Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Does "Next Year in Jerusalem" Mean for Me?

Every year, it is my honor to help my husband prepare and host a Passover Seder at our home. We invite my in-laws to observe the traditions of his family that have been kept for generations long before us. We come together to re-tell the Passover - the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt - to pass down the story of deliverance from generation to generation. The Seder is both a feast celebration and a solemn worship service laden with rich symbolism. The setting in a Jewish home instead of a public house of worship is particularly appealing to me as I see how much it means to my in-laws to gather in a familiar context that slightly changes every year as children grow, new recipes are discovered, and roles swap hands. 

I must admit, as a Christian who has married into this tradition, there is one part of the Seder script that has always left me wondering what meaning I can find in it for myself. At the end of the worship service, all join in saying "Next year in Jerusalem!" This puzzled me because, frankly, nobody at our table is planning to literally pack up this whole family show and cook a big meal in Jerusalem next year. I was never really sure what this phrase might mean for me...someone with a biological ancestry tracing back through many countries, but not through Isreal. Christians do share a love for the Holy Land, but not many of us are buying tickets to go there.

Khalid Alibaih, an artist from Doha, drew sketches
of Allan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh and posted them
on Twitter
This year, however, with desperate news coming out of Syria and the largest number of refugees in existence since World War II, we began to think more carefully about the Passover story and what it meant for a whole people to leave Egypt and oppression all at once. What does a celebration for the deliverance of the Hebrew people mean in the context of a world where the American president is trying to ban refugees of a certain religion from entering our borders? What should we be thinking of during this feast day of plenty when thousands starve aboard uncertain little boats, trying to flee chemical gas attacks? 
"What should we be thinking of during this feast day of plenty when thousands starve aboard uncertain little boats, trying to flee chemical gas attacks?"
With heavy hearts yearning for meaning and inspiration, we added a section to our family's haggadah (service script) to include excerpts from an addition that can be found in a post called Next Year in Jerusalem at Haggadot.com If you host next year (in Jerusalem or otherwise), please consider adding something similar. If not, please reflect on the words and consider how you might commit yourself to refugees living without safety or basic needs. 

"At the beginning of our Passover Seder, we are commanded to consider ourselves as though we, too, had gone out from Egypt. At the end of the seder, we say the words, "Next year in Jerusalem" to recognize that, just as redemption came for our ancestors, so, too, will redemption come for us in this generation. For those of us fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads, we may understand these words to mean that the parts of us that feel adrift will find steady footing. However, for the world's 65 million displaced people and refugees, these words can be a literal message of hope that they will be able to rebuild their lives in a safe place.

Tonight, we honor the strength and resilience of refugees across the globe. We commit ourselves to ensuring that out country remains open to them, to supporting them as they rebuild their lives, and to championing their right for protection. Just as our own people now eat the bread of liberation, we pray that today's refugees will fulfill their dreams of rebuilding their lives in safety and freedom in the year to come.

Blessed are all those who yearn to be free.

Blessed are we who commit ourselves to their freedom.

Blessed are You, Adonai Our God, source of strength and liberation."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Strategic Acts of Kindness

Last week was “Random Acts of Kindness Week,” a time to encourage people to make life more pleasant for everyone. Organizers at randomactsofkindness.org encouraged actions like leaving positive notes around town and feeding meters for strangers. I would never argue with that notion. The world needs more kindness! But now that the week for random acts is over, I think it’s time to also embrace “strategic acts of kindness.”

Random acts of hatred have risen dramatically in the United States. Our country has seen repeated damage to Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats to Jewish community centers. The highest office of the U.S. has issued unconstitutional travel bans targeting Muslims. People of all kinds of skin tones other than the old Crayola crayon "flesh" color are shouted at to "Go home!" when they've lived in the U.S. their whole lives. Racism, sexism, and xenophobia are becoming increasingly normalized in political discussions and in everyday conversations. 

In the face of such a disturbing reality, we must take powerful actions to protect those who suffer disproportionately in this world because of religion, race, gender, or any number of factors. People of every political stripe are waking up and wanting to have a voice in the direction our country is heading. However, many regular folks don’t have the first idea about how to reach our nation’s decision makers.

That’s where strategic acts of kindness come in. In my former career as an engineer, I found random actions led to random results. Intentional strategy is needed to combat random acts of hatred or – even worse – systematic acts of oppression in our country and around the world.

Bread for the World volunteers handwrite letters to Congress
at church after a Sunday worship service.
What could this sort of organized love look like? Setting aside time each day to call members of Congress to voice your opinion. Holding a meeting with friends to write letters to elected officials. Submitting a letter to the editor. Sitting down with a senator or representative face to face to voice your opinion with respect. In fact, these are the very actions that U.S. representatives and senators consistently report as the most influential ways a constituent can sway their opinion.

If you don’t know how to do these things right now, that’s not a problem. Before I learned how to raise my voice, I was a stay-at-home mom who didn’t even know the names of my senators. I only knew that my community and my world allowed babies in poverty to suffer from poor health and I wanted to help. By getting involved with reputable advocacy organizations like RESULTS, I was able to receive training, support, and inspiration to become a skilled advocate. In time, I learned to effectively advise policy makers, guiding them towards decisions that improve access to education, health, and economic opportunity.

