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As I promised in my Rosh Hashanah morning drash, here is a list of organizations you can support to help the Syrian refugees. Don’t forget to write the President, our senators, and your congressional representative to ask that we in the US quickly admit more Syrian refugees.
This charity exists to save children like Alan Kurdi, with a fleet of rescue boats patrolling the Mediterranean to save migrants lost at sea.
A group of social activists documenting stories in the Calais migrant camp, they also raise relief funds.
Provides classes and cultural enrichment and scholarships to Syrian children in Turkey.
A US-based charity that works in Turkey and is also focused on educational opportunities for Syrian children, currently raising funds to rebuild schools in Syria.
One of the few organizations that directly provides aid on the ground in Syria, including food, clothing, water, sanitation and crucial medical assistance to “help people to stay in Syria instead of fleeing to another country.” They accept donations via their page on JustGiving.com.
Charity Navigator has a list of highly ranked charities currently helping Syrian refugees.
Among them is Globalgiving that supports grassroots support for Syrian refugees, International Medical Corps, and Medical Teams International, which provide medical care to refugees.
Students who receive subsidized or free lunches often go hungry during school vacations. Our Food for Thought provides food boxes to needy families at four West Contra Costa schools, during these breaks. This project is in conjunction with members of congregations in central and east Contra Costa, so they will learn how to replicate it in their areas.
Nitzavim/Vayelech – Deuteronomy 29:9 – 31:30 – The Torah portion (parashat ha shavuah) for Shabbat, Saturday, Sept. 20
This week is the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. In the Ashkenazi tradition we begin our preparation for the High Holy Days in earnest at the conclusion of this Shabbat. This week’s Torah portion provides us with two lessons. The first is this, “Concealed acts concern the Lord our God; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching.” (Deuteronomy 29:28) This reinforces what we know from the Yom Kippur liturgy: that Yom Kippur atones for ritual transgressions, but it does not atone for harms we have done to others. For that we must seek out the person we wronged and set things right. If we do, we have the chance to set our relationships right. When we do that our relationships are stronger and our lives are better. This is the true purpose of repentance, to live more meaningful lives filled with awareness dedicated to service. This is what the text means when we read, “See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His laws, and His rules, that you may thrive.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16) Let us all be blessed with a good new year.
Ki Tavo – Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8 – The Torah portion (parashat ha shavuah) for Shabbat, Saturday, Sept. 13
Judaism is a religion of teleological history. The Jewish people have been on a collective journey, beginning with Exodus from Egypt, continuing through the present day, and moving toward a time in the future when the world will be redeemed and justice, mercy and equality will define human relations. Each of us in each generation is a link in that chain. This week’s Torah portion reminds us of our beginnings. “You shall then recite as follows before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.’” This is the Jewish “master story” in a nutshell. We were once enslaved. With God’s help we were redeemed and enjoyed the fruits of freedom. This is also our mission in life as Jews, to help bring the blessings of freedom and redemption to the world. In our generation, indeed in every generation, we are commanded to live and act in a way that all mankind can be redeemed. This is our burden and our blessing.
Ki Teitze – Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19 – The Torah portion (parashat ha shavuah) for Shabbat, Saturday, Sept. 6
What is a society’s obligation to the poor and needy? The Torah seems clear, “You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment. When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow — in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat down the fruit of your olive trees, do not go over them again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not pick it over again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment.” (Deuteronomy 24:17-22) Our Torah seems clear, whether loaning money or providing support, we are obligated to help the poor. Judaism assumes that our experience of Egyptian slavery will give us a special empathy for the needy and God expects us to act on that empathy and help the poor and the neediest among us.
Shoftim – Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9 – The Torah portion (parashat ha shavuah) for Shabbat, Saturday, Aug. 30
For Judaism, society must be founded on justice (tzedekin Hebrew). Our word for giving money istzedakah.It does not mean charity, although that is how it is often translated. Charity comes from the Latin word caritas, which comes from the word for heart, cor, and means altruistic love. Charity is connected to the heart and giving charity is based on how we feel. Buttzedakahis based on the divine call to make the world more just. Thus we are obligated to give money to help the poor. That is how we create a more just society. In this week’s Torah portion we read, “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Our rabbis wondered why the word justice is repeated twice. They answered that this teaches us that justice must be applied fairly to all whether it is to our advantage or our disadvantage; personal interest or gain can play no part. A society that treats all its members with justice will grow and thrive because everyone will feel they have a fair chance to succeed. A society that treats some of its members better than others will ultimately collapse as resentment and mistrust cause the bonds of social solidarity to erode.
Shabbat services are important at Temple Beth Hillel. Services are held on the first and third Friday nights of the month. The first one is a family friendly service preceded by a vegetarian community potluck at 6:30 followed by services at 7:30. The second service is a more adult-oriented service at 7:30. There is weekly Torah study on Saturday mornings. (Please check the calendar for the latest information on times and location.) There are also Saturday morning services for B’nai Mitzvot and periodically throughout the year.