Tag Archives: featured

Moishe in Mississippi: Making a Difference, Without Walls

IMG_3072Today’s post was written jointly by Arielle Nissenblatt and Lonnie Kleinman – two young Jewish professionals who also happen to be roommates.

A few months ago, we saw a posting for a local environmental event. So we put on some sustainably manufactured clothes, grabbed our Nalgene water bottles, and headed to our neighborhood community garden. Unsure of what to expect, we wound up participating in a two hour drum circle while different people took turns reading off a list of “10,000 ways to save the earth” into a microphone.

Although our hands were sore and our ear drums were tired, we walked away energized and excited. We were going to compost! We were going to re-use old containers! We were going to walk to work!

IMG_3086Unfortunately, like a lot of resolutions, our commitment to compost, to re-use containers, and to walk slowly waned, and soon we were back to old habits. Part of our inability to follow through with our resolutions was due to our neighborhood’s current practices. There’s a lot of Styrofoam used here, a lot of double bagging those pesky plastic bags at supermarkets (our own fault, too, for forgetting to bring re-usable bags to the store). Our small recycling bin is only collected by the city every other week. There’s no outlet for recycling glass, either.

So, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of waste in our surroundings. And, like other cycles, waste begets waste. But when we noticed the adverse effects of this cycle, and how easy it is to get stuck in a rut, we knew we had to begin implementing some innovative changes our wasteful ways.

After accumulating an abundance of glass bottles over a 6-month period, we decided it was high time for a glass bottle painting party. We invited friends to bring their glass non-recyclables, got some acrylic paint, and created some really nice looking bottles. Now, these bottles decorate our homes as well as our desks at the office; they can be used as storage containers, as pitchers for drinks, as vases for flowers, and much more. We’ve re-used in the absence of a recycling outlet.

As a follow up to the painting party, we wanted to host an event that focused more broadly on sustainable practices. Lonnie recently became a Moishe House Without Walls host, which means we have the opportunity to plan and create events for the young Jewish community in Jackson, with a lot of support and guidance from the folks at Moishe House.

editLucky for us, the holiday of Tu Bishvat was a week away. Tu Bishvat, often called the birthday of the trees, is one of four new years mentioned in the Mishnah. We thought it would be cool to connect to the idea of the new year for trees with our drive for sustainability in Jackson. With the help of Moishe House Without Walls, we invited a bunch of folks to our house and asked everyone to share what their resolution for sustainability is. Answers ranged from “use less toilet paper” to “create a hydroponic fish tank.” We filled our house with fruits and nuts, and invited friends to try a new fruit.

We had about 25 people in our tiny home in Jackson, trying new fruits, drinking festive Tu Bishvat wine, and working on their resolutions for sustainability. Becoming sustainable, both on a personal level and on a wider scale, is a process — and a learning opportunity for everyone involved. And on that note, we really are going to make a concrete change, after months of only talking about it.

edit2Our resolution for sustainability: we are going to start composting!

Hopefully this will bring our Jackson community closer to sustainable practices, which will create a culture of sustainability, because progress begets progress. Thanks to MHWOW, we will be able to host many events in which we can chat with folks about a range of issues relevant to young Jews.

Up next for Moishe House without Walls in Jackson, Mississippi: A  Purim masquerade ball– featuring masks made exclusively from recycled materials. (And, of course, ongoing composting adventures.)

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Posted on February 10, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Southern Jewish Voices: “Faithful Journey”

Douglas Smith of Columbus, Georgia

Douglas Smith of Columbus, Georgia

Today’s blog post is from Doug Smith, a member of one of the ISJL’s partner congregations, Temple Israel in Columbus, Georgia. He shares a poem inspired by the themes found in this week’s Torah readings and throughout the Exodus narrative.

“Faithful Journey”

Long Ago,

Through Fierce and Flickering Flames,

G-d Told Moses,

“Bring Them Out of Egypt and Lead Them to The Holy Land”.

 

So,

We Followed Him,

Into Stormy Seas and Through the Raging Waters,

All Marched Together as He Led Us to The Holy Land.

