What This Rosh Hashanah Poem Means in Today’s America

Who will live and who will die?

Who by fire and who by water?

Who by wildfire, and who by hurricane?

…Who by the repeal of their health care, and who by the unjust pricing of their lifesaving medicines? 

The questions that we ask on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not theoretical. The High Holy Day liturgical poem “Unetane Tokef” is one of our toughest pieces of liturgy. The answer that it gives to these essential existential questions is, “teshuvah — repentance; tefillah — prayer, and tzedakah — acts of righteousness can avert the severity of the decree.”

Can individual acts of piety save us from earthquakes, car accidents, persecution? Will God give you a cookie if you do your homework? We know that a lot of very good people suffer every day and that many people who do horrible things prosper. It’s clearer than ever these days.

We’re trained by our highly individualistic American culture to regard this prayer as an individual exhortation to shift our individual fates. And yet — maybe that’s not what’s going on.

Rather, perhaps “Unetane Tokef” is a collective imperative. The prayer is written more or less in the third person, with some second-person address to God. And when it’s written in the first person, it’s in the plural, as is much Jewish liturgy. Not I. We.

What if this wasn’t about my own personal repentance as it affects my own specific fate? What if our repentance as a society (which demands that each individual do his or her part) is the thing that affects our collective fate Each of our culpability, each of our roles, each of our actions for good or for bad is tied inextricably with the actions of our community, with all Jews, with all people.

It’s upon each of us, individually, to take responsibility for our role in everyone’s political, economic, environmental and social well-being — and to not pass the theological buck to a deity who has done nothing if not give us the power of free will.

Free will: the power to heal or to hurt, to push for climate accords or to push for corporate interests, to enter a war or to refrain from entering war, to build gas chambers, to dismantle them — or to stand idly by and do nothing.

What if the reason that a person develops cancer is not that he or she personally did something wrong, but because we as a nation and a globe have poisoned our air, our water and our food with toxic chemicals and negligence?

What if the reason a person was hit harder by the hurricane is because that person’s city invested more infrastructure in neighborhoods wealthier than their own? What if the reason that they don’t survive their illness is because senators took away their health care — because we, in a fit of resistance fatigue, stopped calling? Didn’t make it out to yet another town hall?

Our work can impact the severity with which evil besets us all.

We need teshuvah — literally, “returning” — to face the reality of who we are, to see how far we have strayed from where we need to be in relationship to others, to ourselves and to the transcendent. We need tefillah, prayer, to remember that we are on this earth to serve, not to please ourselves, and to connect to the ever-flowing source of the Holy.

We need tzedakah, acts of righteousness, to enact, in part, this service in the world.

The deeper we get into prayer, returning and righteousness, the more we begin to understand that our every action is — rather than being isolated and individual — intertwined with the well-being of our culture as a whole.

*A version of this article was originally published in The Forward on September 18, 2017.

What We Witnessed At The Border

Every morning during the month of Elul, we are instructed to blow the shofar to awaken our slumbering soul. Rabbi Alan Lew describes the shofar as “an ancient alarm–it was something that we blew at a really desperate, urgent time.”
Right now we face an urgent time that demands that we wake up, take notice and work toward justice.

Last week, Avodah’s Executive Director Cheryl Cook and Deputy Director Steve Bocknek represented Avodah as part of a delegation of 17 national Jewish organizations to the US/Mexico border to witness the experiences of immigrants and asylum seekers and to help identify how the Jewish community can meaningfully respond. We met with men, women and children seeking asylum in the United States, those who were recently deported to Tijuana, as well as refugee resettlement staff, asylum attorneys, representatives of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Consul General of Mexico. Jewish tradition teaches us the importance of bearing witness and after 20 years of direct service work, we know how important it is to be proximate to the issues we hope to impact and the people we are trying to empower.

Avodah Executive Director Cheryl Cook speaks to the #JewsAtTheBorder contingent after visiting a children’s shelter.

