Author Archives: aliyah

Encountering the “Other”

Sharing one-on-one, Encounter Trip, Bethlehem (© Shari Diamond)

Twice this month, a renowned and beloved Palestinian activist and speaker, Ali Abu Awad, is speaking at the universities of two of my dear friends. It has been a pleasure helping facilitate these events from within as an intern with the organization that is arranging Ali’s US speaking tour, Encounter. Encounter is an organization focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with active arms in Israel and the United States. In Israel, Encounter brings groups of North American Jews into Palestine to hear the first-hand narratives of Palestinians and deepen their understanding of the conflict. In America, Encounter supports and bolsters this work by arranging Palestinian speaker series for America Jewish communities, developing an Israel curriculum for young adults emphasizing an inclusion of the Palestinian perspective, and facilitating conversation space for engaged and analytical conversations about Israel throughout the American Jewish community.

The second semester of my junior year, I studied abroad at The Arava Institute for Environmental studies, a program on Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel. There began my interest in pursuing progressive and effective American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the kibbutz, my peers were other internationals, Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians. We had a once a week seminar where we would discuss the historical conflict and current conflicting narratives (including many present in the room). This seminar and the program as a whole made me understand the critical importance of attentive listening in conflict mediation. Coming back to America, I knew I wanted to be involved in work with the conflict, and Encounter’s approach of downplaying of the politics and emphasizing the humanity of the conflict appealed to me.

Since beginning my internship, it’s been a whirlwind of learning Encounter’s database, getting up to speed on the rapid-fire emails, planning speaking engagements and travel for Ali, and having many Skype check-ins with my hard working and very caring boss, The Director of Programming, Rebecca Polivy. It’s been a very much “jump in and learn as you go” experience, which has been stimulating and exciting. In the midst of planning a bunch of Ali’s speaking events all over the North East through the organization’s contacts, I realized that I was now part of the organization and had contacts of my own to contribute. It has been empowering to realize and draw upon the connections in my various Jewish communities, and as we wrap up Ali’s speaking tour, I look forward to whatever is coming next.

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Food and Nutrition as a Human Right

I always thought good health was very simple and open to everyone: eat your veggies, get good rest, exercise daily and laugh often. What I have learned in just the first two weeks of my internship, however, is that the access to the basic ingredients of health – good food, clean air, parks and gyms, medical support and understanding – is not available to everyone. Good health, then, is not a right but a privilege.

This year, I am interning at the Harlem Health Promotion Center, a health prevention center administered by the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The goal of the Harlem Health Promotion Center is to collaborate with public health experts, as well as the Harlem community, in order to improve Harlem’s health and wellness. HHPC uses research, education and advocacy in its projects. In recent years, HHPC has been focusing on two health conditions that dominate the poor health of the Harlem community: diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure).

My main job at HHPC is to create content for its website, Gethealthyharlem.org. What makes the website unique is that it is free for all Harlem residents. Users can create profiles on the website to gather articles that they want to save and keep track of health-related events in the neighborhood. For me, a typical day at the office has been reading the latest articles on health in various publications and writing summary articles in order to post them on the website. The digests I write must be suited for a sixth grade reading level, since health literacy in the Harlem community is low. This writing process has been rewarding for me because the only way to produce a summary of something is to first understand it in its fullest. I’ve already gleaned new information from the articles I’ve read. Every article posted on the website is written by HHPC staff and reviewed by its Health Advisory Board, which is comprised of health professionals, many of which are affiliated with Columbia University Medical Center and Mount Sinai Medical Center, among other institutions.

What I admire about the website is that it aims to tackle the root cause of the lack of health literacy in the Harlem community. The site has an entire Healthopedia, an encyclopedia of simple definitions of health terms, also reviewed by the Health Advisory Board. Having the Healthopedia available to all readers means that the site can be used as a tool to self-teach. If any unknown health-related word or term appears in an article, the reader may fill in the gaps in his knowledge on his own by consulting the definitions.