 

Then,

We Followed Him,

Into Desolate Wilderness and Through the Scorching Desert,

All Survived Together as He Led Us to The Holy Land.

 

Now,

We Continue to Follow Him.

Into Modern History and Through the Relentless Sands of Time,

He Still Leads Us to The Holy Land.

 

Thank You G-d,

Thank You Moses,

Thank You Mom and Dad,

Harriet (1937 – 2008) and Louis (1921 – 2001)

For this Faithful Journey,

Here Today I Stand,

With My Only Son,

Jonathan

A Jew.

Copyright DL Smith (2015)

Referencing / inspired by JPS Tanakh 2008

           Exodus 3, 14, 17

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Posted on February 6, 2015

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When Helping A Community, Follow Their Lead

Today’s post is from Caitlin Brooking, who recently attended a “Service in Mississippi” summit hosted by the ISJL, and then graciously offered to share her thoughts on community engagement.

Photo courtesy Caitlin Brooking

Photo courtesy Caitlin Brooking

When we view ourselves as a global community, it is impossible for us to stand by while our neighbors are hurting. Here in Mississippi, we seem to often be the ones in the spotlight as “hurting” – afflicted by persistent poverty, health disparities, and occasional natural disasters.

When Hurricane Katrina struck the coast of Mississippi almost 10 years ago, the images of decimated neighborhoods and people in pain lingered in the minds of many, and over the next few years, thousands headed South to assist with relief efforts, for days, months, even years.

For communities already dizzy with the seemingly insurmountable task of rebuilding individual lives as well as public institutions, the influx came with conflicting emotions. As the recovery dragged on, many long-term volunteer groups began struggling with the question, “How can we authentically include and respect the community in efforts that alter the appearance and composition of their community?”

The overwhelming majority of those who came from elsewhere to rebuild the Gulf Coast came out of compassion, with good intentions to use their own skills and resources to help residents get back on their feet. Many were socially conscious recent college graduates; many had been involved with community service efforts for years, were familiar with social justice tactics and were sensitive to and protective of residents’ privacy and self-agency. They made efforts to include community members in choices about housing design and community projects. Most were passionate and dedicated to their work, and wanted to leave the Gulf Coast “better than they found it.”

But for residents, long-held ideas about their community – what it looked like, who lived there, where their daily lives took place— gradually began to slip away. Some despaired they would never be able to truly return home, but felt unable to express these feelings without seeming ungrateful. Of course the efforts of volunteers were desperately needed, and many would be without homes at all without it. But while they were housed, they still remained “home”-less.

How can volunteers bring their best resources to address disparities in underserved communities, while respecting the community’s own vision? The answer seems simple: ask residents, listen to their responses, and engage them actively in project planning. However, projects can be complicated. Volunteers bring donor-specified outcomes, resource limitations, and specific skills that can’t always be well harnessed due to timing and context. Within communities, there can be political and ideological divides, competing visions for improvement, and in a disaster, there is often a sense of urgency as well as a heightened sense of vulnerability and loss of control that can fuel reluctance to let outside visions steer the projects. All communities want to feel empowered to create a place they can see themselves thriving in, not only a place to live but a platform for improving their own lives. Aligning volunteer group goals with community-led efforts from the project’s inception is crucial in managing expectations, ensuring sustainability for projects, and funneling volunteer energies and resources toward creating lasting change in the community.

Caitlin Brooking

Caitlin Brooking

Volunteer groups can work to embed themselves within the communities they serve, recognizing their role as outsiders and seeking out community-defined leaders to inform projects and guide planning processes. Planning processes should also include crafting a sustainability plan for projects, identifying specific local groups or residents who will steward projects after volunteer groups leave. Whether it is a one-day mural project or community garden, or a summer-long summer camp, projects should reflect the community’s priorities and values, and engage local residents in planning and implementation as leaders, volunteers and donors.

When volunteers travel to a community, the possibilities for idea exchange, innovation, and life-changing travel experiences are abundant. Intentional incorporation of community members in every stage of the project, from planning, investment, implementation and future preservation and usage of project results, can transform a project from a one-time experience for volunteers to a meaningful turning point in the ongoing development of a strong, vibrant community.

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Posted on February 4, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy