When Words Fail Us

The terrifying news of the past few days have left me speechless. Thousands of people have probably died in Japan, hundreds of thousands are left homeless and a nuclear disaster might still happen. Meanwhile Qaddafi is regaining territory, killing his people and crushing the revolution while the world is watching. In Itamar, a three-month old baby, two children and their parents have been murdered in their sleep.

I reckon that sometimes it is better to remain silent, at least here on this blog. However if we cannot talk, we can act. A number of organizations offer their expertise to help these people. Here is a list of suggestions:

Zaka has sent rescue units to Japan. You can send donations to American friends of Zaka or other branches in the UK, France and Israel.

– You can also donate to the Orthodox Union Earthquake Emergency Fund or to their Victims of Terrorism Fund.

The AWJS will not intervene in Japan but has a list of links to other Jewish organizations, receives donations for other causes and has educational resources for lay and religious educators.

Do not hesitate to suggest other organizations and links in your comments.

Stingy or Selfish?


I have been meaning to blog about this for two weeks – since it happened in fact – but I am not sure how to this will come across.

Almost every day I have a free period in the middle of my work hours. I usually stay in the staff room, do some photocopying and other paper work. I am not alone as there are always other colleagues who are in the same situation.

Somebody started talking about the French Telethon. One guy proudly announced that he would never give money for this cause nor to any other. Another one chimed in explaining that the state was supposed to support health and poverty at all levels, which justified his never performing charity. Lastly a colleague with a handicap added that she couldn’t see why she should help anybody or anything since she had so many needs.

First I just sat there speechless. I obviously know that lots of people never give to charities but it is another thing to actually identify them and realize they are folks you interact with every day.

I finally manged to utter a few words and tried to explain and defend my position, namely that I give to a number of charities which work for various causes. It was difficult, not because I am unsure of my choices, but because I didn’t want to appear complacent. I also omitted the religious factor as I knew that the people in front of me were staunch atheists on whom the argument would have been completely lost.

To be completely honest I should add that one other colleague who was also present explained that she gave to a beggar outside the store where she shops and pepared gifts for children with her daughters during the Christmas season.

I am still bothered by all this and wonder whether I should have said more, or less, on this issue.

Tzedakah for Pesach


I have already blogged about Meir Panim yet after reading Treppenwitz’s post – the bread of affliction – and receiving mail from them I thought I would visit their website to check their projects for Pesach.

Passover Seders are hosted by Meir Panim in fifteen cities throughout Israel. The traditional Seder meals will be served in hotels to needy families.

Passover Food Cards will be distributed to thousands of needy families. These prepaid magnetic shopping cards enable them to purchase food and other necessary items for Pesach.

Passover Baskets will be delivered to the homes of those who need it most. These baskets include: matzah, wine, meat, potatoes, eggs, and fruit.

It is not too late to contribute. Donations to American Friends of Meir Panim are secure and tax deductible. You can also donate online or by giving to local branches if you are in Israel, Germany, France, Australia, the UK, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxemburg.

Meir Panim is also on Facebook.

A Heart for Peace



It is well-known within Jewish circles, but unfortunately not elsewhere, that Jews will do for Arabs things that Arabs would never do for them. This morning’s edition of a French Jewish TV program has just provided us with one example.

This program is called La Source de Vie and is hosted by a French Orthodox rabbi Josy Eisenberg. It deals with all aspects of Jewish life in France and abroad.

This morning it presented the organisation A Heart for Peace at Hadassah Hospital where Palestinian children with congenital cardiopathy can be treated without paying and can receive the same level of care as Jewish or Arabic Israeli children. The children’s pathology requires advanced heart surgery which is performed in the cardiothoracic surgery department of Hadassah Hospital.

This organisation has two goals. First and foremost its aim is to save lives; a duty both for a Jew and a doctor. The second objective is to lessen hostility towards the Jews through the Palestinian families whose children are saved thanks to a Jewish hospital. Although this is by no means an easy task, it seems worth trying.

Meir Panim


After writing about justice and tzedakah, I thought I would write a short post about one of the nonprofit organizations I support.

Meir Panim is an Israeli network of relief centers. It was founded by David (Dudi) Zilberschlag, a Petach Tikvah–born haredi man, whose son Meir died of a rare metabolic disorder called Glycogen Storage Disease two months after his bar mitzvah. The disease prevented Meir from consuming and digesting food normally.

However the idea for Meir Panim came to Zilberschlag several years before Meir passed away. It all started after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination on November 4, 1995. At that time, Zilberschlag became involved in post-assassination talks between people from al walks of life.

“During the talks, I realized that talking was good, but limited. We needed to do something active together—a mitzvah—something that would bridge the gaps between us … We can learn to live together, and influence people to do the same. We can create a more cohesive, tolerant, loving society in Israel.”

Today Meir Panim has expanded and has 15 soup kitchens spread throughout Israel as well as a number of other projects. Here is a selection of what exists:
Meals for Children delivers hot, nourishing lunches to 10,000 needy youngsters in kindergarten and elementary schools.
Meals on Wheels delivers packed meals to the handicapped, elderly, and Holocaust survivors.
Occupational Rehabilitation hires emotionally challenged individuals capable of preparing and packaging food for the soup kitchens, meals-on-wheels, and school lunches.
Training for Battered Women helps abused women regain critically needed independence.
Youth Clubs are set up to keep needy children mainstreamed and provide them with a supportive environment.
Computers from the Heart collects used computers and teaches dropout and at-risk teens to repair them. The refurbished computers are then distributed to children in needy families and young victims of terror attacks.

I heard about Meir Panim for the first time on a TV program and a lot things appealed to me about this organization.

I liked the fact that at the soup kitchen religious as well as non-religious young and older folks work together. I also admired the emphasis that was put on dignity when the people were served: the staff made sure the place looked like a restaurant rather than a soup kitchen so they sit at a table and are served several dishes.

Similarly the have developed a food card to prevent the shame often associated with having to stand in waiting lines; thus low-income working families get a magnetic cards for food products at supermarket chains.

Last, but not least, they have not forgotten the Holocaust survivors who can hardly make ends meet.

What organizations do you support?

Shoftim and Justice


צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף

‘Justice, justice you shall pursue’.

This shabbat we read parshat Shoftim, the 48th weekly Torah portion in the annual cycle of Torah reading. The line above is found at the beginning of the parshah.

We believe that no letter or word is superfluous in the Torah, so why the repetition of the word “justice” in the line above?

Tradition suggests that the word tzedek refers both to formal and distributive justice. Formal justice refers to fair courts and procedures while distributive justice means making sure that every person has the minimum of what is necessary to live.

It is this latter kind of justice that forms the basis of the Jewish obligation of tzedakah – often mistranslated as charity but really indicating a just (tzedek) distribution of resources, a religious obligation.

Because of the way the annual cycle of Torah reading is organized, parshat Shoftim is always read the first shabbat of the month of Elul, the month when we are expected to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – currently known in English as the High Holidays.

The High Holiday liturgy repeatedly states that God has inscribed a judgment against all who have sinned, but teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah are the three paths which lead to a year “written and sealed” for good.

“Teshuva is a return to one’s true path. … Prayer is returning to God. Charity is actively expressing our concern for others”. (Shimon Apisdorf in Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit)

In this light it seems quite fitting to read a parshah that reminds us of this imperative. What better time than the beginning of a New Year to reassess what we give and to whom?

So now, as one year ends and a new one begins, let the first check you write this year be to a charitable organization. ” (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in The Book of Jewish Values)

For a different approach of this repetition in the parshah, you can also turn to Leora’s blog.