Fleeing Violence, Persecution and Poverty

Violence, extreme poverty and persecution in neighboring countries have created levels of desperation that are hard to fathom. In Tijuana, we visited Instituto Madre Asunta, A.C., a shelter for women and children, where many had fled rape, the most brutal forms of gang violence, and extreme poverty. They are waiting, hoping to claim asylum in the United States so they can have a better life. We saw women sitting quietly, while their kids played in the small courtyard, or napped in their laps. Sister Adelia Contini, who directs the shelter, estimates people now wait between three and four weeks before they can apply for asylum. Their lives hang in limbo as they wait.

At Casa del Migrante, a neighboring men’s shelter, we met with director Father Pat Murphy. He told us that in the past, the men would typically spend a few nights at the shelter while on their way north as farmworkers. Now, they often spend weeks or up to 11 months.

Cheryl Cook speaks with P., an immigrant who was recently detained and deported to Tijuana.Upon entering the men’s shelter, our group recognized two young men, P. and F., sitting on a bench. Just a day earlier, the pair had been in San Diego for a mass “Operation Streamline” hearing, a joint DHS/DOJ zero-tolerance initiative to border crossing that began in 2005. It mandates that nearly all undocumented immigrants crossing the Southern border be prosecuted through the federal criminal justice system in group hearings. Up to 70 people can be tried at the same time. Some cases are handled in a matter of hours, from arraignment to sentencing to deportation. Due to the rapid processing, those who should be able to request asylum, are often not given the opportunity to do so and may have to serve a prison term, despite possible eligibility for legal protections.

P. (pictured right), 34, agreed to tell us his story. He is married and the father of four. At home, he was unable to make enough money to support his family. “My wish was to cross, get a job, and send money home. I wanted to give my children a better future.” When asked if he would try to cross into the U.S. again, P. broke down crying, explaining that he wouldn’t; his son had begged him not to. That said, he wasn’t sure what he’d do next. The second man, F., 24, commented that it was exceedingly difficult being detained in a cold holding cell with bright lights on at all times. The men are fed just one meal a day and given inadequate water, while shackled to 18 others. “I didn’t do anything violent, like a criminal. Why did I have to be chained?” F. asked.
Both P. and F. were deported at the end of their immigration process. Father Pat Murphy said, “deportation is like a near-death experience.”

The Jewish Contingent visiting a children's detention center. Pictured, a child hands a cookie to one of the contingent members.Children Seeking Asylum

In San Diego, we visited a children’s shelter for unaccompanied minors. Most of these children, ages 6-17, were sent to the US alone, fleeing horrific violence, and brought through the border by smugglers.They were arrested at the border and sent to holding cells, until eventually being brought to the shelter, run by the not for profit Southwest Key.
They arrive scared and traumatized by what they’ve left, but also by the experience of being arrested and sitting in what is essentially a jail cell. It was described that they receive inadequate blankets, food and water. The children are restricted to just two 15-minute phone calls per week.
There are 12,000 children housed in shelters across the United States as they apply for asylum, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. While many of the children have family in the US who would care for them, new rules that require fingerprints be sent to the Department of Homeland Security, deter relatives from stepping in out of fear they that they and the children will be deported. The children can be placed in foster homes and we were told there is a great need for more foster families.
While it is clear that the staff at these centers care deeply, the individuals are nonetheless depleted, hungry and experiencing terrible trauma.
Pictured above: a young girl visits with members of the #JewsAtTheBorder contingent during a visit to a women and children’s shelter in Tijuana. Photo by Jennifer Liseo/ADL.

Our Pledge in 5779

We went to the border to witness our immigration policies in action, and came away understanding more deeply the brokenness of the system, and the way it dehumanizes people and families. While policies like family separation have made recent headlines, our immigration policies have been in need of repair for many years and we must all pull together to solve it.
For 20 years, Avodah has been on the frontlines of these issues. Our Corps Members (pictured right) are serving at nonprofits for immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, including HIAS, NIJC, CAIR, CASA, Sanctuary for Families, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) and more. We will continue to partner with these and other organizations, to train the next generation of Jewish leaders to work for social change.

As Rosh HaShanah approaches, we are called upon to reflect on this past year and take stock of our impact. As we welcome in year 5779, we will not forget the people sitting on both sides of our border. We will pledge to speak up, stand up and find new ways to take action to play a role in repairing years of broken immigration policies and inhumane treatment.

5 Things You Can Do:

  1. Advocate. Call your Members of Congress to tell them you oppose the separation of asylum-seeking families and the practice of family detention.
  2. Take action and sign on to this letter from our partners at HIAS to tell your representatives to protect asylum seekers.
  3. Support Avodah’s partner organizations working on immigration such as HIAS,NIJC, CAIR, and CASASanctuary for Families and New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG).
  4. Vote. Primary elections are taking place across the country. Check your election guides here.
  5. If you are a Spanish-speaking attorney or legal assistance volunteer, check with our partner organizations above to see if your skills can be of assistance.

 

 

Avodah Heads to US-Mexico Border to Address Immigration Crisis

Avodah staff and friends stand at a protest with signs that read "Welcome the Stranger."On Tuesday, Avodah’s Executive Director Cheryl Cook and Deputy Director Steve Bocknek will arrive at the US/Mexican border with a cohort of leaders from Jewish organizations, organized by HIAS and the ADL, to bear witness firsthand to the human suffering taking place in our broken immigration system.

Avodah’s executive leadership will visit migrant shelters, meet with American and Mexican government officials and hear first-hand from asylum seekers at the border in San Diego and Tijuana.

With this visit, Avodah is standing united with Jewish organizations to call for moral and humane immigration policies. Unfortunately, as Jews, we are well aware of the consequences of racist and xenophobic immigration policies. It wasn’t long ago when many of our own family members were denied safe refuge in the United States. There are many instances over the course of American history when bigoted policies resulted in shameful discrimination and abuse — whether it be slavery, immigration quotas, or Japanese internment camps. Many of us would like to believe we would have spoken out and stood up against those policies. Now is the time to be on the right side of history and say never again will bigotry and xenophobia be our rule of law.

This visit builds on the work Avodah does every day, supporting our partners in the front lines of immigration and Avodah Executive Director Cheryl Cook stands with a nun at a protest in support of immigrants with a sign that reads "Justice is a Jewish Value."refugee work. Just a few weeks ago, Avodah’s Rabbi-in-Residence Danya Ruttenberg spent the day at a federal detention center with Avodah’s placement the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), where three of our Corps Members worked this year. There, she met with 30 individuals, many of whom were denied asylum despite having a legitimate claim and others who had their lawful permanent resident status stripped for unjust reasons. Others had agreed to be deported and were nonetheless still trapped in detention.

“Each one of the people I met that day is created in God’s image, as holy as all of us. For daring to want to live here, for seeking the safety to which all people are entitled, they are now under state control. We as a country must do better.  And I’m proud that Avodah partners with the organizations leading the way,” Rabbi Ruttenberg said.

In visiting the border this week, we call for a united and humane end to these unjust practices.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Follow along with the Jewish Leadership Border Mission on social media via the hashtag #JewsAtTheBorder.
  2. Take action and sign on to this letter from our partners at HIAS to tell your representatives to protect asylum seekers.
  3. Support Avodah’s partner organizations working on immigration such as HIAS, NIJC, CAIR, and CASA, Sanctuary for Families and New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), where our Corps Members work directly with immigrants and their families.
  4. Vote. Primary elections are taking place across the country. Check your election guides here.

