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.

Why?

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.

About the author

Laya Millman

18 Comments

  • I second all of Laya’s emotions on this one. What great speakers, and inspiring stories from all!

    I’d like to remind everyone that the very word which defines this type of person, iconoclast, stems from Judaism. Abraham was the original iconoclast (the word means breaking statues, referring to the idols he smashed, according to midrash). And Jews have been following our forefather’s lead ever since!

    Rock on!

  • It’s no secret, and no coincidence that Jews have historically been at the forefront of almost every major movement of proactive social change.

    Laya, come on. You know the Muffti loves you, but, really, this ‘read the jews into everything cool’ movement in general is just plain bad history. Let’s see:
    1795-1750 BC Hammurabi’s reign produces the Hammurabi code, no help is noted to the jews (except for a few kooks who like to read the seven noachide laws into it and speculate about the relationship).

    508/507 BCE: Cleisthenes ushers democracy into Greece. Not a bad social change all things considered.

    1215, Magna Carta is signed. The jews are involved only insofar as there is a provision regarding usury.

    1776, American Revolution, in which Jews play a next to marginal role. Similarly for the french revolution a few years later.

    1865 – Slaves in America are freed. Jews play an absolutely minor role (though many did fight in the civil war – 9000 for the north apparently and but quite a few for the south as well) and are rather scantily represented in the abolitionist ranks beforehand.

    Muffti isn’t saying we have a bad record. We have quite a good one (though perhaps ushering a century of communism into Russia wasn’t the greatest idea we could have come up with. oh well; 20/20 hindisight). But that’s a far cry from what you were claiming, Laya.

    Glad J@TB was cool.

  • Oh Laya, you flatter me so!

    Thanks for the great post, and the great time at the Conference.

    I met so many amazing people, and look forward to more Jewlicious events.

    BTW, Muffti- maybe Laya exaggerated a little bit but maybe she just should have said:

    “It’s no secret, and no coincidence that Jews have historically been at the forefront of almost every major movement of proactive social change. Be it socialism, the women’s movement or civil rights, somehow we are always disproportionately represented.”… in this century.

    Its hard to come up with a revolution in the Western world in this century which Jews did not play a part in.

  • muff – i’ll concede the point…a little. It was late last night when I posted this running on very little sleep, but no excuse. You are right in that in times and places where Jews were not particularly represented in the society at large, there was little influence. I suppose I was thinking a bit too modern, so to be safe, lets say American Jews in the 20th and 21st century have been disproportionately represented in movements of social change. I’ll edit it a little.

  • Why are you always so literal muffti? Laya’s point may have been in need of some re-wording BUT it is an undeniable fact that the Jewish presence and influence in the world has always been disproportiantate given their numbers.

    For instance, read this neat article about the Jews and the American Revolution. The conclusion may be a stretch, but it is still informative. Also informative is this article.

    Jews involved in the abolitionist movement? Jews, like the rest of the nation were divided but most Jews were squarely in favor of abolition and some were even involved with John Brown to one extent or another. See this article.

    Just sayin’ is all…

  • Laya – sorry; Muffti hears waht you claimed too often to not be a bit annoyed by it. One picky point though; the jews were well represented during the american revolution, the french, and the civil war. But hwatever. Muffti appologizes for being so literal.

    CK: Muffti didn’t say that jews weren’t involved; they just dind’t figure very prominently. The conclusion in the first article is a gigantic stretch and in the second article, Muffti doens’t disagree but doesn’t think this makes jews real front runners. (you are leaning rather heavily on the phrase ‘to one extent or another…)

    As far as disproportiante representation, Muffti actually sees not so much evidence of that.

  • Fun Joel, there are some things in the world that we cannot change, even with dedicated activism. People speaking in the third person about themselves are in fact one of those things. So let it go, my man.

  • Am glad to learn that there people who aren’t splitting hairs about whether the situation in Darfur is a genocide or not, and are doing something to help.
    Muffti: communism was a lofty idea. So it was doomed to fail: You can’t entrust earthlings with the implementation of noble ideas.

  • The Muffti apparently is not limited to the 3 dimensions of space, time or, especially, religion. The Grandmuffti appears to be penetrating the 4th dimension or 4th person; way above the simple conventionality of 3rd person reference.

  • Oy yes, the fine line between schizophrenic multiplicity of personality and the necessity of creative breakthrough by way of stereophonic genius is indeed hard to discern for the dimensionally challenged.

  • The “Stop Genocide in Sudan” tshirts are available at http://www.studentsagainstgenocide.org. They are only available in bulk, but they are priced at cost so you can resell them at a higher price and donate your profits to whatever Darfur organization you choose… They’re wildly popular at Claremont (we’ve sold over 1000 on our campus of 5000), so don’t be afraid to invest in a dozen. You’ll sell them all and raise money and awareness for Darfur!

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