My time at HHPC thus far has taught me that progress is not linear. While Gethealthyharlem.org has 6,000-8,000 hits a month, HHPC believes that usage should be much higher. HHPC recently finished a five-year study on hypertension in Harlem and found that the study, too, had little turnout among research participants. My advisor, Carly, was surprised by the weak participation because doing so is free and educational. She conducted focus groups to hear more from hypertension patients and began to suspect that perhaps sick individuals feel hopeless, since their fathers, brothers and friends all have hypertension, too. Superior health has been such a ubiquitous struggle in Harlem that many members of the community believe that poor health comes with the territory of being from a certain background and living in a particular neighborhood.
A few days ago, I worked on a study with Mount Sinai Medical Center. The goal of the study is to assemble a healthy checkout aisle in a grocery store in East Harlem and then test if the aisle encourages people to make healthier shopping choices. The healthy checkout aisle is just like an average one, except that fruits and vegetables line the shelves of the aisle instead of bubble gum and candy bars, like in typical supermarkets. We got to the Fine Fare Supermarket on 105th Street and 3rd Avenue on Thursday and the checkout aisle had already been disassembled, since it violated the contract Entenmann’s had with the supermarket regarding inventory space. In the meantime, it’s been relocated to another part of the store and we’ll pick up the study again this week. Such studies encounter pauses and delays, which can make quick results difficult to achieve.

Like I said earlier, progress is not linear. There is no magic formula for solving the problems that the public health sector faces. My time at HHPC has shown me that progress includes trial and error. Problems were not created overnight, and thus can only be solved patiently. The diabetes and hypertension epidemics in Harlem have deep roots in a long history of subpar education and poverty, which keep Harlem residents uninformed in matters of health and incapable of accessing proper health care, healthy nutrition, or good health insurance.

I always thought good health was very simple and open to everyone. I was wrong. Good health is the aggregate of countless factors, including wealth, genetics and education. I’m thrilled to work for an organization that is paving the way for turning health from a privilege into a right. Moreover, I admire the HHPC mission because it follows the old rule, “If you want to change the world, start in your own backyard.” Our own Jewish tradition teaches us this ideal as well: when deciding where to lend a hand, “the poor of your city [versus] the poor of another town, the poor of your own town have prior rights.” (Talmud Bavli, Bava Metzia 71). While I one day aspire to make a difference in global health by using my love for the Spanish language, I know that I have a commitment to serve my own community first. Harlem is truly footsteps away from the JTS and Columbia campuses, and its health needs are just as urgent as the ones of communities abroad.

 

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Welcome 2014-2015 Fellows!

Welcome back List College students!

Today is the first day of classes at JTS, but the 2014-2015 participants in our Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship are already hard at work. The 9 fellows moved back on campus early for an intensive day-long training before classes began – and many of us have already started at our internships.

We look forward to sharing our experiences with you throughout the year. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek into what we’ll be doing as fellows:

Moriah, intern with Accion USA, will be spending the year with the communications department of this international firm working toward financial inclusion worldwide through impact investing and microfinance services.

Sarah will be interning with Ma’yan, a Jewish feminist organization that provides leadership training to teen girls

Lauren will be the health and wellness intern at Lenox Hill Neighborhood Housea 120-year-old settlement house that provides a variety of services on Manhattan’s East Side

Jessie, intern with the New Israel Fund, is going to mobilize next-gen funders around social justice causes in Israel through a new giving-circle program.

Gilah, intern with Red Rabbit, will be teaching farm-to-table nutrition, gardening, and health in New York City schools

Becky will be interning with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, working with the development team of this grassroots group that organizes the Jewish community to partner in citywide struggles for justice

Dani, intern with the Harlem Health Promotion Center, will be working to increase access of healthy, affordable food in the local Harlem community through Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health

Miriam will be interning at the American Jewish World Serviceworking in their campaigns and organizing department to advance the rights of women, girls and LGBTQ people in conjunction with their global We Believe campaign

Mimi, intern with Encounter, will be assisting the Programming department to increase understanding of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both in its manifestations in the Middle East and here in the US

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Thanks for a Wonderful Year!

The 2013-2014 Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship has come to a close. We wish this year’s fellows – Abby, Eric, Marisa, Danielle, Jeremiah, Sarah, David, Charlene, Maddie, Morgan, and Rebecca – the best of luck on the next leg of their social change journeys! Please return here in the fall to celebrate the work and learning of next year’s fellows. In the meantime, below is a video that Eric produced for Global Green USA, highlighting their innovative approach to resource recovery.

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End Trafficking Now

Sex trafficking is the exploitation of human beings through either forced or coerced sex work.  Anyone involved in sex work who is under the age of 18 is considered to be trafficked.  Contrary to what the name might imply, a person does not need to be smuggled or transported from one location to another in order to be trafficked; trafficking can and does occur to individuals within their own communities.  Though every victim’s story looks different, there are several trends in trafficking narratives.  In the United States, victims are often teenage girls of color coming from broken homes, and many are tricked, coerced, or threatened into sex work by older boyfriends.  Victims often suffer from physical and emotional abuse, and find it difficult to leave the sex work either because of threats from a pimp or because of a lack of other viable options.  There is a significant population of LGBT trafficking victims, which stems from the issue of homeless LGBT youth.  While it is less common for boys to become victims of trafficking, it certainly happens and usually goes unreported.

This year my internship placement for the Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship is with The Advocacy Lab (AdLab), an organization whose mission is to empower youth to take action around human rights.  Twice a week, I co-facilitate a human rights course in a Brooklyn public high school to help 10th graders learn advocacy tools to fight for their own rights as well as for wider humanity.  After spending the first 3 months of the year discussing human rights issues ranging from racism to child soldiers to gender discrimination to environmental injustices, a majority of my students voted to spend the rest of the school year advocating on behalf of sex trafficking victims.  The campaign is multifaceted: They will be spreading awareness of sex trafficking in their school with informational posters, a video that depicts the typical sex trafficking narratives using their own skits, poetry, and music, and a school assembly to present their project.  They will also be selling wrist-bands that say “Put an end to sex trafficking!” in order to both spread awareness and fundraise for an organization that provides support for victims.  We hope to also incorporate a political advocacy component by having them write to or call politicians demanding better support systems for trafficking victims.

Last semester, the format of the class helped me to develop my teaching skills, and this semester, coordinating the campaign has pushed me in new ways.  It’s always a challenge to find a balance between giving the students enough freedom for them to take ownership of their advocacy campaign, and providing enough structure for them to work efficiently and stay on task.  Additionally, I’m constantly thinking about ways to continue to engage and inspire the students, because we are now focusing on just one main topic for several months.  These are questions I’m still grappling with, and like many things, I’m finding that they require a good deal of trial-and-error.

The human rights lessons last semester opened our students up to a range of various human rights issues occurring at home and abroad.  This semester, one of my goals is to help them develop useful skills through running an advocacy campaign.  We taught a lesson on effective internet research and finding reliable sources, and then devoted a few class sessions to active research in the school’s computer lab.  Students found informational material to put on their awareness posters and in their video, as well as organizations that address the issue of trafficking.  A few students were assigned the task of e-mailing the organizations and asking what they might be able to do to get involved in the issue.  The Advocacy Lab provides some funding for the students’ campaign, but in order to obtain access to the money, the students must submit a grant proposal outlining the goals of the campaign and the funds they’ll need for each part.  This required students to articulate their goals and make the case for why their campaign is important.  For most students, research, outreach, and certainly writing grant proposals, was new.  It was exciting for me to see my students improve and gain efficiency each day we went to the computer lab, knowing how important these skills will be – especially for the students that go to college in a couple years.

Teaching/facilitating has been a new adventure every single day.  I am so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from my students, and share with them my own passion for human rights.

Trafficking has been in the news lately as the world cries out after nearly 300 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from a boarding school and sold into “marriage.” To learn how you can help, this article is informative: http://abcnews.go.com/US/people-world-kidnapped-nigerian-girls/story?id=23623297. To learn more about Judaism’s response to sex-trafficking, check out this AJWS D’var Tzedek written by Rabbi Lisa Gelber, Associate Dean of the JTS Rabbinical School.

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“Who Cares?” Environmentalism on a Human Scale

Faces blasted with shrill air, ankles clad in snow and ice, many around the nation this winter witnessed a seeming reversal of climate scientists’ insistent, most dire warnings. Many a blogger and political cartoonist lampooned the predictions of climate science, pointing to the hoarfrost as evidence that global warming is, if not a hoax, then far less pressing a concern than we’ve imagined. In some ways, the climate debate has become so ingrained in our cultural psyche that such quips can read as harmless jokes, the bone-shivering cold an irresistible target when we have come to expect record highs. Yet, at heart, these peanut-gallery protestations point to a deeper dynamic operating at the center of our society’s “climate debate.” The punchline of many a cartoon-strip from this January plays on the notion that direct, layman observation counters the absurd and abstract arguments of distant scientists. Beyond the polar vortexes, this notion has appeared time and again: in the debate over fossil fuel consumption, the operation of coal-fired plants, trash runoff into oceans, and beyond. Somehow, climate change remains of little to concern for almost half of Americans and invisible for 23% of the country’s population.[1]

This is, of course, an issue of scale, both spatial and temporal. While human lives and environmental degradation both proceed each day, the human scale is tied inevitably to what we can perceive directly. We sense changes either over short intervals or through distinct comparisons to past events (when we say, for example, that this winter is colder than last). Similarly, our senses only entitle us to a small window into the complex web of Earth’s natural systems. The instruments and methods that uncover these processes must abstract and quantify data in order to present them. As a result, there is a seeming fissure between how we live and how our planet operates on its largest scale.