Join Avodah at a #FamiliesBelongTogether Rally Near You

Families Belong Together BannerTomorrow, on Saturday, June 30th, thousands, including many in our Avodah community will take to the streets for #FamiliesBelongTogether rallies across America.
We’re raising our voices to oppose the recent separation of 2,342 immigrant children from their parents, an executive order that will lead to further detention of families, and recent immigration laws that harm vulnerable people. Our Avodah community will be marching in New York, DC, Chicago, New Orleans, and in cities across the country. If it is within your Shabbat practice and you wish to join us on this national day of action, please keep an eye out for updates and meeting locations on our Facebook and social media pages.
Unfortunately, Jewish history taught us what happens when those fleeing violence are turned away at our borders. Unjust immigration policies are not new to America’s history. We’ve seen the effects of forced government family separation through our history of slavery, Japanese internment camps, roundups of Native American people, and more. We must not repeat the wrongs of our past. We will march tomorrowSaturday, June 30th, to demand that our leaders restore the status of asylum seekers and immigrants who are running from violence, persecution, and other horrific circumstances. We must act to stop indefinite detention, immigration bans, and move toward real immigration reform.
Please join us! Follow our Facebook page for meeting points and updates on this national day of action. You can also download and print an Avodah demonstration sign here to bring to a rally near you. If you have other Avodah materials, such as a T-shirt, tote bag, or pin, please bring them to your local rallies so that we mCongressoer show our Jewish solidarity with immigrant families.

March with a Jewish Contingent at a #FamiliesBelongTogther Rally Near You

♦NYC
Jewish Contingent
When: June 30th, 9:30am
Location: South side of Collect Pond Park (Leonard Street between Centre and Lafayette Streets).
Info: Begin at Foley Square and march across the Brooklyn Bridge to Rally at Cadman Plaza.The lead banner will say “Jewish Communities Standing For Justice” with no organizational identification.
♦Chicago
Shabbat at Families Belong Together Chicago
When: June 30th, 9:15am
Location: West side of the fountain at Daley Plaza
Info: An inclusive, participatory, song-filled service before the rally. March begins at 11amat the Richard J. Daley Center. RSVP here.
♦DC:
Jewish Meetup
When: June 30th, 9:30AM
Location: AFL-CIO (on 16th St between H & I, 815 16th St NW)
Info: Jewish meet up prior to the action. Organizers are asking attendees to wear white.Click here to join.
March with The RAC
When: June 30th, 10am
Location: Franklin Square on the corner of 14th and I St NW
Info: Rally organizers are encouraging everyone to wear white to make a visual statement of love and solidarity.
♦New Orleans:
March with Avodah and Congresso
When: June 30th, 12pm
Location: Congo Square
Info: Demand an end to family separation, an end to ICE an end to detention. If you’d like to march with other Avodah community members, reach out to [email protected].
♦San Diego
#FreeOurFuture
When: July 2, 8AM
Location: Chicano Park
Info: Join the Jewish delegation in an action with the advocacy group Mijente to speak out against the prosecution of immigrants there. Click here to join.
Find a rally near you here.

#FamiliesBelongTogether Demonstration Signs

Protest sign that reads: Families Belong Together/Familias Unidas No DivididasOn Saturday, June 30th, thousands, including many in our Avodah community will take to the streets for #FamiliesBelongTogether rallies in cities across America. We’re raising our voices to oppose the recent separation of 2,342 immigrant children from their parents, an executive order that will lead to the further detention of immigrant families, and recent immigration laws that harm families. Our Avodah community will be marching in New York, DC, Chicago, New Orleans, and in cities across the country. If it is within your Shabbat practice and you wish to join us on this national day of action, please keep an eye out for updates and meeting locations on our Facebook and social media pages. Click the download links below to view and print a demonstration sign to bring to a rally in a city near you.

