intern at Central Synagogue.
This post originally appeared on Moishe House’s Moishe Monthly here.
By: Laura Taishoff
Throughout college I never really developed my own personal relationship with Judaism. The only time I ever felt connected to Judaism was during my family’s boisterous and incredibly lively Passover seder every year. Thus, participating in AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps was an incredibly important experience for me in that I finally connected with Judaism on my own; we were hosting Shabbat dinners and I found that practice to be incredibly restorative. Also, I met people who I found deeply inspiring who in turn told me that they were motivated to do social justice work because of their Judaism that was mind blowing for me. I have been able to take that commitment to social justice stemming from Judaism and bring it to my life at Moishe House.
It was actually planning our AVODAH Passover seder that made me want to live in the Moishe House here in New Orleans. We were planning the seder only for our house but we kept getting phone calls asking if other people, who didnt have anywhere to go, could join. All of a sudden, we had 42 people over for our seder! It was a magical night. I knew I wanted to do that more.
Living in the Moishe House has been an amazing transition from my AVODAH year. I stayed at my AVODAH placement and am now a full time staff member at the juvenile public defenders office. One of the best parts of living in the Moishe House is trying to find ways to meld my work with my life in the house and our community members. I was incredibly lucky that Moishe House and Repair the World financially helped me to attend a conference about teen courts and other alternatives to the juvenile justice system to find opportunities for my community to engage in service. I am hoping to continue integrating my work and my role as a member of the Moishe House; I am helping to plan a 5k to raise awareness about juveniles being transferred to adult court and am thrilled that Moishe House will have a team running at the event. Additionally, I am planning to use our house as a space to gather a group of community members who will focus on advocating for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.
The opportunities available to me because I am a member of Moishe House New Orleans are part of what keeps me living in and loving New Orleans as deeply as I do. Thus, Moishe House has also helped me to continue working for social change in the juvenile justice field. For that, I will be forever grateful!
Laura Taishoff, originally from Katonah, NY, graduated in May of 2009 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with an honors degree in English. After graduation she moved to New Orleans to join AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps where she worked as a Youth Advocate at Juvenile Regional Services. She is now a Moishe House New Orleans resident and continues to work for the juvenile public defender’s office providing educational advocacy for her clients. Laura also loves playing lacrosse, making cd mixes for everybody, and traveling.
The Forward recently published “The Big Easy’s Big Jewish Comeback” about demographic shifts in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, the Jewish population of New Orleans declined sharply, but thanks to volunteer opportunities in the Gulf Coast like AVODAH, young Jews are moving back and creating their own vibrant Jewish communities. The article explains how AVODAH alumni took the initiative to found a new minyan, or prayer group, that met their spiritual needs in their neighborhood:
“To help fill the void, in 2010, AVODAH alum Yaeli Bronstein, from Teaneck, N.J., and eight others created Minyan Nahar, or the River Minyan, named for its proximity to the Mississippi River. The first independent minyan in New Orleans, it meets every few months in people’s homes, and services range from traditional to meditative. Bronstein said that their average crowd is 20, but one time they had 40 people.”
To learn more about how AVODAH and other organizations are helping to revitalize the New Orleans Jewish community, read the entire article, here.
If you’re still not satisfied with your fill of New Orleans news, check out the hashtag #pursuitofjustice on twitter, and follow @rabbidara, Rabbi Dara Frimmer, the Associate Rabbi of Temple Isaiah of Los Angeles. She recently returned from leading a Jewish Funds for Justice service-learning trip to New Orleans, and live tweeted about the experience. Below you can see some of the participants on her trip listening to AVODAH alum David Eber as he speaks about his life in New Orleans and his work on capacity building and the environment.
Gillian Locascio, from Tacoma, WA, is an alum of AVODAH New Orleans. Currently, she works with local residents on a community health project in Western Panama.
This piece originally appeared on Jews4NewOrleans.org here.
‘Common indeed are the ethnographies in which poverty and inequality, the end result of a long process of impoverishment, are reduced to a form of cultural difference. We were sent to the field to look for different cultures. We saw oppression; it looked, well, different from our comfortable lives in the university; and so we called it ‘culture’. We came, we saw, we misdiagnosed.’ -Paul Farmer
Seeing oppression, or more often, the impacts of oppression and blaming it on culture — a phenomenon I have witnessed over and over in the last two years (and suffered from myself), working in New Orleans and in an indigenous area of Panama. I don’t think, however, we just call oppression “culture” because it makes us uncomfortable: I think it comes from a lack of historical awareness. Or at least, awareness of the right history. And the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, an anti-racist organizing group founded in New Orleans, called Americans ahistorical.
Last year in New Orleans, with AVODAH, my housemates and I watched parts of the documentary film “Race: The Power of an Illusion,” we read excerpts from “A People’s History,” I worked daily and was mentored by people who had worked in the civil rights movement from the time of SNCC and Martin Luther King Jr.
And I got angry. Continue reading