Tag Archives: charity

Seizing the Moment

by H. Eric Schockman, Ph.D.
Every year at the High Holy Days, I am reminded of an old family friend whose unflagging optimism always fueled my great admiration.  “How are things going?” I would ask whenever our paths would cross, to which he would make the inevitable reply:  “Today is going to be the best day yet.”  He looked forward to every sunrise; every meal; every conversation.  Even as a young man, it struck me as a courageous and inspirational philosophy.  Seen through the lens of his recurrent illness and financial misfortune, the certainty of his pronouncement taught me a fundamental life’s lesson:  to live fully is to embrace each moment, savoring its sweetness and recognizing its transformative potential.  Put another way, we are not defined by what has already happened or by what tomorrow may bring, but by what we do today.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with their themes of renewal and redemption, make the point even more clearly.  Over the course of these holidays, we are neither held hostage to the failures of the past nor burdened by the demands of the future.  Rather, by insisting that we carve out time for serious self-reflection, they enable us to focus squarely on the present, what writer Eckhart Tolle calls the power of now.  In doing so, the High Holy Days force us to confront who we are and how we live and, in the process, to realize that our everyday actions have important implications for our community and the world around us.
It’s no wonder these days are viewed as the most significant of the Jewish calendar; their emphasis on self-awareness and empowerment can spark truly remarkable individual and social change.  This makes them not just Days of Awe, but also:
Days of Hopefulness.  What an extraordinary thing:  to be part of a tradition that tells us we have the ability, and the tools, to help heal a broken world.  Judaism does not relegate the pursuit of social justice to an idyllic hereafter, instead demanding we make it the business of the here-and-now.  As the head of a nonprofit working to end hunger, I know the solutions we seek will not come easy.  But they will come.  And they start with us, today.  They start with us letting our elected representatives know that food insecurity and healthy eating are top priorities in this recession.  And they start with renewed volunteerism to help feed those in need.
Days of Commitment.  The High Holy Days are not a vacation from responsibility; they are, on the contrary, a call to greater accountability.  With each blast of the shofar, we hear the holiday message:  Personal growth is achievable.  Our ideal society is within reach.  But these things take motivation, hard work and a willingness to take the first step.  With commitment, we can, as President Obama has pledged, end childhood hunger in America by 2015.
Days of Opportunity.  As we examine our decisions and take stock of our lives, we have a rare chance to wipe the slate clean, rededicating ourselves to a rich and meaningful existence that integrates personal fulfillment and communal needs.  It’s a new beginning, filled with infinite promise.  As the holiday liturgy says, “Hayom Harat Olam” – Today is the day of the world’s creation.
With busy schedules and hectic lives, we so seldom have a second to breathe.  We run through our days barely noticing their passage, and eagerly anticipating tomorrow.  The New Year exaggerates this tendency, tempting us to look ahead and wonder what the coming months will bring.  But as my friend understood all those years ago, living in the future simply distracts us from what is right before our eyes:  the possibility that we can make this moment the very best one yet.

by H. Eric Schockman, Ph.D.
MAZON President

Every year at the High Holy Days, I am reminded of an old family friend whose unflagging optimism always fueled my great admiration.  “How are things going?” I would ask whenever our paths would cross, to which he would make the inevitable reply:  “Today is going to be the best day yet.”  He looked forward to every sunrise; every meal; every conversation.  Even as a young man, it struck me as a courageous and inspirational philosophy.  Seen through the lens of his recurrent illness and financial misfortune, the certainty of his pronouncement taught me a fundamental life’s lesson:  to live fully is to embrace each moment, savoring its sweetness and recognizing its transformative potential.  Put another way, we are not defined by what has already happened or by what tomorrow may bring, but by what we do today.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with their themes of renewal and redemption, make the point even more clearly.  Over the course of these holidays, we are neither held hostage to the failures of the past nor burdened by the demands of the future.  Rather, by insisting that we carve out time for serious self-reflection, they enable us to focus squarely on the present, what writer Eckhart Tolle calls the power of now.  In doing so, the High Holy Days force us to confront who we are and how we live and, in the process, to realize that our everyday actions have important implications for our community and the world around us.

It’s no wonder these days are viewed as the most significant of the Jewish calendar; their emphasis on self-awareness and empowerment can spark truly remarkable individual and social change.  This makes them not just Days of Awe, but also:

Days of Hopefulness.  What an extraordinary thing:  to be part of a tradition that tells us we have the ability, and the tools, to help heal a broken world. Judaism does not relegate the pursuit of social justice to an idyllic hereafter, instead demanding we make it the business of the here-and-now.  As the head of a nonprofit working to end hunger, I know the solutions we seek will not come easy.  But they will come.  And they start with us, today.  They start with us letting our elected representatives know that food insecurity and healthy eating are top priorities in this recession.  And they start with renewed volunteerism to help feed those in need.