 

 

 

Download a Demonstration Sign:

Families Belong Together/Familias Unidas No Divididas

Jews Against Bigotry

Jews Against Xenophobia

Justice is a Jewish Value

Families Belong Together

Welcome The Stranger

Immigrants Are Welcome Here

 

‘No Muslim Ban Ever’ – Avodah Stands Against Bigotry After Supreme Court Travel Ban Decision

Avodah signs at a protest against the Muslim travel ban in New York City on June 26, 2018

As you may know, today the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s Muslim Ban. This discriminatory executive order violates our core values as Jews: standing by refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants.

Unfortunately, as Jews, we are well aware of the consequences of racist and xenophobic immigration policies. It wasn’t long ago when many of our own family members were denied safe refuge in the United States. There are many instances over the course of American history when bigoted policies resulted in shameful discrimination and abuse — whether it be slavery, immigration quotas, or Japanese internment camps. Many of us would like to believe we would have spoken out and stood up against those policies. Now is the time to be on the right side of history and say never again will bigotry and xenophobia be our rule of law.

At 6 p.m. in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan, we will stand with our Jewish and Muslim brothers, sisters, and neighbors to say #NoMuslimBanEver. Join us and please wear your Avodah shirts, bags, and other items to show our solidarity. You can also download an Avodah sign to bring to the rally. We hope to see you tonight.

Download an Avodah Demonstration Sign:

Justice is a Jewish Value

Jews Against Bigotry

Jews Against Xenophobia

Liberty and Justice for All

 

 

Avodah Named One of Chicago’s Top 20 Innovative Jewish Organizations in Annual Slingshot Guide

Avodah Named One of Chicago’s Top 20  Innovative Jewish Organizations

Thirteenth  Annual Slingshot  Guide Highlights the  Best of the Thriving Jewish  Nonprofit World

CHICAGO, NEW YORK – Avodah has been named one of Chicago’s top 20 innovative Jewish organizations in the 13th annual Slingshot Guide. The Guide has become a go-to resource for volunteers, activists, and donors looking for new opportunities and projects that, through their innovative nature, will ensure the  Jewish community remains relevant and thriving. Slingshot 2018 was released today.

Selected  from among  hundreds of finalists  reviewed by over 100 individuals  with expertise in grant-making and  Jewish communal life, the Guide said Avodah is “achieving both a shift in the way the American Jewish community engages in the fight against poverty and how the community engages with service, and it’s doing it big.”

Organizations included in this year’s Guide were evaluated on their innovative approach,  the impact they have in their work, the leadership they have in their sector, and their effectiveness at achieving results. Avodah is proud to be among the 20 organizations honored for meeting those standards.  

Avodah and the organizations included in the Guide are driving the future of Jewish life and engagement by motivating new audiences to participate in their work and responding to the needs of individuals and communities – both within and beyond the Jewish community – as never before.

“Avodah is so proud to be selected in this year’s Slingshot Guide and thrilled to be part of the amazing cohort of the hundreds of innovative Jewish organizations who are driving forward Jewish social justice and making positive changes in the Jewish community. Congratulations to all 20 change-making organizations included in this year’s guide.” Executive Director Cheryl Cook, said.

“We are proud to highlight organizations doing exceptional work,  serving as the trailblazers for what is possible, meeting the community’s evolving needs and inspiring all of us. Whether we look to the guide for funding ideas, best practices or trends in  Jewish life, it remains a resource for all of us, providing new tools and optimism for our collective future. We would like to thank our generous partners for helping support the Chicago edition of Slingshot 2018 – The Crown Family Philanthropies and the Jack and Goldie  Wolfe Miller Fund,” Stefanie Rhodes, Executive  Director of Slingshot, which publishes the Guide each year, said.

Sarah Rueven, Slingshot’s board chair, agreed, “We are excited to highlight the work of organizations that strengthen Jewish life by rising to the challenges of the day and making our community more relevant to our generation. We are inspired by projects that help people connect to Jewish life in ways that both feel both fresh and relevant while honoring our traditions. Readers will learn  about valuable new projects and gain a deeper insight into  the emerging needs in Jewish life, as identified by our community’s  top leaders.”

