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community organizing

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Tol'dot:The Ethical Actions of Authority (Genesis: 25:19-28:9)


After a hiatus to focus on life pursuits I’m back to tackle the torah!

In our Lives:
I think the shock of hearing about unethical news in our lives comes from our own struggles with what to do when faced with tough ethical decisions. Do we stand up for what is right, or hope it fades into the background (and that no one notices)? The news lately has been a series of tragedies and lies: The Penn State scandal, presidential candidates fumbling their way through policy positions they don’t seem to understand, big banks continuing to post record profits, or the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme we have seen questionable ethics. We have seen the use of power and authority in our government acting unethically or amongst private companies who don’t look out for the best interests of even their employees!

Reflecting:
When we hear of such news we wonder if we ourselves would act better? How are we educating future generations? Are we teaching (by example) to only look out for ourselves? Do we consider how these acts of deceit effect others? Ultimately it seems the truth inevitably comes out but at what sacrifice? For me, when thinking through decisions where ethics are at play I like to think that I consider who will get hurt, what would by the favored outcome, and is it “just”? Not all decisions are easy but all should treat people fairly. And I think the consequences should adequately reflect appropriate punishment for unethical choices. Otherwise we are simply letting power breed power in our society. And if you aren’t sure what to do heed my mother’s advice “you get more flies with honey” it works every time!

Occupy wall street has been an interesting way to think about the consequences of treating US citizens indifferently by big businesses. While I am unclear of their demands and the common message they represent it is clear that Americans are unhappy. The economic gap has grown to 99% vs. 1% where the poor get poorer and the rich get richer and some of those in power are seeing to it that this discrepancy remain. Occupy wall street and other Occupy movements are working to regain the people’s right to democracy, to voters views mattering and being heard. The popularity of this movement has signified to me that injustice has consequences and people have re-recognized their ability to hold others accountable for their actions.

From the source:
The upcoming parshat this week Toldot deals with the story of brothers Jacob and Esau and with common themes of stealing, hatred and lying. But the plot runs deeper as the lies are intentional and done with power by authority. Rebekah, mother of twins Jacob and Esau tricks her husband Issac into giving the birthright to the younger son Jacob since he is her favored son (and Rebekah thinks more deserving of the blessing). Rebekah, acting authoritatively in her roles as wife and mother lies and aids Jacob in stealing the birthright. But as a result of this act Jacob must leave his family due to what he has done and Rebekah is without her favored son. I think this can serve both as a lesson to those with power to act ethically since the consequences of selfish acts can be grave, and to those without power to not just go along with what the authority says but to stand up for justice and to ask yourself if the act is ethical and if not what you can do about it! While the reasoning behind Rebekah’s acts may be for a more favorable outcome of Issac’s blessing. I am more concerned with the lying and deceit that those with power partake in (as shown above). If in fact Jacob was the better son to receive the birthright then it should have been bestowed upon him because of his merit and not by way of an unethical act. Jacob is the one who is held accountable for Rebekah’s actions not Rebekah even though she assured Jacob this would not be the case. These actions seem similar to Americans having to carry out their promises to banks or fulfillment of laws even though the banks and the rules keep changing and not upholding their end of the deal. It cause me to question if those in authority don’t even lead by example who will?

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P'Kudei (Exodus 38:21- 40:38) -- Relationships: who will you ask to join the fight?


In our lives:
Have you ever thought about how your life revolves around a series of relationships that are in constant flux? A “relationship” is such a vague term. Some of us have easily 20, 50, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of relationships. A “relationship” is defined as the relation/ association between two or more people which may be either fleeting or enduring. Relationships can be professional, personal, intimate, interpersonal, or theoretical. In other words, you have some sort of relationship with every person, organization, and to everything that you encounter.

Reflecting:
Recognizing an abundance of relationships in our lives is easy. More importantly, how are our relationships cultivated and applied? The Jewish Organizing Initiative taught me the true power of relationships. I went from viewing the word “relationship” as exclusively applicable to dating, to a world in which I view my entire existence as it relates to my “relationships” with other people, organizations, communities, and things.

The Jewish Organizing Initiative helped me learn how to tell my own story, how to have a one-to-one (an intentional conversation), how to evaluate my own and other’s self interests, and many more skills which strengthen relationships. Organizing skills allows every conversation I have to be both strategic and fruitful. I spent the year building on, putting into practice, and creating a vocabulary for skills that create change among individual people, and entire communities. It is amazing the collective power that relationships can create. Think about those you choose to help, or what organizations you choose to donate your money to. If someone you have a good relationship with asks you to prioritize their particular cause, and it is in line with your own self-interests then most likely you will do whatever you can to help!

JOI taught me not only how to listen, and identify the challenge, but how to research, connect and apply solutions to systemic problems. These skills all came back to thinking critically and strategically about my relationships. Think about this… two people who share a similar problem may not be able to find a solution, but by sharing their problem with others, and by cultivating relationships, you may find that 200 people share the same problem. Now, you have built power through relationships, and have a need for systemic change. A community organizer may help to orchestrate relationship building among communities. The organizer may enlist the community to start a research campaign, and develop a solution where the community can hold those in power (i.e. government) accountable to the proposed solution. The collective people may ask that action be taken in a public forum. And that is powerful! Change like this could not be achieved without the power of relationships. Never underestimate the power of people and the ways in which individual relationships can build that power. So, share your story and think about who you know and how you can help each other make a difference!

From the source:
Last week in parshat P’Kudei we see a glimpse into the relationship between G-d and Moses. G-d trusts Moses with leading the Israelite people, and Moses in turn trusts G-d’s power. Throughout the book of Exodus, we have seen strengths and weaknesses in the relationship between G-d and Moses, and Moses and the Israelite people. But, as we complete the construction of the tabernacle, we see how the power of relationships has affected Moses, G-d, and the Isaelite people. They have learned from their mistakes and have begun to work together. They have proven to one another their ability to do great work,

“ Just as G-d had commanded Moses, so the Israelites had done all the work. And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks—as G-d had commanded, so they had done—Moses blessed them.” (Exodus 39: 42-3)

These relationships rely on one another to achieve their common goals of holiness. They want to be able to feel G-d’s presence in a collected space (the tabernacle). In order to feel G-d’s presence the Israelites must abide put faith and trust into their leaders, and rely on one another to collectively build a holy site. Just as Moses uses community organizing by working through his relationships we too can help strengthen our campaigns when we collectively use our relationships to create united power.

The take-away:
How are you using your relationships to organize power, and create change? Are you constantly thinking about how to strengthen your relationships? Are you looking for ways to create change, and do you ask those around you to help you do so? No? Take the time now to figure out what it is you will fight for! And who will you ask to join the movement? Want to learn these skills?? JOI is now accepting applications from passionate Jews looking to fight for change! www.jewishorganizing.org

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Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35) -- Responding to disappointments.. ( A D'var from 2010)

Moses is perhaps the world’s first community organizer. Moses gathers his people, fights out against injustice, and manipulates G-d’s power for change. However, Moses, leader of the Jewish people is not immune to great disappointment. Moses’ reaction towards challenges in his life teaches the Jewish people great lessons about responding to disappointment. In Exodus Chapter 32, we see Moses struggle personally, as a leader of a great nation, and in his relationship with G-d. As Moses is atop Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, his people are betraying his trust by building and worshiping a golden calf. Angered, G-d threatens to destroy the people in hopes of creating a superior society to continue his teachings. Moses, defends his community out of love and pleas with G-d: “Let not Your anger, O Lord, blaze forth against Your people, whom you delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand” (Exodus, 32.11)

Upon descending the mountain, Moses sees the idolatry himself. Did the Israelites not have enough faith in Moses to wait for his return and delivery to them the words of G-d? “He (Moses) became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.” (Exodus, 32.19) Moses who earlier defended the people worshipping the calf to G-d saw his dream of leading G-d’s chosen people to the Promised Land shatter like the tablets upon witnessing this wicked act. Moses is disappointed in his people. He must rebuild the mutual faith and trust between himself and his community in order to perpetuate a great nation. In this moment Moses learns that being a leader is not only about his dreams for his community, but rather about how he works with his community together towards success.

What does this teach us for our own lives? How do we handle disappointments?
Like Moses, we often hold great expectations for ourselves, and for others. In fact, we are taught to do so. Throughout childhood we are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” No child answers ‘I want to barely get by’. Instead, we dream of being doctors, lawyers and professional athletes. As time goes on, we are faced with challenges, and disappointments. Maybe we never grow tall enough to be a basketball player, or we realize we fear public speaking. We, like Moses, realize that when things don’t work out according to our ideals we must learn how to cope and work towards the best of our abilities. We turn our love of sports into a hobby instead of a profession. We relentlessly work on that which can be improved, always striving for our fullest selves.

Moses reevaluated the situation and returned with a renewed faith. Taking his disappointment in stride, he shifted his expectations. With his community at the forefront, Moses decides how they can move forward together. He picked up his dreams of leading a people to become a great nation and went back to G-d. This time G-d had Moses craft tablets, which G-d inscribed. “The replacement tablets, unlike the originals, will be a joint human-divine effort … reflect(ing) the perfection of G-d, the second set reflected the will of G-d and the ideals of G-d filtered through the limitations of human beings and the reality of human experience.” (Kushner, p. 43)

Like Moses, we can learn from our mistakes. We may not live a life without failure but we can choose how we respond to challenges. We can find determination within ourselves to reevaluate and renew what we had before it was broken. We may alter our dreams but keep the lessons of our disappointments with us. Through our response to disappointments, we can learn more about who we are and who we want to be. Our dreams change as we grow, and we determine if the dreams we once had align with our current goals and search for happiness. In times of disappointment, Moses was carried on by his devotion and love for his community and by G-d. Moses was able to forgive that which had happened, and realized limitations. He continued to persevere and create new dreams. We too can emulate Moses’s ability to move past challenges. We can rely on our community to carry us through the struggles we face within our lives and strengthen our ability to create new dreams.

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