Archive for January, 2010

will YOU work for food?

January 26, 2010

This Fall, Lily Strumwasser, The President of OWU Hillel, introduced us to the program Will Work For Food (WWFF).  As you can read on the organization’s website, WWFF organizes volunteers to find people to sponsor them to do community service in their local communities.  The money they raise, goes to feed malnourished children in Darfur.  Since September, Lily and her friends have raised over $1,000.  They very well might raise another thousand this semester.

WWFF offers a response for those who question donating money to help those in need in other countries when here are people in the U.S. suffering.  With this program, volunteers work for two causes simultaneously.   It is an interesting scenario to consider as we support the recovery and rebuilding of Haiti abroad and digest news of cuts of domestic programs here at home.  WWFF suggests we needn’t chose local or global service, and as such, offers a real opportunity for Tikkun Olam or World Repair.

This Spring, the OWU chapter of WWFF and OWU Hillel will be organizing a series of opportunities to volunteer at free community dinners and other events in Delaware.  Keep an eye on your email for more information.  In the meantime, join the OWU chapter of WWFF.

One program I’d like to see the OWU chapter of Will Work for Food consider adopting, in conjunction with OWU Hillel is Challah for Hunger.  This would be a great service to the OWU Jewish community, great opportunity for students to bond (those of you who know me know that I believe in the uniques powers of the kitchen to bring people), and raise money for a good cause.


Jewish & Environmentalist? Then Tu B’Shvat’s the holiday for YOU!

January 21, 2010

“Tree Cake” by Moomin Bus Rider on

After the joyous clamor of the holidays are over, winter is not the best time of year to live in Central Ohio.  It’s cold and gray 90% of the time.  The trees are all bare (which I think has a certain appeal but it gets a bit depressing looking at all those giant skeletons for months on end).  The birds are mostly down south.  It may be counter-intuitive, but now may be the best time to think about the power of nature to regenerate herself each spring; before the crocuses peek out from the frozen ground, before the birds start building new nests, and before we start replanting our vegetable gardens.

Tu B’Shvat, literally the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, is the New Year for Trees.  Specifically, the holiday makes reference to trees in Israel.  The date reminds farmers it is time to reset their tithing calculators and set new fruit aside for the hungry.  It’s a wonderful opportunity for us all to consider the role trees play in our lives.  Noone summed this up more succinctly, for people of all ages, than Shel Silverstein in The Giving Tree.

Tu B’Shvat is not only a time to reflect on what trees can do for us, but how they are like us.   Like trees, we need soil, air, water, and sunlight to survive.  Like trees, we have roots, trunks, branches, fruit and seeds.  In what directions will you stretch your roots and branches this year?  What seeds will you sow?  What fruit will you bear?

You might remember raising money to plant trees in JNF forests in Hebrew School around this time of year.  Another great way to celebrate Tu B’Shvat is by participating in a Tu B’Shvat seder.  This is a chance to sing songs, eat fruits and nuts from a wide variety of trees, and reflect on the change of seasons and our relationship to Mother Nature.  This year, consider joining members of OWU Hillel and The Little Minyan (A Reconstructionist Congregation in Columbus) for a Tu B’Shvat seder at the Sheltherhouse in Antrim Park in Columbus on Saturday, January 30th from noon-2pm.  Ride Shares are available.  Contact Jodi at for more information.

In the meantime, you can read lots more about Tu B’Shvat herehere, and elsewhere throughout the world wide web – which, I suppose, is a kind of tree of life in itself.

Who Owns a Hate Crime?

January 11, 2010

Sometime during finals week this past Fall semester, a dorm room at Ohio Wesleyan was entered and a student’s property was damaged and stolen.  The only discernible marks the perpetrator left were a few swastikas scratched into the frame of the student’s computer.  The incident has been thoroughly reviewed by campus safety and OWU staff and administrators, however, there are no leads on who was responsible for what appears to constitute a hate crime.

Ohio Wesleyan is committed to providing a safe and intellectually stimulating experience for students of all religious and secular persuasions.  I do not believe this instance stands in contrast to that mission.  I recognize this as a single event, a crime perpetrated by an ignorant individual unfamiliar with the Golden Rule or basic modes of civil discourse.  Still, I’m appalled that anything like this could happen at a school included on the list of Colleges That Change Lives.

As I spoke with the victim, his parents, and my colleagues about the episode, a thought struck my mind.  To whom does a hate crime like this belong?  Since it happened in the privacy of a dorm room, should the student determine whether or not it is publicized?  Or, due to the ethnic slurs involved, do all OWUJews have a right, even a need, to know that such an instance has occurred in our community?

From what I know, the victim of this crime is not particularly committed to Judaism at this point in time.  We had never met until we spoke about the incident.  I thought this was ironic considering he was harassed as a Jew.  As we spoke, I wondered how our conversation might have been different if I were speaking with an active member of OWU Hillel.  How would that student have responded differently?  How will we respond as a community?

Israel 2010?

January 6, 2010

Last week, one of my favorite Public Radio shows, This American Life, featured predictions for 2010.  Shalom Auslander was a contributor and I always love his pieces on that show.  He writes/reads from a Jewish perspective in a familiar feeling humorous, and sardonic tone.  His contribution to the Ten Commandments episode is one I keep on my ipod at all times.  But this past week it was another Jewish author’s contribution that caught my attention.

Etgar Keret is an Israeli author known for his contemporary Israeli perspective and, more recently, his work for film and television.  I knew his work before I knew of him through the surreal film Wristcutters: A Love Story.  The straightforward, matter-of-factness with which this story is told – a man commits suicide and then travels through a bizarre afterlife world with other characters who took their own lives – shows Keter’s ability to set a scenario, place characters within it, and see what happens.

On This American Life, Keter interviewed his mother about what 2010 will bring for the state of Israel.

City of Jerusalem from the Nuremberg Chronicle

In the past she had accurately predicted events in their family and their friends.  She didn’t hesitate in predicting that Israel will face problems.  “Unfortunately,” she told him, “we are going back to bad times.  It will be a third Intifada, the streets won’t be so free like they are, we won’t be able to walk in the evening because you don’t know what will hit you, because all the crazy people from both sides will show their hand.  It will be very difficult to live in this country.” Sadly, it seems her predictions are already coming to fruition in the first week of the new year.

First, cross-border fighting in Gaza led to one Palestinian death and other injuries.  Yesterday, the Israel government approved a building project that will create more houses for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem, the place Palestinians hope to establish their capital.  People on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian argument see this as a dangerous move, one that will likely upset peace process negotiations.  J Street denounced the act as intentionally provocative, and tend to agree.  It seems to me that if Israel wants the support of the world – Jewish and otherwise – it must cease settlement development.

The fact that American real estate mogul Irving Moskowitz is leading the project should have been a red flag to the Israelis to keep out.  Because even if they secretly agree with Mokowitz’s goal of making East Jerusalem more Jewish, they should realize that such actions will make it nearly impossible for the Obama administration, and other world leaders, to support their position.  I support Israelis right to exist.  I don’t support her right to make stupid political and moral decisions.

I hope that the weeks to come will bring better news from the Middle East.  I hope that this time around, Keter’s mother’s predictions are wrong.