Being listed in the Guide is often an important step for selected organizations to attain much needed additional funding and to expand the reach of their work, as the Guide is a frequently used resource for donors seeking to support organizations transforming the world in novel and interesting ways.

About  the Slingshot  Guide:

The  Slingshot  Guide, now in its 13th year, was created by a team of young funders as a guidebook to help funders of all ages diversify their giving portfolios to include the most innovative and effective organizations, programs and projects in North America. The Guide contains information about each organization’s origin, mission, strategy, impact and budget, as well as details about its unique character. The  Slingshot Guide has proven to be a catalyst for next generation funding and offers a telling snapshot of shifting trends in North America’s Jewish community – and how nonprofits are meeting new needs and reaching new audiences. The book has been published annually since 2005. Each edition is available as a free download at www.slingshotfund.org,  where you can learn more about Slingshot’s work and new strategies for continuing their impact into the future.

About Avodah:

Avodah strengthens the Jewish community’s fight against the causes and effects of poverty in the United States. We do this by engaging participants in service and community building that inspire them to become lifelong leaders for social change whose work for justice is rooted in and nourished by Jewish values. For 20 years, we’ve been inspiring Jewish leaders to commit to a life of social change, promoting a vision of Jewish life rooted in justice, and engaging the broader Jewish community in some of the most pressing issues facing our country at a local and national level. Learn more at avodah.net.

Men, Bowling and Abortions

By Sam Schachter, Avodah NYC Justice Fellowship (’16-’17)

 

Group of Avodah Justice Fellowship alumni pose with bowling balls at a fundraiser to increase abortion access.
Avodah NY Justice Fellowship Cohort ’16-’17 participate in a bowl-a-thon to raise funds to increase abortion access for low-income women and families.

A few weeks ago, I and a few friends organized a group to go bowling. It wasn’t an ordinary Sunday bowling outing, we were bowling to raise money for the New York Abortion Access Fund in New York for The National Network of Abortion Funds. The more I thought about asking friends and family to donate money to this philanthropic effort, the more I thought about what it means to be a man raising money for abortion access in The United States in 2018. The most alarming part of the day, was looking around the bowling alley, and only seeing five or so other men in attendance.

The event and our list of donors had one thing in common, it was made up almost completely of women. In a country that seeks to provide freedom and equality for all citizens, why are we as men, not doing what we can to help our sisters, mothers, and daughters provide the care they need? What is our responsibility as men to help fund abortions for those in need?  

The topic of abortion in the US is a complicated and gets more difficult to understand once we start talking about it on a national level, so I will restrict this article to discussing abortion access in New York State. There are some states that are terrible for abortion access, New York is not one them. However, there still can be more done to help those in need of obtaining access who seek these services.  New York state requires that all insurance providers cover abortion procedures. According to Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2017, In 2014, 44% of New York counties did not have clinics that performed in abortions, 10% of women lived in those counties.

In New York state it is illegal to perform an abortion past 24 weeks of a pregnancy unless the life of the woman is in immediate threat. Although there are seven states that do no limit the gestational age that a woman can terminate a pregnancy, New York state is not one of them.

If you live in The United States, you will know that not everyone is covered by a health insurance plan. That leaves a substantial amount of women on their own to cover these costs. Depending on the stage of the fetus, abortions can cost up to $600. Basic healthcare costs and preventive care should not lead to women and families to decide on to choose to take care of their bodies or pay their rent.

Presumably, we are under the assumption that women who are considering abortions are connected to men in some way. Where does the responsibility lay with men and their involvement of abortions, support, and responsibility in the stages of pregnancy? We know that men are overwhelmingly involved in creating laws that restrict women from choosing how and when they can receive services, but men must take on more responsibility to help women gain more access, funding and opportunity regarding resources.

