Go You Forth – Hurricane Katrina Benefit Concert Review

neshama-carlebach

At the Touro Synagogue in New Orleans on Oct. 15th, I am present to witness the amazing spirit of music transforming a social movement. The event is “Go You Forth” – a benefit concert featuring Ellis Marsalis (now in his 80s), The Green Pastures Baptist Choir (from the Bronx) and the spiritually-inspiring voice and music of Neshama Carlebach. The benefit concert supports the work of the rebuilding efforts of the St. Bernard Project and MAZON, who will direct any funds directly back to three of our current grantees: the Second Harvest Food Bank; Just the Right Attitude (a grass roots mobilizing effort for food security); and the New Orleans Food and Farm Network.

Why the timing of this concert? It coincides with the realities of the 4th Anniversary of Katrina and the destruction it left in its midst. MAZON has never walked away from its commitment to this region: we pumped in well over a million dollars immediately after Katrina to help stabilize the food and nutritional network that is still trying to recover today. I feel we are in the social fabric of this community and that Jewish and gentiles alike standing shoulder to shoulder have made amazing strides. However, over the last 2 years, another man-made disaster struck this community: the economic meltdown and the Great Recession. Jobs are scarce; the middle class is now being served on the bread lines. I heard the account of one 4 year old child from an upper class family who was taken to the Food Bank to do some volunteer work with her family, turning to her mother after the experience and saying:  “… but mom, they looked exactly like us.” How true her words ring. We are all in this together.

So, strangely enough, the benefit concert was timed just as the President made his first visit to New Orleans since taking office. He pledged to make the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast a priority, but he whisked through the city for a visit that one Louisiana congressman described as a “drive-through daiquiri summit”. The President spent a grand total of 3 hours and 45 minutes in the Crescent City. Way more time was spent, no doubt, on his failed attempt to to get the Olympic bid to come to Chicago. So next time, Mr. President, spend a little time in the hoods that never got rebuilt. Witness a surreal picture of things frozen in time: an abandoned school; a Food Bank who has lost about 1/3 of their donors who never came back. And with all this surrealism, witness the spirit of the people who make this their Alamo; like Sister Mary Lou Specha who runs a Cafe called “Reconcile”, to train at-risk youth to be waiters, food chefs, and food growers. Or spend time with Daphne Derven from the New Orleans Food and Farm Network who runs a program to turn pocket abandon sites into productive food producing sourcing for the local community. Or spend time with Natalie Jayroe who runs the Food Bank and has lead the charge to provide food to over 200 agencies in New Orleans and southern Louisiana.

But in the end, until we see government feeding its own masses, we will relish and rejoice at the charity benefits that such giving souls as Neshama, Ellis Marsalis and the Green Pastures Choir provide so that children and families can survive.

H. Eric Schockman is the President of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

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In loving memory: Rabbi Mark Loeb

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UPDATED 10/15/09 as tributes continue to come in from our board & staff. For more tributes & information on the life and career of Rabbi Loeb from those who knew him best, please visit Beth El Congregation.

We are heartbroken to report that Rabbi Mark Loeb, a former MAZON Board Chair and longtime board member, passed away on Wednesday. Loeb, Rabbi Emeritus at Beth El Congregation in Baltimore, was in Milan, enjoying his favorite things – opera & Judaism. Beth El issued the following statement:

It is with a profound sense of loss and sadness that we share with you the following news.  Our Rabbi Emeritus, Rabbi Mark Loeb, died last night in Milan, Italy.  He was there serving a congregation as its interim rabbi enjoying Milan’s culture, opera, and the many other things that he loved.  We mourn his loss as a congregation and a community, and offer our sincerest sympathies to his family.

The details for Rabbi Loeb’s funeral are yet to be determined as we are waiting for information from Italy and his family.  In the meantime, tonight, Thursday, October 8 between 6:30 – 7:30, we will be creating an opportunity for people to come together and to be with one another during this time of loss.

