Tag Archives: holiday

Introducing MAZON’s New Site A.C.T.: End Hunger & iPhone App!

A.C.T.: End HungerTo end hunger, we must A.C.T. – Achieve Change Together.

Today, MAZON proudly launches our year-end campaign A.C.T.: End Hunger (http://actendhunger.org). A.C.T. reflects our core beliefs: that we can achieve a world without hunger, we can change lives, and we can work together to increase our impact. Join over 50,000 annual donors and help us raise $3 million in 3 months for the fight against hunger.

We’ve been listening to your suggestions & requests, and brought them to A.C.T.: End Hunger —

  • An easy-to-assemble MAZON tzedakah box for religious schools, kids & families. Print, fold, decorate, and send us pics of your mitzvah masterpiece! We’ll share your creations on our Flickr feed and blog!
  • Inform friends and family about ending hunger, and why it’s important to you. Email the site to a friend, tweet a link, or share it on Facebook, MySpace and many other social networking sites.
  • Our most exciting project is MAZON’s pioneering iPhone App. Stay involved wherever you go, with instant access to MAZON news, advocacy alerts, local volunteer opportunities & hunger facts. There’s also a giving calculator & easy donation link, so you can give back whenever you break bread. Available now at the App Store!
  • Stay tuned for even more exciting developments!

Need to get a head start on Thanksgiving and holiday greetings? Use MAZON’s new and improved online donation system to send tribute cards or e-cards simply and quickly to your friends and family. Tribute requests received by this Friday, November 20th at noon PST will be sent before Thanksgiving.

With our new donation system, make a one-time gift as a guest, or use your existing MAZON.org log-in to access your new myMAZON account. More features are being developed for myMAZON to make giving even easier! Soon, you’ll have instant access to your entire gift history, and create fundraising pages for family & friends to honor you at important life events.

We can Achieve Change Together! We can end hunger in our lifetime!

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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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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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A New Year: Is There Hope For The Darfuri People, For Us?

"Women on Outskirts of Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

"Women on Outskirts of Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

No one says it…but the uneasy feeling was palpable.  I  could see the questions in their eyes:  Why are you going to spend Rosh Hashanah in Darfuri refugee camps in Eastern Chad?  Why would a rabbi welcome the Jewish New Year in a place where there are no Jews?  Do you really think going will make a difference?   I understand these questions.  I only regret that they are rarely asked aloud.  I have had lots of time to reflect on these questions on this three day journey to a place that is far more distant from San Francisco than the days of travel to get here.

I am here in Eastern Chad, this epicenter of human suffering.  I am here with fellow human beings, reminding them that we do care and we have not forgotten.  I am here listening to their stories and letting them know that I will bring their stories home.  I am here because our worlds are inextricably linked.

I first visited here in 2004 and since then I have returned several times.  The Chadian people are some of the poorest people on the planet.  Here, 275,000 Darfuri refugees have found a fragile safe haven in UN tents.  These shelters provide minimal protection from the harsh conditions of sub-Saharan Africa and not much more from the storms of conflict.  The plight of the Darfuri people – the nearly three million displaced from their homes and the four hundred thousand dead – has been well documented.  Our advocacy and diplomacy has had some impact on decelerating this genocide, now in its seventh year.   Our humanitarian aid has saved lives.  Still, the situation on the ground remains dismal.

"Children Playing in Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

"Children Playing in Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

Rosh Hashanah is a holiday that celebrates renewal and creation.  It implores us to care for each other and to care for this planet.  It reminds us that as long as there is life there is hope.  What better place to welcome in the New Year than with the victims of man’s brutality to man.  Although we have yet to turn our powerful prayers into a world that is just and humane, I have hope—and hope is all these refugees have.  It is their lifeblood.

As I sit here with new friends and refugees whom I have known for years, I marvel at their ability to survive. The soul of a refugee camp resides in the courageous people who dwell within it. The silent screams that echo through the camp are those of a people who are asking if the world still cares.  My presence, it could be any of us, conveys that we do care and we are doing our best to restore their lives.