I agree with Iggy Pop who said, “I’m not ashamed to dress “like a woman” because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman.” And that’s true, so why is it so hard for women to make their own choices when it comes to receiving care for their bodies? Men must help to eradicate the public shame and embarrassment of obtaining an abortion. We can do this by speaking more with other men about times in which we have been part of these decisions, conversations, or have known those who have seeked these services. It is up to men to educate other men on how to support these causes. If that means understanding the threat to closing Planned Parenthood clinics, preventing the distortion of the Religious Freedoms Act which prevents insurance providers or doctors from supplying services based on religious influence.

But why should we as men care about this issue? If we care about a healthy country, about justice for all, and compassion for our fellow citizens, we must support those who are demanding control of their bodies. We must help the eliminate the preventive measures that exist that make it harder for women to access care. As stated on the Abortionfunds.org website mentions the subject of intersectionality: “ A comprehensive vision of justice for our communities must involve working towards economic, racial, gender, and reproductive justice.” By helping women, we begin the process of helping everyone.

When men get more involved with these issues, they are able to help those from multiple races and socioeconomic backgrounds. Restricting abortion  access will have a disastrous effect on Black and hispanic communities, most of whom receive these services at a higher rate than white women. When men help those in need from continuing the cycle of poverty, we are creating a healthier and safer state for all.  

Let’s start showing up for women. Let’s start making calls. Let’s build power together by joining marches, learning more about feminism, buying cool-shirts and talking to other men about how to be allies. In New York, we have an opportunity to pass the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act to better help women and men decide what is best for them and their families.

Our group didn’t solve the problem by going bowling this weekend, but we raised a little bit of money to help someone will need an abortion in the future. There are a few more people who will acknowledge that showing up for causes that improve women’s access to healthcare is worthwhile. Most importantly, a few more woman will have the ability and access to decide whether or not they want to go through with her pregnancy. Let us as men, provide more support, more funds, and more power for abortion access, for healthcare, for equal rights, and as bowling partners.

Redefining Leadership this Passover

To our supporters and friends:

As we recount the story of our liberation under the leadership of Moses this Passover, there is one question ringing in my mind: what makes a great leader?

Avodah has been training young leaders for 20 years and one thing we’ve learned is that great leaders are those who have the vision to imagine a world in which today’s injustices are tomorrow’s history.Photo of a Corps Member coaching a little girl, two Corps Members rebuilding a home, and one other Corps Member stocking a food pantry. The text reads: Celebrating 20 Years of Jewish Leadership and Social Change.

In the Passover story, the Jewish people had little time to pack up and leave the only life they’d ever known. When Moses, our unlikely hero, gained the courage to demand freedom for the Jewish people, there was no time think twice, properly prepare, or even allow their bread to rise for the long exodus ahead. And yet, when Moses’s sister, Miriam, knew freedom was on the horizon, she called on the women to bring their instruments. Taking the time to gather timbrels might have seemed trivial when we had just moments to flee, but like Moses, Miriam was also a great leader. She had the vision to imagine that the Jewish people would not only reach a new land, but sing and dance in it, and pass those traditions on to new generations. She imagined a world beyond slavery.

At Avodah, we envision a world beyond all forms of oppression. To achieve this, our participants don’t just step up, they step in. They gain the analysis and skills necessary to understand systemic injustice and learn how to become allies with other communities. They serve as school coaches, organizers, domestic violence responders, housing advocates, immigration specialists, and more to break the chains of discrimination, white supremacy, violence, antisemitism, sexism, xenophobia, and all forms of injustice.

Passover is about liberation, yes, but it is also about illumination and envisioning a brighter world. That is why this Passover, we are proud to launch our 20th Anniversary “Lighting the Way” campaign.

We know these current times can feel dark, but Avodah is growing stronger and glowing brighter than ever. Over these 20 years, we have directly impacted the lives of more 700,000 individuals and families and engaged tens of thousands of people in the work for social change. Together, all of us, secular and observant, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Sephardi, white Jews and Jews of color, straight and queer, trans- and cis-gendered, politically center and left leaning, economically advantaged and disadvantaged, are working to break down the systems and structures that are at the root causes of all forms of oppression and shine light on the world we wish to see.