At present, catastrophes seem the only way to bridge this gap on a large, public scale. Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City a sense of green urgency, and in its wake the Mayor’s Office has introduced a number of sweeping initiatives intended to reduce the city’s environmental impact. NYC Recycles appeared in April, 2013, and in December the city introduced a ban on the use of Styrofoam food packaging. These initiatives are laudable, but their arrival only after the hurricane points to a dangerous mindset that goes hand-in-hand with our general attitude towards climate change.  Rather than act to prevent disaster before it arrives, we only react viscerally to crises. Given a catastrophe on a larger scale, such a strategy is far from tenable.

Our crisis-minded approach and the immense scale of climate change are linked. How futile does recycling a cup seem when 1,000 new coal-fired plants spring up in China each year? The lack of large-scale impact of green efforts thus far can seem daunting and, yes, disheartening. Yet, seeing individual action as minute, incremental, and only effective in the aggregate is a fundamental misunderstanding of the essence of environmentalism.

Certainly, the big picture remains important, and efforts in that arena shouldn’t cease. The end-goal of green activism and action, though, is to ensure the continued, self-sustaining health of our natural systems and environments. This goal has clear large-scale implications, but it also facilitates a reorientation of environmentalism as we imagine it. Ultimately, we are the beneficiaries of a cleaner, healthier planet. Conversely, environmentalism need not be only an abstract, global concern. Instead, we might imagine several scales, descending from global to personal, each characterized by their own sets of actors and actions.

What would personal, individual environmentalism look like? First, it would still be a lifestyle connected to larger-scale work. Recycling and turning off unneeded lights aren’t bad ideas. But, in order to be personally rewarding, more needs to happen on an immediate, observable level. One approach may lay in a combination of self-sustainability and the beautification of one’s own environment. In suburbs, gardens and ground cover can replace lawns. In cities, rooftop or window gardens are personal and communal endeavors. Both serve as examples of work that bring one into contact with the natural world. These allow one to view climate not as a variable on charts but as an element in life.

A lingering question is the value of this personal investment versus the returns of such activity. Global Green, where I intern, models a profitable, market-driven approach to environmentalism on a regional and national level. They show businesses that waste recovery and sustainable products are, indeed, valuable. Yet, what of the individuals at the end of each supply chain? Do such initiatives simply leave them disconnected to the greater issue at hand? Looking to a personal model, need monetary reward be the primary motivator? Though I applaud Global Green’s model, I’m left wondering how best to engender broad, personal investment in the environment.

Eric is a participant in our Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship spending the year creating short films for Global Green USA and the Coalition for Resource Recovery. Read his previous post here.


[1] http://www.weather.com/news/science/environment/more-americans-dont-believe-global-warming-happening-survey-20140117

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Fatherhood: Presents, Presence, and Poverty

Fatherhood presents a learning curve for most, but in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty – where violence, incarceration, stop & frisk, and rigid gender roles are the norm – figuring out how to parent in an emotionally responsible way can be a major feat. The participants at the Midtown Community Court’s Workforce and Fatherhood Program, under its new name “UPNEXT,” will speak to these challenges freely during group sessions.  Through my internship there, I recently facilitated a workshop of my creation called “Navigating Parenting Challenges,” which borrowed its ideas of emotionally-attuned parenting from Daniel Siegel’s book, Parenting From the Inside Out.

As the workshop took its course, it became very clear that the most immediate challenge our fathers face in raising their children is that of material resources.  The employment market is presently a picnic for no one, but for men of color who are balancing some combination of poor educational background, a criminal record, mental health issues, substance addiction, military trauma, and so on, finding and sustaining a job can be, frankly, unrealistic.*  Attaining and keeping employment is a near miracle for the previously incarcerated male population of color in this country.  For a frighteningly fascinating study on that, see Devah Pager’s “The Mark of A Criminal Record” https://www.princeton.edu/~pager/pager_ajs.pdf., which finds that black men without criminal records fare worse in the job market than white men with criminal records – and that black men with criminal records fare the worst of all.  This reality is part of why providing materially for one’s children can be a daily struggle for the fathers with whom I work.