These refugees are the victims of horrific events: genocide, climate change, lack of resources and a world that is confused about its humanitarian priorities. It is no longer possible to separate these problems; real solutions will only come when we think and act in integrated ways. Ways which allow people to live with inalienable rights – to food, shelter, potable water and the absence of violence in their day to day lives.

There is currently much discussion about the role of the US and what international pressure should be applied to change the situation.  This work is essential and provides hope for long term solutions.    Immediate humanitarian needs, however, cannot be overlooked.  My friend Adam cannot wait another year for drinkable water; his daughters cannot wait another day for a life without the constant threat of rape; the elderly and the infants cannot survive another winter without shelter from the torrential desert rain.  Where will the aid come from unless we help to provide it?

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

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

Is my trip making a difference?  I see a difference in the smiles of the children. I feel it when I hold a refugees hand.  I witness it when I visit the aid clinics. Perhaps the difference isn’t quantifiable, but it is profoundly apparent to me.

Soon I will be returning home renewed and filled with hope for the New Year, thanks to the brave spirit of the Darfuri people. Experiencing the horrific conditions of their day to day lives brings an indescribable perspective to my own challenges and reminds me that my life will never be full until their suffering is over.

Our humanity is defined by our actions—our ability to show compassion, to empathize with others, and to do something constructive—and opportunities to help others are present each and every day.  For us, remembering the Darfuri people is a measure of our conscience and humanity. For them, it is their hope for survival. That is why I have returned to Chad.

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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Advocacy is Easy

[The following appeared earlier this week as a guest blog on #twitterforfood, a monthly event where Twitter users skip a meal to draw attention to stopping global hunger. For more information, read our thoughts here and visit TwitterForFood.com. For those fasting in observance of Tisha B’Av, we suggest acting on #twitterforfood today instead of August 1, as multiple fasts in one week may be harmful to your health.]

You Tweet for Food every month. You click The Hunger Site every day. You play Free Rice on your lunch break. You befriend national organizations like Feeding America & MAZON on Facebook and follow local groups as often as they post.

Whether you’ve done any of these things, all of them, or just followed the links for the first time, thank you for taking a stand against hunger. With over a billion people suffering from hunger worldwide, there’s never too little you can do to make an impact. Unfortunately, there’s much more that still needs to be done.

At MAZON, we ask that our grantees and partner organizations join us in anti-hunger advocacy and education. This way, we can ensure that everyone will be fed today, tomorrow AND the day after that. This year, amidst incredible need and opportunities for change, we asked our donors to heed the call, involve their communities, and inform their legislatures to support Federal Summer Food Services. That sounds like a tall order, but you can greatly increase your impact, right now, without even leaving your computer.

Why do you Twitter For Food? Take as long as you need to think of an answer. Now pop open a phone, chat window, or email and say hello to a friend. When they ask what you’ve been up to, give them that answer. Ask if they would be interested in joining in next month. Congratulations! You’re now an anti-hunger advocate.

Advocacy is easy. It looks tricky, but all it means is speaking up for what you believe in. Whether you chat with family over dinner, or address the community at a synagogue/church/City Council meeting; whether you cite sweeping studies, or offer a personal story; whether you type 140 characters or 140 pages, it’s advocacy. If your passion is real, and your words are true – it’s advocacy.

That being said, unless your relatives are Senators, you’ll need to write local or national representatives to get the ball rolling on major changes. To find your local legislator, search via Google or a website like Project Vote Smart.

  • First, find a specific bill that calls to you. Saying you support ending global hunger is fantastic, but most legislators would feel just as overwhelmed by that charge as you or I.
  • Keep an eye on Twitter feeds, or check our advocacy alert page & blog for action updates. You’ll want to know the bill’s name, number (H.R.__ for the House of Representatives or S.__ for the Senate) & sponsor(s).
  • Don’t assume the legislator & their staff know the ins & outs of every bill – provide a brief description as you understand it.
  • Imagine you’re sending the same letter to a family member – be clear, concise & respectful (particularly if your legislator disagrees with you regarding the issue).

For an example, let’s use S.934, The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2009, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin. I might say the following…

Dear Senator_______________________:

I am writing to seek your support of S.934, The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2009, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin. The Act amends The Child Nutrition Act of 1966 to improve the nutrition and health of schoolchildren by updating the national school nutrition standards for foods and beverages sold outside of school meals. Since the 1970’s, nutritional science has changed drastically, and obesity rates have tripled amongst schoolchildren aged 6-19. Meals provided through the School Lunch & School Breakfast Programs must meet science-based nutrition standards, but foods sold outside these programs currently do not. Updating these nutrition standards for all foods ensures that all schoolchildren who purchase food through school can eat healthy and lower their risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease & other health conditions.

Sincerely,

____________________

You can advocate via mail, e-mail, or even the phone. Increase your impact! Let’s stop hunger together!

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Purim

Purim is my favorite holiday, and not just for the spinning graggers & delicious hamantashen. The megillah is an inspiring story of Jewish unity amidst insurmountable struggle. When the wicked Haman threatens brave Mordechai, he turns his wrath not only against him, but the entire Jewish population. In response, noble Queen Esther fasts for three days before approaching King Ahasuerus. Every Jew in the region joins her, this time not because of an oppressor’s edict but for a show of great communal strength. For the final chapters of the megillah (the part they don’t teach you in Hebrew school), when King Ahasuerus decrees the Jews can take up arms against their Persian attackers, it’s again our communal strength that enables a swift, sound victory.

The tradition most closely associated with Purim is the masquerade. Most of this is joyful, celebrating Queen Esther’s disguise before the king. But our great foe Haman still shrouds himself as well, this time not as an evil vizier, but under the guise of global hunger, filthy water & inadequate healthcare. This new Haman threatens not only the Jewish community, but also millions from all faiths & nations, living in poverty worldwide. 

Several elements of the Purim celebration embrace a tradition of advocacy. When we send mishloach manot baskets, we proclaim our awareness of the importance of food and nutrition in the lives of our loved ones. Many of MAZON’s donors & partners augment this gesture by contributing in honor of their mishloach manot recipients, declaring their commitment to ending local, national, and global hunger. Others make seasonal donations, fulfilling another Purim tradition of matanot la’evyonim, gifts for the poor. As we retell the story of Esther every year, we cannot merely listen; we must relive the story through to our victory. Having proven our strength at defeating Haman’s past incarnation, we must stay united and vanquish his modern form.

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Yom Kippur D’Var Torah

by Rabbi Rachel Cowan
Director, Institute for Jewish Spirituality

Cry Aloud, kra b’garon – from the throat. Hold nothing back, Shout as loud as the Shofar. Shma Israel Wake up.

God puts these words in Isaiah’s mouth. He cried out to his people – the Israelites who were doing what we do today – hurting each other, living small lives. Caught up in greed, deceit, pettiness. Indifferent to suffering. Settling for meaningless religious rituals.

Isaiah shouts out to us today: as Marcelo said last night – hevre, this is serious!! Leave your life’s story – the world according to me – for a minute. Look out – a world of suffering is at your doorstep!! A world in need of healing. Act now. Do something!!

Our tradition is wise – it tells us that to really hear Isaiah we have to fast too. We take his teaching into our bodies – to shock us out of normal routines, to experience suffering. . Each year we fast, and when we get hungry, light-headed, tired – we try to imagine how horrible life is for the hundreds of millions of people who are hungry all the time. Our eyes blink open, but, in my experience at least, the thought is fleeting, and then we have our break-fast. And they don’t.

So how can we – mostly middle or upper middle class folks – come closer to identifying with that hunger? Between Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur, I was privileged to take part in the Food Stamp Challenge, a national anti-poverty initiative. Participants live for a week on the average food stamp budget: $1.00 per meal per person, $3.00 a day. $21 a week. The goal of the Challenge is to raise consciousness about the reality of poverty and hunger in this country, and to focus attention on the Farm bill, currently being debated, which authorizes expenditures on food stamps. 21 million Americans depend on food stamps to feed their families. And today there are 500,000 people in New York City who are currently eligible, but do not have, or do not know how to find, access to food stamps.

The Jewish Council on Public Affairs chose to call for Jewish participation in this initiative during the Yamim Noraim. Rabbis and other leaders from more than 20 communities took part. Our entire food budget last week was $21. It sounds trivial, but he latte I buy every morning to ease me into the work day costs more than the budget for a whole day.

I said privilege – a bizarre word when I am talking about a national shame. But participating gave me an experience I would never have created for myself or by myself. What I experienced changed my consciousness way more than all the articles I have read. This was not a diet – though I did lose weight – but a commitment to learn about the lives of others through our bodies. I still can not fully imagine how it would be to live on this budget day to day, week by week, month by month. But I have a clue. And it is terrible!

At first it seemed interesting. How ingenious can I be? But when the spaghettis sauce that was the vegetable and flavor for my third meal was accidentally burned and I had to eat it anyway because there was nothing else, it stopped being an adventure.

Then it became hard. I was hungry most of the time. With that budget you eat mostly beans, lentils, rice, pasta, cereal, peanut butter, bananas, eggs. A little lettuce, peas. A half an apple. Breakfast: a bowl of cereal with half a banana, lunch – a tuna fish sandwich with i/3 a can of tune and a few cucumber slices, and a carrot; dinner – black bean soup, eggs and potatoes, or pasta with tomato sauce and a carrot. Hungry in between. It is not enough money! How would I cope if I had little kids, like my grandchildren, who always wanted me to buy them something they saw on TV?

It was boring and exhausting. I soon lost energy for creativity. And I was still charged up from Rosh Hashanah meals, and counting to the days til the end of the challenge. A fiend of mine settled for $1 McDonalds hamburgers.

It was frightening. No organic foods, so few fruits and vegetables. no vitamins. And being mostly a vegetarian, I did not miss meat – a source of important protein for children. What if suddenly something terrible happened and I had to live this way?

It was astonishing to see how much I completely take for granted about buying and eating food. My share of the costs of yesterdays prefast-meal was four days worth of food stamps. I don’t tear out coupons, buy second day foods, do comparative shopping. To get by on food stamps you have to do that. But how do you do that when you work long hours and have kids? I really got it that food pantries and lunch programs – like the one that BJ has run for years – make a huge difference. By supplementing food stamps they make it possible for people to make it through the month.

It was deeply depressing to have a glimmer of the experience that 20 million people have every day, and to know in my body something of what they feel every day.

It was activating – provoked a response from the gut, not just the head. How can we – the wealthiest country in the world allow these conditions? How can we let this happen?

On the level of tzedakah – I decided to make monthly pledge to Mazon – at least the months equivalent of the food stamps. Mazon funds food pantries, soup kitchens and great advocacy organizations and is becoming a leader in the fight against hunger in this country and in the world. I wrote a bigger check to the West Side Food Pantry. I have deeper appreciation of BJ’s lunch program – offering both food and dignity – and that influenced my Kol Nidre pledge.

But it is the level of advocacy that will make the big difference. A larger budget for food stamps – which will be a huge fight in itself, is one step. But the only true remedy is a living wage. So I will look for ways to get involved in those fights.

My son said to me at the beginning – “oh Mom, why are you doing this, you already know and care?” But I know differently now, I care differently. I invite you to try this experience for yourselves, and see what you learn.

And finally, it was a spiritual experience – an experience forging deep empathy. Heschel asks, ‘what does the desecration of human bodies and human souls do to the soul of the universe, to God’s soul?’ He calls for radical empathy with others, with God. With such empathy, seeing that our individual actions are linked to the actions of every other being, that our soul is linked to the soul of the universe, we are moved to be and to act in ways that can truly, deeply heal the wounds of people and the wounds of earth.

Isaiah makes the same connection. Our spiritual well being depends on empathy, on action. Look at this magnificent paragraph on page 501:

If you remove from your midst the yoke of oppression, the finger of scorn and the tongue of malice, if you put yourself out for the hungry and relieve the wretched, then shall your light shine in the darkness, and your gloom shall be as noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually. God will refresh you in dry places, renewing your strength. And you shall be like a watered garden, like a never—failing spring.”

When our fast is the fast that God desires – the acts of justice – then we can call for help for ourselves and God will say “Hineni”.

Hatimah tova

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