Richard Smiley and I meet with Senator Durbin about
microfinance to help the poorest families of the world.
What could we accomplish together if we could channel outrage and dissent into deliberate actions to change the future in positive ways? The possibilities are endless. Look at the massive problem of global poverty, widely regarded as unsolvable. Years of coordinated volunteer advocacy have pressured the U.S. to partner with other countries on global health, nutrition, and education programs. Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has been cut by more than half! With enough engaged citizens creating the political will to stand up for ourselves and people in need, there is no limit to the good we could do.

It is critical that we empower ourselves with the skills needed to speak out to the presidential administration and our members of Congress. Compassionate civic engagement is what our situation demands of us today. Together, we can navigate the combative ugliness of our time by rising above it. It’s time to move beyond the random. We can shape the future by committing to strategic acts of kindness.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Gaining Inspiration from #Malala

Today, I'm honored to post the writing of a guest blogger, Shruti, a good friend of my daughter. She wrote the following piece about Malala Yousafzai for her 7th grade class. I was moved by her last paragraph about how she has been inspired by Malala to help girls around the world to access education. She told me about her family trip to India, where she got to visit a school for girls who had previously been denied education by their families. Even though their families did not put value on education for girls, their community came together to create the school and put pressure on the their parents to let them come.

Shruti and the members of RESULTS St Louis visiting
the aide of U.S. Representative Ann Wagner
Shruti got a chance hear firsthand about how the students felt about their new opportunities. One student still cries every morning when she arrives because she is so grateful to be getting the education she thought was out of her reach. Another girl used to actually dream at night about how it would feel to hold a pencil in her hand...she never thought she would have that chance in real life! I was so moved by these stories that I asked her to tell these stories to an aide in the office of our U.S. representative. I'm so happy she came with our RESULTS group to speak out. She bravely told her story with sincerity and passion, helping us make the case for why we want our U.S. representative to fund the Global Partnership for Education at a level of $125 Million for fiscal year 2018.

To learn more about the value of educating girls and the life of Malala, please enjoy Shruti's essay...

A Girl With Knowledge : A Girl with Power

by Shruti, 7th grade
With every extra year of quality education, a girl earns 20% more as an adult. There are millions of girls around the world who don’t get to learn to read or write because they are forced to work around the house and get married early. Many others simply can’t afford school because of war or poverty in their countries. A few years ago, a young girl named Malala Yousafzai began working towards providing girls around the world with quality education..

Speaking Out

In 2009, Malala had started writing a blog for the BBC Urdu service under a pseudonym. Most of her blog posts were about Malala’s opinion of the Taliban banning girls from going to school and destroying school buildings. A few months afterwards, she was featured in a New York Times documentary, and was revealed as the author of the BBC blog.


Malala, and her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, began receiving death threats from the Taliban. Two years later, in 2011, Malala received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. Seeing her progress and recognizing the fact that Malala was gaining popularity, the Taliban  leaders  decided  to  kill her.  


On October 9, 2012, young education activist Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for speaking out about girls’ right to education, while she rode her bus back home from school.
When Malala was shot, people all around the world rose to her defense, and began rallying for girls’ education with more enthusiasm than had ever been witnessed for this cause.

Sticking With Her Dream

Flash forward to early 2013 — Malala gave her first speech after recovery at the UN. Even after being shot, and going through a long recovery, Malala said that “Education is the only solution. Education First.”  Recently, on her eighteenth birthday, Malala opened a school in Lebanon for Syrian refugee girls.

How Many Girls Don’t Receive The Education They Need?

As stated on the Malala Fund website, 32 million girls eligible for elementary through middle school are still out of school around the world. School enrollment rates for girls have improved over the past ten years, yet more than 30 million girls between ages 9 and 15 are still out of school today. Most of them will never enter a classroom.
Another 98 million girls are missing out on secondary education. Millions more are missing out on the final years of secondary schooling but are not being counted. Girls are often under pressure to drop out of school, even if they have completed basic education.

The Benefits of A Quality Education

According to “Girls' education: A lifeline to development” found on UNICEF’s website, studies from a number of countries suggest that an additional year of schooling would increase a woman's future salary by about 15 %, compared with 11 % for a man.
Educated girls are more likely to avoid getting married as a child, and usually have fewer children than girls who don’t have access to education.

How Many Have We Actually Helped?

According to Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta, former president of the International Centre for Research on Women, the education target has made an important difference in the lives of girls and women.
“Action and investments of dollars into women’s constraints and needs has increased. And that has resulted in some progress.” said Dr. Rao Gupta.invest-in-girls-info-5232014.png
“The girls who are left behind are the ones who are most in need – and these are poor girls, those who belong to minority populations within their countries and those who live in rural areas,” Dr. Rao Gupta added. “Unfortunately, they are the ones who still have not received the benefits of the various investments made in most countries around the world.”

What Can We Do To Help?

Even a small contribution would help us reach the point where every girl has access to good education. Hosting small fundraisers, donating towards the cause, or even rallying for it are ways that would be beneficial. Many non-profit organizations write letters to the governments of multiple developed countries, asking them to step in and try to improve the accessibility to education for girls around the world. Together, we can achieve our goal of providing every girl with a quality education.
                 We are so fortunate to receive education and get a chance to make our own future. Many children around the world never get that chance. I think about all those times I have complained about homework assignments. I think of all those times I have whined about studying for a test. And I realize what an important opportunity I have — I can work towards going to my dream college and I have a job I have always thought about having. After writing this article and reading about girls all around the world who dream of holding a pencil and a notebook, I know for sure that I will never forget to appreciate my education and will try my best to contribute towards girls’ education.