The following comes from current MAZON Board Chair Joel Jacob & MAZON President Eric Schockman:

He was truly an icon in his community. His ‘retirement’ party lasted over several days and it was evident that the universe loved this endearing, gentle soul. He was a visionary and non-conformist to the principles of Judaism he lived and breathed every day. He took great joy for example in boasting how he was one of the first Conservative rabbi s in the country to perform a ‘commitment ceremony’ for a same sex-couple who were long time members of his congregation. Mark bestowed the full dignity of the sacred vows we hold so dear in the Jewish religion. Just a few weeks ago, Joel and I received an email from Mark when we learned he would not be joining us for the upcoming board meeting. His email was typical Mark: he was excited about being in Milan, excited about administering pastoral care to a small Jewish community there and being in the epicenter of the world of opera he loved. We deduced from his short email that:  his feet were grounded in the Judaism he relished and his head was in the melodic sounds of one of the birthplaces of musical opera.

Leonard Fein, MAZON’s founder, offers the following tribute:

Those of you who remember Mark know what an unusual and a thoughtful person he was.  Others should know that he was an uncommonly broadminded man, whose love of Judaism at its best was only exceeded by his love of opera.  (True.)  I was startled and deeply saddened to receive Leslie’s grim news, and I very much hope that for all who knew him, his memory will, indeed, be for a blessing.

Former MAZON chair Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of University Synagogue in Irvine, CA, has these words:

Mark was an engaging, humorous and thoughtful “Renaissance man.”  He was devoted to his congregants, MAZON, interfaith dialogue and a large, pluralistic, inclusive world.

Zichrono livracha.

MAZON board member Rabbi (Dr.) Richard Marker of Marker Goldsmith Philanthropy Advisors shares these memories:

Mark was a year behind me in the JTS rabbinical school. Back then, he was one of the most memorable student activists – at a time of student activism.  He was forthright, and public, in his advocacy for civil rights legislation, and more than most, demonstrated verbally and personally the conviction of the natural alignment between commitment to the Jewish Tradition and liberal values. This character trait and passion, which I recall from 40+ years ago, were with him during his entire professional career. Zecher tzadik livrachah.

Though I was never lucky enough to meet Rabbi Loeb, I bore witness to his commitment to humanity & social justice through the many tributes received in his honor from Beth El members, during his retirement last year, and annually during the Passover & High Holy Days seasons. I close with a quote he gave last year to the Baltimore Sun, upon his last Passover at Beth El:

“Being released from suffering is not enough. The result of suffering is to come away with respect for those who suffer and not join those who offend them. You learn from your suffering and find a way to dedicate yourself to something important.”

Rest in peace, Rabbi Loeb. May your memory always be for a blessing.

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This Thursday: Learn About LA’s New Food Policy Task Force

We have a wonderful problem at MAZON… we’ve had so many donations in honor of the High Holy Days that we’re completely swamped just trying to process them all.

These funds allow us to support organizations like Hunger Action Los Angeles, who sent us the following regarding their monthly meeting this Thursday. These meetings are a great place to brainstorm ideas & learn about steps and events by various organizations and individuals to end hunger in Los Angeles and statewide (through collaboration with the California Hunger Action Coalition).

If you can’t make the meeting or live outside of Los Angeles, there are some fantastic snippets about food waste & conservation in a major metropolis and increased food stamp access in California towards the end. Frank Tamborello of Hunger Action Los Angeles also runs a weekly e-newsletter, “To All Those Interested In Food and Justice” chock full of hunger information & news articles. Check out this week’s issue, and learn of even more ways you can help hungry Angelenos & Californians!

Take it away, Frank…

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Avoiding Darfive

It is often in the absurd that poignant insights are provided.  In his new movie, Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s character responds to a question regarding his social involvement:  “Darfur is old news…what about Darfive.”  He is commenting on our need to move on to what is fashionable and that human tragedies go in and out like the latest clothing designs. Painful as it might be, the suffering of the Darfuri people has not ended like an episode of a television drama. It has been a six-year long human catastrophe, and sadly there is no end in sight.

I just returned home to the Bay Area after spending 10 days in Eastern Chad, observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in Darfuri refugee camps.  There are no Jews there, but there are millions of humans struggling to survive.  Having lived my life as a middle class American, I will never be able to communicate what life as a Darfuri refugee entails. I can only tell you what I have just seen.

I’ve seen hundreds of children under the age of six born in the camps, whose only experience of life so far is one of poverty, food rations and houses made of sheets and mud. I’ve seen women being wheeled miles back to the camps on wooden platforms over pitted roads, just hours after giving birth in an aid clinic. I’ve seen families building dirt shells around UN tents to protect themselves from ravaging heat, wind, and rain.

Since my first trip to the area in 2004, the camps now look like a village but a village without freedom, security, education or jobs. Because the people have had no choice but to live this way for so many years, things have normalized in a sense—if I can even connect such devastation and loss to anything normal.

Since 2003, four hundred thousand Darfuri people have lost their lives. Three million have lost their homes and all that a home represents.  For me, as a rabbi, there could be no better place to welcome in a new year.  Here, I am reminded of the brightness of human compassion and connection.  These are people often forgotten, living in the remotest part of the earth. They are surviving because of their resilience, their courage, and their refusal to give up hope.  Somehow they go on with minimal food, water and shelter. Their battle is not a political one; they are simply victims of ethnic cleansing, of genocide.  They wonder: Does the civilized world care? Have we been left to die?

I believe that our lives are inextricably linked. As long as we are allowing people to suffer this way, not just in Darfur, but in so many places in this world, our lives cannot really flourish.  Indeed, we can take great pride in so many human accomplishments.  Yet in terms of how human beings treat each other, perhaps all we can feel is embarrassment.

What can we  do in our own communities to help? We can first remember the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. who wrote from his Birmingham jail cell: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we allow such cruelty to take place anywhere in the world, might we also allow it here, in our home?   We are known as Americans for being being a community with a social conscience; does that conscience only extend to our immediate local concerns?  If we can’t find ways to help, who will?

There is much that can be done. We can provide financial support and aid. We can send letters and simple reminders to let them know we care. We can educate ourselves and stay informed. We can keep the plight of the Darfuri people on the minds of our families and friends. We can urge our country’s leaders to do more.  The tragedy of Rwanda did not need to unfold as it did; we failed to put pressure on the White House to act.

Darfur has been called the first genocide of the 21st century.  What a horrific attribution with an implication that there will be others.  Are we doomed to have others?  I believe not, if we can find the courage to see that human dignity and human rights are worth our sustained support.  It is time now to end the suffering of Darfur, lest we have Darfive, six and seven.

Ultimately, it is about the world we leave our children. When our grandchildren ask us, what did you do to help the Darfuri people, will we be embarrassed or will be able to say that we did everything within our power to help.

Like many holidays, the Jewish New Year is meant to shake us to our core and to remind us of our personal responsibility to be engaged global citizens.  Nowhere on earth could this message have been more deeply felt than sitting with the Darfuri refugees.

Our ability to respond and to care is immense—limited only by our own fears and doubts.  The people of Darfur are waiting for us to be bold, imaginative and do whatever we can to help restore their lives.

Lee Bycel is Executive Director of the Redford Center, based in Berkeley, CA. The Redford Center inspires positive social and environmental change through the arts, education and civil discourse.  He raised $100,000 for humanitarian aid prior to his recent trip.

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Shabbat Shuvah

'Shabbat Shalom' courtesy Flickr User: _PaulS_

'Shabbat Shalom' courtesy Flickr User: _PaulS_

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah. For many it is also considered the Shabbat of Returning, repentance, and focused prayer.  It is a special Shabbat because Jews are instructed to examine their deeds and focus their attention on how their behavior affects themselves and others.

In light of the season, this Shabbat can be a useful time to examine the genuine effort we make to improve ourselves, either in reflection of the past year or with hopes for this new year of 5770. Using the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur only for repentance and prayer would overlook one further examination: of charity.

Let this week be a time of reflection.

In Judaism our Sages have taught that G-d will forgive the sins of Israel, but what of the sins we commit against others and against humanity. Using precious time idly or neglecting those in need are considered great grievances in Judaism. A question is then posed: How can Jews ask humanity for forgiveness?

Rabbi Tarfon reminds us in the Talmud, “It is not up to you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” While problems of hunger and poverty in the United States may appear too large for one individual to solve, it is our responsibility as a community, and under Jewish commandment, to act together for positive change. When one individual feels the responsibility to act, even in the smallest ways, their work can make a difference.

Let this year be a year of action.

Please consider a contribution to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Your gift will help provide for people who are hungry while at the same time advocating to end hunger and it’s causes.

Rosalie Licht, Donor Services Associate. Rosalie can be reached at rlicht@mazon.org.

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Tweet For Child Nutrition

The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 expires September 30, next week! This provides crucial funding for School Breakfast ProgramsWIC (Women Infants & Children), CACFP (Child & Adult Care Food Program) & Summer Food Service Programs. Additionally, it allows hungry children & working families easier access to existing School Lunch Programs & even Farmer’s Markets. More information about specifics can be found here.

It’s more important than ever that you express your support for H.R.1324 (House Bill) & S.934 (Senate Bill), The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2009. We’ve shown you how to advocate (speak out) for hungry kids through letters, emails & phone calls andsteered you towards online petitions. Now there’s another way – Twitter.

Twitter is a perfect advocacy tool. It allows any user direct access to their representatives (more and more of whom are joining everyday – see Tweet Congress for a full list), and, with 140-character messages and grouping via hashtags (#), it’s easier for representatives and their aides to hear constituents and track support.

Here’s an example we featured on our Twitter @StopHunger yesterday:

Rep @BuckMcKeon please support H.R.1324. Child Nutrition Authorization expires next week! #hr1324

(Not to single out Rep. McKeon, but he’s a local representative & a member of the House’s Committee on Education & Labor)

Now it’s your turn:

  • Sign up for Twitter (if you haven’t already).
  • Go to Tweet Congress. Find your reps using their zip code search.
  • Address your rep directly using @
  • Ask them to support H.R.1324, The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act (if they’re in the House) or S.934, The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act (if they’re in the Senate)
  • If you have characters to spare, ask your followers to RT (retweet) or include the hashtags #hr1324 or #s934 so we can track your support.

There are currently 15 million hungry children in the United States. Tweeting your support takes a couple minutes, but means the world to them.

Thanks for all you do. For more ways to help on Twitter, follow MAZON (@StopHunger) and Twitter For Food (@HungerNoMore).

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Darfuri Refugees’ Letter to President Obama

Last week, we brought you reflections from Rabbi Lee Bycel as he embarked on a visit to a Darfuri refugee camp in Chad. He returns with this letter from the Darfuri refugees to President Obama.
Senator Barack Obama at Save Darfur Rally in 2006. Photo courtesy Flickr user jillaryrose (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jillaryrose/).

Senator Barack Obama at Save Darfur Rally in 2006. Photo courtesy Flickr user jillaryrose (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jillaryrose/).

Guereda, Eastern Chad
Rosh Hashanah 2009

A letter to President Obama from the Darfuri refugees,

As a rabbi I sit here welcoming in the new year with Darfuri refugees, people of great courage, strength and determination. I am here to celebrate the opportunity of a new year, with people who need not just our prayers but also our actions.

I have spent the day at the Mille camp, home to 17,000 Darfuri refugees. I first came here in 2004, soon after their arrival. A few remember my visit.  They all remember your visit to Mille, also in 2004. Several people showed me their picture with you and told me how happy they are that you are now president.

Mr. President, the years since your visit have taken a great toll on the people. Some of the 13 year old girls you met are now mothers. Many of the boys are now soldiers. Many refugees have died and many new ones have arrived. The UN tents which are now severely torn and ravaged reflect the lives of the refugees.

"Darfur Refugee Family" Courtesy Internews Network (http://www.flickr.com/photos/internews/)

"Darfur Refugee Family" Courtesy Internews Network (http://www.flickr.com/photos/internews/)

Fifty babies a month are born in the Mille camp. Six hundred a year; about three thousand since your visit. Children like Sulaman, Hassan, Sumayah and Kadidya. They have wonderful smiles and beautiful eyes. Like our children, they want security, food, water and shelter. Thanks to the US, other countries and the humanitarian community, they have the minimal amount of each in order to survive.

For them, for their parents, their daily prayer is to return to Darfur. They are innocent, good people, as you have said “victims of genocide.”

Enough is not being done. They are waiting…waiting very patiently for their nightmare to end. I have synthesized their message for you.

Remember us. Remember your time here at Mille. Remember our situation. Remember our faces. We want to go home to Darfur and live in peace. We want to rebuild our lives. Please, please Mr. President do everything in your power to help us. Too many years have gone by. We need you. We do not know what to do but have great confidence in you. Our prayers are with you and your family.

Thank you,

The Darfuri refugees in Mille, as communicated to Rabbi Lee Bycel on September 18, 2009.

Rabbi Lee Bycel is a MAZON board member and Executive Director of the Berkeley-based Redford Center. The Redford Center inspires positive social and environmental change through the arts, education and civil discourse.  For suggestions on actions you can take regarding Darfur please visit the Save Darfur Coalition.

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