I marveled at the ways in which being a parent can act as a motivation to clean up one’s act, to serve as a role model, and to stay out of prison.  But just as surely, becoming a parent presents real financial burdens that push many parents back to their old criminal means of making money.  During the course of our conversation, many fathers recalled painful conversations with their young children in which the child needed a new winter coat or shoes, and the unemployed father returned to his past habits of selling drugs the very next day in order to pay for what his child needed.  These paradoxical implications of parenting often happen simultaneously within the heart of the same person; many fathers expressed increased guilt and shame over their deviant behaviors after becoming fathers, even as they described the increased need and justification for doing so.

The group discussed how emasculated they feel when they’re unable to provide for their children – a sentiment which is in line with the patriarchal norms of much of American society.  And when it comes to winter jackets and shoes, the material needs of children are critical and urgent.   But as the workshop continued, the reality of being unable to “provide” materially for one’s children devolved into a conversation about Christmas presents, iPads, and a new pair of Jordans.  In short, the conversation struck me as materialistic, even frivolous, and I struggled to steer the conversation toward the emotional needs that children have and how those needs might be met despite limited financial means.  One participant, N, saw where I was going and shared about a conversation where his daughter simply said “I know you can’t afford any Christmas presents this year, but dad, you’re still gonna come, right?”  Other fathers marveled at the story and muttered that they wished their own children had that type of understanding.

Providing emotionally, though, is as much as structural question as it is a cultural one. Being emotionally attuned to one’s child means something different within a stable family of privilege than within a family of custody battles and frequent bouts of absence due to incarceration, and these are what comprise the structural piece, for which we are all responsible to combat.  But the tendency for parents (and especially fathers) to be unsure how to emotionally reach their children, and the temptation to subscribe to materialistic ideas about love by buying toys instead of giving words of affirmation – these behaviors pervade our culture regardless of class.   This conversation with the dads, although disheartening at times, was an important reminder to me about the ways in which we are all tied up in the struggles of our fellow citizens, and that liberation in a vacuum is no liberation at all.

For a great Op-Ed on the indelible impact of strong fathering, check out Charles Blow’s recent piece on the White House’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative – a new program to empower young men of color. “We can and must,” says Blow, “break the cycles of pain for young men of color, building better boys and repairing broken men.”

*I want to underscore that not all of the fathers meet all or even most of the conditions described here, but as a cohort, these are the issues that present barriers to them. 

Miriam Aniel (LC/Columbia '15) shows Max Tawil (LC/Columbia '15) the new composting bins. The JTS Green Team working with the Eco Reps has initiated the first residence hall composting project on campus!! — with Miriam Aniel and Max Tawil.

Guest Post: JTS EcoReps Take Action

By Eden Becker, LC’17

This year, the JTS environmental student organization, EcoReps, is revamping its eco-friendly objectives. According to the mission statement, “The JTS EcoReps are dedicated to energizing the student body of all five schools towards environmentally conscious initiatives and programming that are by the students, for the students.” This year, with a generous grant from the Jewish Greening Fellowship, a program of the UJA-Federation of New Yokr, JTS created a Green Team to expand its commitment to sustainable operations, environmental education, and building awareness through a variety of programs. Greening interns—Miriam Aniel (JP ‘15) and Nicholas Bruscato (JP ‘14) serve as liaisons between the student and faculty groups.

As far as the student group, Miriam explains, “Right now, we’re in the brainstorming stage—figuring out what green initiatives we would like to focus on, and considering how we are going to rebrand EcoReps to encourage further student involvement.” The group took its brainstorming public on November 21, by holding a school-wide event that outlined EcoReps’ activities and goals. The event served as an incubator for the community’s ideas regarding green initiatives and brought together many students, a majority from List College, who are interested in making JTS more eco-friendly.

Many of the organization’s recent plans center on making JTS residence halls greener. EcoReps created a composting initiative where food scraps are collected from dorms and delivered to local farmers’ markets on Thursdays and Sundays. “We are hoping to further encourage composting through word-of-mouth,” says Miriam. In an effort to increase Jewish engagement with the environment, Eco-Reps also plans to hold a workshop that combines Jewish learning with raising awareness about repurposing and recycling everyday materials.

EcoReps also plan to start a rooftop garden next to the JTS library, which they hope will become a prominent feature in students’ lives. The EcoReps’ initiatives are all seemingly undercut by one foundational ideal, which encourages environmental awareness to be an integral part of Jewish life. For List College students, daily engagement with EcoReps’ small green initiatives can make a big difference.

Miriam says, “We have several exciting things planned for the spring, including a project aiming to reduce our environmental impact in the residence halls, a new EcoReps leadership team, and continued communication between staff, faculty, and students to make JTS the best it can be.”

Pictured above: Miriam Aniel (LC/Columbia ’15) shows Max Tawil (LC/Columbia ’15) the new composting bins as part of a new initiative between the JTS Green Team and the EcoReps to initiate the first residence hall composting project on campus!

 

 

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What’s Jewish about Adoption?

What about adoption is Jewish? And how does Judaism view adoption?

I pondered these questions last semester as I began work on a B’nai Mitzvah project for HelpUsAdopt.org, where I intern. The Development Director at HelpUsAdopt.org had previously worked on other B’nai Mitzvah projects and planned to create a Mitzvah project for HelpUsAdopt.org, and I asked to help.

HelpUsAdopt.org is a non-profit that provides grants of up to $15,000 to families and individuals looking to adopt, either domestically or internationally. HelpUsAdopt.org does not discriminate, define family, or charge an application fee, unlike other organizations. By providing grants, HelpUsAdopt.org not only helps parents create their families but also helps children in need find loving homes. All year long, as part of the Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship, we have been asking ourselves “what’s Jewish about social justice?” While I already viewed my work at HelpUsAdopt.org as social justice work, and feel that social justice work is a central value of Judaism, I wanted to figure out how Judaism and adoption are directly connected. Thus, my research began.

At first, I had difficulty finding Jewish sources about adoption. My initial research provided general information about adoption in Judaism and showed me that adoption is definitely considered permissible but that Jewish leaders and scholars have not written much about it. However, I finally found sources providing concrete examples of adoption and its permissibility:

The Bible includes examples of cases in which legal guardians cared for orphans: Pharaoh’s daughter found and raised Moses, and Morchedai raised his cousin Esther. Pharaoh’s daughter and Mordechai took on the responsibilities of parents even though Moses and Esther were not born to them.

Tractate Sanhedrin 19b of the Babylonian Talmud states: “Now as to R. Joshua b. Korha, surely it is written, And the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul whom she bore to Adriel. — R. Joshua [b. Korha] answers thee: Was it then Michal who bore them? Surely it was rather Merab who bore them! But Merab bore and Michal brought them up; therefore they were called by her name. This teaches thee that whoever brings up an orphan in his home, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had begotten him.

”Exodus Rabbah 46:5 states: “he who brings up a child is to be called its father, not he who gave birth.”

These sources show that one can be a parent through adoption, and an adopted child is seen the same as a biological child; they explain how Judaism views adoption.

I looked to Biblical sources to figure out what is Jewish about adoption. The quote, “Be fertile and increase,” (more commonly cited as “Be fruitful and multiply”) can be seen in various places in the Bible, including Genesis 1:28, 9:1, and 9:7. Those who cannot have children through natural means can fulfill this mitzvah by having children through adoption. The Bible also warns us not to mistreat widows or orphans (Exodus 22:21-22). This implies that we should take care of widows and orphans, and adoption is one method of caring for orphans.

By doing this research for the B’nai Mitzvah project, I gained a better understanding of the Jewish values associated with adoption, and I confirmed that adoption is allowed and supported in Judaism. The knowledge I gained through my research validates my work at HelpUsAdopt.org as a form of Jewish Social Justice (and helps me see the Jewish elements of my personal experience – please see my previous blogpost at: http://blog.jtsa.edu/changemakers/2013/09/18/adoption-for-all/).

For more information, here is a link to HelpUsAdopt.org’s website: http://helpusadopt.org/. This is the basic kind of information I found about Judaism and adoption during my initial research (before I found the sources quoted above): http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/adoption.html

The fall semester has come to an end and we want to thank our fellows for their amazing work! As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “we pray through our feet.” This year’s fellows have been marching for change through the important action, reflection, and connection they’ve engaged in through the Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship. We look forward to next semester as these JTS changemakers continue to pursue justice.

Check out photos from our semester here: