30 October 2011

Jewish Joint Distribution Committee - Brazil

In 1636, Jews built the Kahal Zur synagogue in Recife/Br
Jewish history in Brazil dates back to the time of the voyages of Christopher Columbus. Gaspar da Gama, a Jew by birth, but later kidnaped and forcibly baptized, accompanied Portuguese admiral Pedro Alvares Cabral when he landed in what is now Brazil in 1500, beginning a more than 500-year presence in the New World.

Brazil is the largest country in South America, occupying half of the continent’s land mass. It is also the largest economy in the region. Formed primarily after 1920, Brazil’s Jewish population is currently the 10th largest in the world. Ethnically diverse in origin, its Ashkenazic component is primarily of Polish and German descent, while much of the Sephardic population is of Egyptian descent. Nearly all Jews live in urban areas, with São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, having the largest Jewish community, followed by Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre.

Brazil is a federation; consequently, the Jews in each state have an organization of their own. The central body representing all Jewish federations and communities in Brazil is the Confederação Israelita do Brasil (CONIB), founded in 1951. This umbrella organization includes 200 associations engaged in promoting Zionist activity, Jewish education, culture, and charity.

Income disparity is a major problem throughout Brazil, including in its Jewish communities. There is a need to create development and income opportunities to ensure a self-sustainable future. Attention to the enrichment of Jewish culture and heritage is also needed.

JDC acts as a partner and consultant to the Jewish communities of Brazil, helping to enhance services, community development initiatives, and outreach activities. JDC’s efforts include:

Opening the Ariel Job Center in Porto Alegre, which provides training and job placement help
Monitoring a microloan fund for the community of São Paulo
Workshops for small Jewish communities in the country’s interior

JDC support is enriching Jewish community development in Brazil through training programs and exchanges. These include:
- The 2nd Latin American Conference for Homes and Day Centers for the Elderly, held in São Paulo in November 2009, brought together representatives from Jewish care facilities in eight Latin American countries
The Albert Einstein Jewish Home for the Aged and Hospital in São Paulo—the largest Jewish hospital in Latin America—partnered with JDC for the event

07 October 2011

Yom Kippur - "Day of Atonement"

"In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work ... For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the LORD. - Leviticus 16:29-30"

Yom Kippur, starts at day 9 and ends on 10 of Tishrei, 5772 (Jewish Year).
In 2011 starts at sundown on Friday night 7 October. (Kol Nidre), and lasts all day Saturday 8 October, 2011 until sundown.

The name "Yom Kippur" means "Day of Atonement" and that pretty much explains what the holiday is. It is a day set aside to "afflict the soul," to atone for the sins of the past year. In "days of awe", I mentioned the "books" in which G-d inscribes all of our names. On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these books is sealed. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

- As I noted in Days of Awe, Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur.

- Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. It is well-known that you are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur.

- Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar. It is customary to wear white on the holiday, which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow (Is. 1:18). Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are buried.

- The liturgy for Yom Kippur is much more extensive than for any other day of the year. This prayer book is called the 'Machzor'. The evening service that begins Yom Kippur is commonly known as Kol Nidre, named for the prayer that begins the service. "Kol nidre" means "all vows," and in this prayer, we ask G-d to annul all personal vows we may make in the next year. It refers only to vows between the person making them and G-d, such as "If I pass this test, I'll pray every day for the next 6 months!"

- There are many additions to the regular liturgy. Perhaps the most important addition is the confession of the sins of the community, which is inserted into the Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah) prayer, all sins are confessed in the plural (we have done this, we have done that), emphasizing communal responsibility for sins.

After Yom Kippur, one should begin preparing for the next holiday, Sukkot, which begins five days later.

04 October 2011

The power of healing - Arabs and Jews

Look how Israel treats its Arab minority 
(Part 2 - The power of healing)
Original post by Michael Ordman
(some highlights)

Let’s begin in hospital. Israeli Arabs comprise 20% of the population of the Jewish State, therefore 20% of all hospital treatment benefits Israeli Arabs directly. This ranges from standard procedures through to life-saving operations and everything in between - there is no discrimination whatsoever.

In August last year, a Bedouin Arab couple's newborn son was saved by sophisticated treatment, which included days of being connected to a $200,000 heart-lung machine at Sheba Medical Centre’s children’s hospital. In December, Rehovot surgeons saved the life of an Arab construction worker who was impaled for 4 hours on a metal rod.

When any donor organ becomes available, the Israel Transplant computer checks all waiting recipients for suitability. So when Gamal Haja from Nazareth died from a stroke, his sister was amazed and consoled when she was notified that she would receive one of his kidneys. And the tragic death in a car crash of an East Jerusalem Arab boy was somewhat alleviated when his parents agreed to donate his organs, thus saving 3 people including an 8 year old Jewish girl and a 7 year old Arab boy. And just this month, Nabil Hourani’s lungs breathed new life into an Arab and a Jew following his death from a cerebral hemorrhage. Hourani's brother said. ‘My brother now lives on, in both Arabs and Jews, and this is very important to me’.

Israeli hospitals are centres for programs that provide benefit to both Arabs and Jews. Hospitals provide National Service opportunities to Arabs who don’t serve in the IDF, such as Nizar Elkoury and Lubna Kadry – two Arabs who happily perform their duties at the Rambam hospital in Haifa. Hadassah Hospital’s Dr Simcha Chesner has enlisted the Israeli Ministry of Education to use his Idud program to help Arab and Jewish children with ADHD achieve their full potential.

Israel has also some unique facilities for Arabs with specific medical conditions. The first (and so far only) registry for potential unrelated Arab donors of bone marrow or stem cells – which have the ability to cure cancers and other serious disorders – is at Hadassah University Medical Centre in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem. Israel is also the only country in the world where genetic testing is directly funded by the government. These tests greatly reduce child mortality in the Arab Bedouin population. So it is not surprising that infant mortality of Israeli Arabs has been reduced dramatically and Arabs here live noticeably longer on average than Americans. The average lifespan of Arabs has increased by a massive seven years since 1980.

Israeli funded tests for genetic disorders benefits Bedouin Arabs

The organisation Dental Volunteers for Israel runs a paediatric dental clinic in Jerusalem. Its multi-ethnic treatment policy is summed up by one of their supporters, the artist Lynne Stein - ‘Everybody smiles in the same language.’ To emphasise Israel’s inclusiveness, please watch this video of disabled Arabs & Jews working together. A unique (and profitable) Israeli call centre employs 150 Jewish and 30 Arab physically and mentally disabled adults. ‘Call Yachol’ translates as ‘everyone is able’.

I want to end by singling out Arab Israelis who are shining examples of Israel’s all-embracing society. In May, five Arab girl students from a school in the Galilee, who developed a groundbreaking device to ease side effects of cancer patients, represented Israel in an international competition in Netherlands. Next, Dr Rania Elkhatib is the first Israeli Arab woman to become a plastic surgeon. In fact she says, in this video clip, that she is the first Arab woman to become a plastic surgeon anywhere!

I will leave the final words to Dr. Hossam Haick from the Israel Technion who has pioneered early cancer detection using breath tests. ‘I was born here. I am tied to Israel. I also want to prove to others from the Arab community that nothing is impossible. You hear quite a few prejudices from Arab-Israelis; that Arabs cannot get ahead in Israeli academia. I wanted to prove that this is not true; to prove that if you are talented enough, you get to wherever you want.’ - Please also watch him on this video clip.

Michael Ordman writes a weekly newsletter containing Good News stories about Israel.