Please join us in “Lighting the Way” for a brighter future as we honor our supporters, partners, participants and friends this year at our Partners in Justice events this spring. Save the Date for an event near you:

  • Chicago: May 23, 6:30 pm at Chicago Teachers Union
  • New Orleans: May 17, 6:30 pm at Martin Wine Cellar Uptown
  • New York: May 22, 6:30 pm at the Museum of the City of New York
  • Washington, DC: May 17, 6:30 pm at the Washington Hebrew Congregation

We also invite you to make a donation in honor of someone who helped light your way as we celebrate 20 years of Jewish social justice leadership.

Wishing you a happy, healthy Passover.
Chag sameach,

Cheryl Cook,

Executive Director, Avodah

Celebrating Purim with Action

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to decline to take up a key case dealing with the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, was a blow to attempts to expel the 690,000 young people, who were brought to the US as children by their parents, from the only homeland they’ve ever known. These young people who are working, going to school, and serving in our military, are safe from exile for now, but as their future status hangs in the balance in the courts, Avodah is showing up and speaking out for our immigrant neighbors, families, and friends, as we work toward creating a more just world.
In the Purim story, we celebrate the courage of Queen Esther, a woman who put her life on the line in order to save her people when a ruthless leader threatened their lives. Now, we are embodying Esther’s spirit and doing the same for immigrant children and families. As Avodah’s Rabbi-in-Residence Danya Ruttenberg wrote in Monday’s Washington Post, “This year, we are all Esther in America’s own Purim story.” As Rabbi Ruttenberg explains, even though Esther, a closeted Jew and the King’s wife, was unlikely to be affected by Haman’s decree to wipe out all of the Jews of Persia, “her privilege carries with it the responsibility to put herself on the line for those in need.” Today, Jewish Americans are largely safe from threats of exile, and with that privilege, we too have an obligation to stand up to power to protect vulnerable populations.

Driving Dreamers back into the shadows would force an entire generation into economically vulnerable positions. Undocumented young adults are often unable to obtain higher-paying jobs, earn a college degree, or gain access to basic privileges like a driver’s license, which they often need to get to and from work.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg speaking at a rally outside of the Chicago Federal Building to defend DACA.
These young people, who have only known the United States as their home, voluntarily registered to be part of DACA, paying hefty registration fees and providing personal information. Thanks to the protection afforded by DACA, talented young people are working in positions in line with their skills and training, providing a path for economic sustainability that can break the cycle of poverty.  Dreamers spend their earnings on purchases throughout their communities, which generates jobs as businesses strive to meet the higher demand for goods and services. According to recent surveys, 97 percent of DACA recipients are employed or are attending college or graduate school. And, DACA doesn’t just spur economic growth for recipients, but for entire communities, as well — 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ one or more Dreamers. They are important and contributing members to our neighborhoods.
Through our own Jewish American immigration stories, we know how important a clear path to citizenship has been for our people. That is why on Monday at Chicago’s Federal Building, Avodah and our partners, including The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, HIASProtected By Faith, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Silverstein Base Hillel, Reform IL, NCJW – Chicago North Shore Section, and members of the Jewish community from across Chicago joined together to stand in solidarity with our immigrant neighbors and families.
As we celebrate the heroines of our past this Purim, Avodah is also building the next generation of Jewish leaders – the Esthers and Mordechais – of tomorrow. That’s why our Service Corps members are working with some of the best organizations in the immigration field, including Mil MujeresNew York Legal Assistance Group, the National Immigrant Justice Center, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights CoalitionSanctuary for Families, and many more.

Click here to read Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s Washington Post piece and check out our Facebook page to stay up to date on our actions this week.