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March 2015


Today marks the last day of Women’s History Month! We’ve spent this month lobbying for the Violence Against Women Act at our L’Taken Social Justice Seminars, remembering the women of the civil rights movement during the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, and advocating for reproductive rights. As this month comes to a close, let’s not forget about gender inequity, but continue to highlight how gender plays a role in all forms of inequality and injustice. Women’s history does not just extended to conversations about reproductive health, violence against women and civil rights, but also to issues surrounding the environment and climate change.

When I left for college my freshman year, I was nervous about exploring a new Jewish community. However, I immediately felt at home as I walked into my university’s Hillel’s Conservative Friday night services and saw the Siddur Sim Shalom, the prayer book that I had grown up with. The siddur offered me a sense of comfort and familiarity in an otherwise completely new setting.

Over the past couple of years, the number of states that have marriage equality have more than doubled, thanks largely in part to court cases. On April 28, the Supreme Court  hear oral arguments on four combined cases relating to marriage equality and could potentially establish marriage equality as the law of the land in all 50 states. The joint suit is known by one of the cases, Obergefell v. Hodges.

This week, we will celebrate the holiday of Passover, when we remember the process that led the Jewish people to become free in the land of Egypt. Part of this process will include discussing the Ten Plagues. At my family’s seder in Atlanta, we use goodie bags with various small toys that resemble each of the plagues. In these bags there will be three toys that resemble a lack of health: small plastic insects to represent lice, a small rubber cow to represent the cattle disease that killed many of Egypt’s domestic animals and bubble wrap to represent the boils that deformed the Egyptians. In Jewish tradition, lacking health and adequate health care is viewed as a plague, an issue so damaging that God viewed risking your health as a serious enough threat to cause Pharaoh to free the slaves.

Whether you observe Passover according to the strict rules of Jewish law, or you attend one family Seder, or whether your Passover observance is watching The Prince of Egypt, or whatever traditions, practices or customs you find meaningful, the weeks leading up to Passover (April 3-11, 2015) feel like a Jewish March Madness. Between planning Seders, cleaning your house of chametz or mentally preparing yourself for a week of matzah, there’s a lot to get done and it always feels like not enough time.

By Jason Flatt

A couple of weeks ago, we read one of my favorite Torah portions, Parashat Ki Tissa. In this parsha, all of the Israelites are told to give a half-shekel to the building of the Tabernacle.

One of the ways Torah scholars try to understand the text is through Gematria where each letter of the aleph-bet holds a specific numeric value. It is said that there is a great symbolism every time two words hold the same numeric value in Gematria.

The Hebrew word for soul is nefesh, and it happens to hold the exact same numeric value as the word shekel. Thus, it can be said that when each of the Israelites gave their half-shekel to the census in Ki Tisa, symbolically, they were giving much more than a piece of metal.

The Department of Justice released an updated version of its Hate Crime Data Collection Guidelines and Training Manual earlier this month, including new information on identifying hate crimes against Hindu Americans, Sikh Americans and Arab Americans. The FBI agreed to start tracking hate crimes against these groups in 2013, following a push by advocacy groups, including the RAC, for the FBI to expand the categories of biases it collected hate crime statistics for in the wake of the 2012 shooting at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI.

As a kid, “Dayenu” was perhaps my favorite Jewish holiday song. It’s catchy, it’s upbeat, and, if you sing the full 15 verses, it goes on forever. With “Dayenu,” we express our thanks for the myriad miracles that took place at the time of the Exodus. We sing that each was so powerful that one alone would have been enough.

As an 18-year-old I spent a year living and studying in Israel. In one class the teacher talked to us about his aliyah experience. He told us that by moving to Israel he could have a say in the Jewish future, because he could vote in the Israeli elections, and that we, in the Diaspora, could never have the same direct influence on Israeli society, or by extension play the same part in our shared Jewish future.

He was right that I wasn’t able to vote in this month’s Israeli elections, but he was wrong about the fact that I can’t have an influence on where Judaism or Israel is going.

By Lara Pukatch and Rebecca Koppel

As Passover approaches, Jews remember that we were once slaves, forced into backbreaking labor and oppressed by the Egyptian pharaohs. Our escape from bondage came after forty years of wandering without a place to call home.  At this time of year and throughout the Passover Seder, we often think of those who are less fortunate, who are oppressed and, of course, those who are still finding their way home.