It’s no secret, and no coincidence that Jews have historically been at the forefront many important movements of proactive social change. We know that in such movements as socialism, the women’s movement, civil rights and environmentalism, 20th and 21st century American Jews have found the fire in their bellies and have been disproportionately represented in both leadership and participation.
Among many other factors, I believe it is something to do with a deep internalization of the concept of Tikkun Olam, fixing the world, that has resonated across generations and affiliations that has allowed us as a people to find the strength with which to fight the good fight.
I was honored to attend a panel called “jewish activists and why they don’t just chill” yesterday. The first was Eli Winkelman – the cute redhead in the photo. She founded Challah for Hunger at Scripps College. Through baking and selling Challah to college students she and her crew have raised both awareness and several thousand dollars to help stop the genocide in the Sudan. Bake on.
Next was Aaron Cohen. Once the executive director for the music festival Lollapalooza, band manager for Jane’s Addiction and other music related professions, Aaron now works freeing slaves. His work and his story are truly awe inspiring and there’s no way I can do it justice in a few lines.
In a nutshell he was studying Torah one day and came across the concept of a Jubilee Year, the year we free slaves, release property and let the land rest. This inspired him to such a degree that he created The Jubilee Foundation and with the assistance of Perry Farrel began a series of big-name concerts to which called upon wealthy nations to forgive Third World debt as part of the Jubilee year. This quickly turned into partnerships both the Vatican and the State department and now Aaron works actively, often under cover in third world nations to help end slavery.
While I knew a little about the problem, but the problem is wider and my pervasive than I ever cared to imagine.
Here’s a snipet
There are child sex slaves very near where you live. It goes on in every nation on this planet. Every night, little girls (and little boys) lead anonymous men down darkened hallways. The situation is now pandemic. There are estimated to be 30,000,000 slaves worldwide–more slaves today than at any other time in human history. Forced prostitution makes up between 50 and 60% of that group, many of them as young as seven and eight years old. As a money-making enterprise, the slavery business has never been more lucrative. It is a multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, it is the number two illegal enterprise in the world, nestled between drugs (number one) and arms (number three). According to US Ex-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, within ten years, trafficking and human slavery will be the biggest illegal businesses in the world, overtaking drugs.
Kol ha Kavod to Aaron Cohen in the mamish biggest way. There are no words to express my awe at the work he is doing. It was an honor of honors to have him at the conference.
Here’s an article about him for further reading: link.
Last but certainly not least was singer song writer, activist, mother and all around awesome chick Sarah Nadav. When you walk the streets of Jerusalem you’ll notice on almost every street big bins for plastic bottle recycling. That’s Sarah’s doing. She and several friends saw that while many Israelis are connected to the concept of the sacredness of the land, there is a consciousness missing about protecting it. They went about picking an achievable goal – plastic bottle recycling and ran with it. Staging light hearted protests like sending gift baskets in plastic bottle to Sanitation departments heads for Purim, and building a Succah out of plastic bottles they got the word out and achieved incredible success. Jerusalem is a cleaner, better place because of the work Sarah was a part of, and I for one have great respect and appreciation of that.
To all of our panelists – thank you.