Days of Commitment.  The High Holy Days are not a vacation from responsibility; they are, on the contrary, a call to greater accountability.  With each blast of the shofar, we hear the holiday message:  Personal growth is achievable.  Our ideal society is within reach.  But these things take motivation, hard work and a willingness to take the first step.  With commitment, we can, as President Obama has pledged, end childhood hunger in America by 2015.

Days of Opportunity.  As we examine our decisions and take stock of our lives, we have a rare chance to wipe the slate clean, rededicating ourselves to a rich and meaningful existence that integrates personal fulfillment and communal needs.  It’s a new beginning, filled with infinite promise.  As the holiday liturgy says, “Hayom Harat Olam” – Today is the day of the world’s creation.

With busy schedules and hectic lives, we so seldom have a second to breathe.  We run through our days barely noticing their passage, and eagerly anticipating tomorrow.  The New Year exaggerates this tendency, tempting us to look ahead and wonder what the coming months will bring.  But as my friend understood all those years ago, living in the future simply distracts us from what is right before our eyes:  the possibility that we can make this moment the very best one yet.

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Filed under Food For Thought, Hunger Advocacy, MAZON News

Go You Forth-Four Years After Hurricane Katrina

Go You Forth

A concert will be held at the Touro Synagogue on Oct 15,2009, followed by an authentic New Orleans Shabbaton on Oct 16-17.  The show will feature Neshama Carlebach and her band, the soulful Green Pastures Baptist Choir,  the one and only Ellis Marsalis (http://www.ellismarsalis.com) and other local musicians and artists. We hope to raise significant funds at this event and also ignite a national consciousness campaign that focuses on the rebuilding of this great American city, devastated four years ago by Hurricane Katrina.

Go You Forth will benefit the St. Bernard Project, run by an incredible and tireless group of people who have dedicated their lives to bringing people back to their homes after the storm.  It may shock you to know that there are still over 15,000 people homeless, living in trailers or in their own condemned properties, sometimes with several other families.  Many of these people have contracted health problems from inhaling the formaldehyde of these FEMA trailers that were intended to be occupied for only 6 months. Through the St. Bernard Project, building one home only costs $12-15,000.   Please click here and sign to be a part of this mission,  no gift is too large or too small.

http://www.stbernardproject.org/v158/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=382&Itemid

Imagine what it means to a family to come home after four years of being displaced .But a home needs sustenance as well and so we’ve also engaged MAZON: a Jewish Response to Hunger, www.Mazon.org to help in the healing process. This incredible organization creates channels to feed people all over the world, not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally. Offering desperately needed relief to families still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, MAZON made joint grants totaling over $1 million.  MAZON supports a wide variety of programs geared towards helping hurricane victims and their families pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and acquire the skills they needed to get back on their feet.

MAZON has funded nearly $500,000 to help support Katrina victims through non-profit organizations such as food banks, pantries, and advocacy groups that serve children, adults and seniors.  Examples of specific organizations include the Acadiana Outreach Center, Food Net (for the purchase of food), Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, the Houston Food Bank, and the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, among others.

Our goal is to fund the building of 30 houses, knowing that each completed house is a miracle, and to help MAZON continue in their mission to feed the hungry.  Even after October 15th, we hope to continue our efforts until every person in New Orleans has a way to get home; until all those who are wandering can receive the stability, sustenance and peace of mind they need to truly heal from the trauma they’ve endured.   It’s ambitious, but we know we can do it.

Another goal we hope to accomplish with this event: the revitalization of the local Jewish community. You may not know this, but one of the unfortunate effects of the hurricane was to drive out nearly half of the local Jews. Out of the 10,000 Jews who lived in New Orleans prior to 2006, only 6,000 remain.  Spirits are high in this amazing City and it would be our greatest joy to bring back the diverse and beautiful Jewish community of New Orleans through Go You Forth, inspiring singles, couples and families to move to this awesome (and affordable) city.

Friends, we are asking you to become a part of Go You Forth. There are so many ways to help:

  • Come down to New Orleans for the concert, Shabbaton and our special Sunday food delivery project
  • Give a donation to The Saint Bernard Project and Mazon
  • Mobilize your synagogue, school, community center or book group to sponsor the cost of building a house…or even a room.  If you can gather a group of people to build a home, or even just a bathroom or a kitchen, you would be breathing life into a community that so desperately needs our support.
  • Spread the word about our efforts

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

To make a contribution for this event visit www.mazon.org/donate-now. Please indicate that your donation is for “New Orleans.”

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Making the Grade

A MAZON donor was recently highlighted in The News-Gazette  newspaper of Champaign-Urbana, IL.

August 13, 2009

Making the Grade

“For his bar mitzvah – a coming-of-age ceremony for Jews – Saul Downie elected to give gifts instead of receive them and collected thousands of dollars for two charities in the process.

The Urbana Middle School student raised more than $3,000 for the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, requesting guests at his June ceremony contribute to the organization’s Back Pack Buddies Program (a joint effort with Junior League) in a note saying: “As a growing adolescent I know how much food I need (a lot), and as an athlete, I know the importance of eating right. Many kids are not as privileged as I am to be able to always open a fridge or cupboard and have something waiting for them to eat.”

With the same mission, Downie also raised more than $4,400 for Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a national organization that works to help feed people of all religions and backgrounds around the world.”

Many thanks to Saul!

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The Power of Interfaith Hunger Advocacy

Courtesy MAZON grantee Hunger Task Force (Milwaukee, WI - http://www.hungertaskforce.org/)

Courtesy MAZON grantee Hunger Task Force (Milwaukee - http://www.hungertaskforce.org/)

The following was written by H. Eric Schockman, Ph.D., MAZON’s President. He can be reached at eschockman@mazon.org.

I have just returned from keynoting a speech at a conference sponsored by the Wisconsin Council of Churches. It was held at a rustic retreat center on beautiful Lake Geneva in Williams Bay (about an hour from Milwaukee). The theme of the interfaith conference was “The Earth Speaks: Hunger, Our Spiritual Challenge”. My speech pertained to the need for people of faith to do more than provide ‘charity’ (as all our scriptures command us to do), but simultaneously move to do ‘justice’ (which indeed brings us into the realm of advocacy and public policy, and is also a keep commandment to right a broken world).

I was very impressed with the passion of these folks, the depth of their commitment to end hunger and the keen awareness to become the ‘voice-of-the-voiceless’ when it comes to ending hunger. They came from all over the state. They sang spiritual songs together, prayed for empowerment and were given intensive training on the role congregations can do in their communities. I was very impressed with their “study-action guide” they developed titled: Hunger on Our DoorstepWhat is amazing to me is to see how the power of faith can be unified for a common goal, and one that we all agree upon: that hunger is a scandal and its solution is one of political will.

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How can I help the multitudes of people in need?

Los Angeles is full of wealth & opportunity, yet I see people in need everyday. A shoeless man walks the Sunset Strip; a teenage runaway sits with his dog on Santa Monica’s Promenade; a veteran asks for money and food on the median in front of the gates of Bel Air; and countless faces push shopping carts on the outskirts of Downtown’s Skid Row.

These are the faces I don’t forget as I navigate our city’s congested streets. Their untold story lingers in my mind for miles and miles. I wonder where their family is and how they’ve ended up in their current situation. My mind always circles back to the same question:

How can I, one person, help the multitudes of people in need?

Last night I found part of the answer in a grocery store parking lot.  A mother and daughter (not dissimilar to any other pair walking in and out of the store) asked for help and I offered to buy them food. They didn’t ask for much, just bread and milk. I’m lucky to have extra money in my grocery budget so that I was able to help them in this small way.

I went home feeling as if I could have done more, and I will do more by donating to a cause that helps the people in my community. This is where MAZON and local organizations come into play- they have the expertise, resources and scope to help people beyond a few meals.

Reena Rexrode, Donor Services Coordinator at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

This blog post is part of Zemanta’s “Blogging For a Cause” campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.

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El Salvador Days 6 and 7 (March 15 and 16, 2009)

March 16, 2009 marked a day in history for the El Salvadorian people and we were able to be a part of it as we witnessed the nation’s presidential elections as international observers. At 5 a.m. we entered a polling place, a high school, in the southern part of San Salvador. In El Salvador, citizens not only vote by city/region but also by their last name. We were at the polling place with individuals with last names that begin with “M.” Approximately 45,000 were expected throughout the day. Although the polls didn’t open until 7 a.m. we witnessed the organization of each of the 92 voting areas. Four individuals (four from each party, dressed in non-party colors) began the process of putting up signs and lists to indicate where voters should vote. Additionally, they confirmed that the count of the ballots was correct and that they had enough materials for the day.

At 7 a.m. the polling place opened. The high school became filled with individuals, some in political party shirts, and others plain clothed. There were children with their parents, elderly, those who had experienced the war, those who wanted to be heard…etc. Voters in El Salvador approach the voting table and have their ID’s checked against the registry, and then they received a signed and sealed ballot. The ballot contains images of the flags of the two parties and in the voting booth; the voter is to place a “X” on the flag of the party they are voting for. After voting, they place their ballot in the ballot box, they sign their name on another registry and then dip their finger in ink that stays on the skin for about two days to avoid duplicate voting.

Watching the polls get set-up.

Watching the polls get set-up.

For 10 hours I watched as people voted. At the high school, the current President and his wife came to vote, as well as the current mayor of San Salvador. The polls were civilized throughout the day. At 5 p.m., the polls closed and the counting process began. Each table was responsible for counting the unused ballots and confirming the amount of people who voted at their table by checking both registries. Then the ballot box is opened and each ballot is counted. The ballot is unfolded and presented to the people around the table and the passed to the party representative based for whom the vote was for. Once the count was finalized, the party that won at the table chanted for their party. By 6:30 p.m. most of the tables completed their counting and the FMLN seemed to have had the lead. As we left the polling place and embarked on El Salvador’s roads, those who support FMLN took to the streets in celebration. Although it was not confirmed that the FMLN had officially won, people were optimistic.

As I write, FMLN has claimed victory, but the final vote won’t be finalized until sometime on Tuesday. It is time for great change in El Salvador.

This is my last day in El Salvador, I would like to thank the SHARE Foundation for organizing this experience for us. It is truly one trip that I will remember for a lifetime.

The MAZON delegation.

The MAZON delegation.

Thank you for reading. Adios!

Heather Wolfson

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Filed under International Relief, MAZON Grantees, Site Visits, Travel

El Salvador Days 4 and 5 (March 13 and 14, 2009)

The past day and half has been incredible. On Friday morning we made the two-hour drive to Chalatenago in the northern part of the country.  We met with the leaders form the community of Guarjila to discuss their partnership with SHARE as the CCR, a grassrooots board of leaders in the neighboring communities.  Many of the people living in the north were originally refugees who were in Mesa Grande refugee camp about 12 miles inside Honduras.  The first group left the camp 22 years ago and entered back into El Salvador with nothing.  They had plastic to lie on the ground and a few blankets.  Today, the region has homes, restaurants and roads.

The CCR addresses health, education and building organization within the region.  The CCR represents 110 communities in 22 municipalities.  The CCR works side-by-side with the municipalities to develop a united front.  The CCR leaders shared with us two of their latest concerns:  1.  The question of mining for gold in the region; and 2.  The mega-highway project that would ultimately connect all of Central America.  The Pacific Rim Company recently came to El Salvador looking for areas to mine.  The CCR and many residents don’t believe mining is possible.   According to the CCR, the company would only leave 1% of their profit in the country.  Many of the jobs mining would produce would also come from other countries, therefore it will not help to stimulate the economy.  Additionally, the region sits along the Lempa River that goes from the north to the south of the country.  The CCR is concerned that first, there is not enough water to successfully do the mining and secondly, they are concerned about contamination. As they said, before gold, they would rather have water.

Although mining is their first concern, the mega-freeway may also impact the region.  First, many people will be displaced by the building of the freeway and as such will have to re-create their lives elsewhere.  Furthermore, many hotels and restaurants have taken interest in developing the areas off of the freeway.  As with the mining, there is a concern that the money would not come back into the community.

Evely Laser Shlensky, a long-time MAZON board member is traveling with us.  She visited Honduras 22 years ago on an interfaith mission to the Mesa Grande camp.  She accompanied the first group to the border.  Jose Angel Serrano, a CCR member, remembered Evely joining refugees on the buses.  Over lunch, Evely and Jose recounted the “Exodus” over two decades ago.

Evely & Jose

Evely & Jose

Friday evening, we joined the Jewish community for Shabbat services.  The community warmly embraced us.  Additionally, Knesset member Ron Cohen was at services to address the community.  He too is in El Salvador as an international observer.  The service was traditional but you could feel the ruach (spirit) throughout the sanctuary.  Members of the community welcomed us into their homes for a traditional Shabbat meal.  El Salvador had a larger Jewish community prior to the war, today there are only about 50 families, but they are loyal to Judaism and sustaining their community.

Saturday morning I had the opportunity to visit the Divina Providencia, the home of Monsenor Romero and the site of his assassination.  Romero was for the people.  He became Archbishop in 1977 and decided to live at the Divina with the sisters in a very small room.  He didn’t want anything elaborate as he wanted to live like the people of El Salvador.  He was outspoken and cared about the poor.  He knew the risk of uniting with the poor and pursuing social justice, but he knew that this was what he was meant to do.  On March 24, 1980, Monsenor Romero was assassinated.  Today, individuals are still trying to pursue justice on behalf of Romero.

Saturday afternoon will be filled with formal election training.  Sunday we will be at our polling place at 5 a.m. to begin election observations.  The polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. we will then witness the counting of the ballots at the polling place.  Due to our long day, I will most likely write Monday to debrief about the election.

Until next time…

Heather Wolfson

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Filed under International Relief, MAZON Grantees, Site Visits, Travel