We can't allow this! Save children!

We can't allow this! Save children!
A starving Sudanese stalked by a vulture, by Kevin Carter (1994 Pulitzer Prize winner)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Please go to Avrum's New Blog

Please visit Avrum's new blog, which is regularly upgraded at: http://avrum.net

Thank you,

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Are We Saving Our Children?

Our hungry children

Have you ever been hungry? Have you ever gone without a meal, not because you wanted to but because you had to? Do you know what it feels like to be starving, not because it’s a fast day but because you only have two nickels in your pocket to rub together, enough perhaps to buy a stick of licorice?
In our hometown of Toronto, thousands of children wake up every morning, and lay their tired heads down at night, hungry.

What a painful reality.

Consider the following facts found on the website of Mazon Canada (which describes itself as the “Jewish response to hunger” – mazoncanada.ca): 140,000 people in the Toronto area use food relief programs, and the percentage of food recipients who go hungry at least a couple days a week is 36 per cent. The number of children in food bank households is 50,400, and the number of children who go hungry at least once a month is 18,497.

The federal government made a commitment in 1989 to end child poverty by 2000. But by 2003, children were still the most notable victims of poverty-related hunger. Unfortunately, the chances of ending child poverty in the next decade are as good as the Toronto Maple Leaf’s winning a Stanley Cup in 2008.

Hunger is indeed a serious problem, both here in Toronto and across Canada. According to Mazon, almost one million Canadians receive emergency food hampers each month, a figure that has risen 122 per cent since 1989 (and 8.5 per cent since 2003). Even more disappointing is that of these food bank recipients, 40 per cent are children – 317,242 to be precise, 166,242 more then in 1989. Mazon adds that “there are far more hungry Canadians than these numbers indicate.”

Ask any teacher for the signs of a hungry child. Ask your child’s teacher. He or she will tell you that hungry children can suffer from anxiety, depression, social problems and/or attention problems. The National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine in the United States have conducted studies that show children who suffer from malnutrition have lower IQs and “score worse than their peers on arithmetic, writing, spatial memory and other cognitive tests.”

It’s crucial that we are become aware of this devastating problem that’s going on all around us. The thought that a little child is hungry in the morning, or has no lunch in his or her bag is heartbreaking.

Your gut response in reading this sad news might be to say that these facts reflect bad situations in Regent Park or near Jane and Finch. The earth-shattering reality, however, is that they also reflect a problem that affects many of our children, some of whom attend Jewish day schools. Poverty exists inside and outside the Jewish community.

Fred, the fellow who put flowers where David Rosenzweig was killed a few years ago, told me that he would frequently be asked by young children at Bathurst Street and Lawrence Avenue if he could buy them a burger or something else to eat, because they hadn’t eaten that day. They were hungry. Child poverty is everywhere and pays no attention to religion or culture.

How can you help? Familiarize yourself with the problem. Some important websites include www.campaign2000.ca and www.ncjwc.org, the site of the National Council of Jewish Woman of Canada (NCJWC).

Then consider supporting organizations such as Mazon and NCJWC in their quest to help eradicate child hunger and poverty. Join with them. Play a role in strengthening our community and city by ensuring that our members, be they five or 85, are cared for, in accordance with Midrash Psalms 118:17: “When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer, ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told, ‘This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.’”

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Piercingly Loud Peace

The sage Nachmanides described as an inverted bow the rainbow that God placed in the sky to express God’s covenant with Noah: “[God] has not made the rainbow with its feet bent upward because it might have appeared that arrows were being shot from heaven.

It is indeed the way of warriors to invert the instruments of war which they hold in their hands when calling for peace.”

Your child may feel fear in the presence of a stranger and cry uncontrollably. The tears pour out of her eyes. Your heart crumbles. You feel compelled to wrap your entire being around his little body and protect him through the same powerful inner force that allows a terrified mother to lift a car off her baby.

We, the Jewish people, are painfully aware of the importance of ensuring our children are safe. We are because of the reality that 1.2 million of our children were murdered in the Holocaust stabs wildly at our soul. Our consciousness seems to be raised to higher levels and the fear we harbour for the safety of our people is greater when the issue at hand is children.

But our responsibility to protect our little ones must not only be directed toward our own progeny. We must also take care of those living up the street and others living in countries far enough away that they seem unreal. Consider the following and understand why we are responsible for the children.

According to UNICEF, in the past 20 years, children under 16 have fought in at least 16 wars in 25 countries. In the last decade, two million children have lost their lives because of war.

Armies and soldiers care little about the ages of their enemy. It is standard practice to torture children as part of collective punishment for communities or as a way of extracting information about others. Torturing children! I can think of nothing more inhumane.

Children are frequently tortured for entertainment sake. They are often forced to kill a sibling. My breath is short as I write this.

Women and girls are regularly sexually abused and raped in war zones. In Bosnia, Herzegovina and Croatia, it was policy to rape teenage girls and force them to give birth to “the enemy’s” children. In Rwanda, almost every young girl who survived an attack by the militia was raped. Many became pregnant. Many were ostracized by their families. Many abandoned their babies. Some of them committed suicide.

When atrocities such as these are committed against children, Jew and non-Jews together must create a vibrant movement in the world called peace. It must be loud enough to permeate the spirits of everyone who has the ability to make peace. We must take care of all the world’s children

It is not enough to be quiet role models for goodness. We must wade out into the world and convert those who will listen and act on our ability to be peaceful. The motivation for such an aggressive pursuit of peace must be the reality that two million children are dead because of war.

We cannot live in such a criminal world! Of course, we must arm ourselves with weapons and fight wars when called upon to do so. But we must always fight on a second front as well – that of respect, understanding and decency toward others. The children of the world cry out to us. Imagine their terror.

It is time we create an aggressive movement centred on the universal idea of loving your fellow human beings as yourself. An honest and wisely thought out movement for peace is good for the Jews. It is paramount for our world.

Remember your children when they wince in fear.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Never Again. Bull!

Darfur: the world is full of it

The new year, 2008, has arrived and the killing, raping and pillaging continues in Darfur, Sudan. Basically, the world is full of it when it comes to halting this war.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, actress and activist Mia Farrow wrote about Darfur – a place she has visited seven times – that “the world seems content to look on in silence. The diplomatic pressure needed to end [Sudanese President Omar] Bashir’s pattern of obstruction is nowhere to be found.”

Farrow, in referring to a “pattern of obstruction,” is speaking about United Nations Resolution 1769, which authorized the deployment of 26,000 peacekeepers to defend the millions of people who are in danger in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Bashir has stated categorically that he will deny entry to peacekeeping troops offered by Nepal, Norway, Sweden, India and Thailand. “Even if there is a shortage of troops from the African continent,” he has said, “we are not going to accept those people.”

Bashir’s reasoning is that the UN resolution requires the peacekeeping group to be African in character. It does not say, however, that it needs to be exclusively African. Bashir clearly has no interest in ending the war against the Darfurians, and it seems that the rest of the world can’t be bothered, either.

China holds great sway over the government of Sudan, being one of its biggest purchasers of oil. Yet China has refrained from putting any diplomatic pressure on Sudan or contributing troops to protect the men, woman and children of Darfur.

Farrow informs us that Sudan has refused to give the UN mission land or water access to Darfur, or a place to base and sustain its troops. She states, “It places restraints on UN helicopter flights. It denies landing rights to transport aircraft. It refuses to allow night flights essential for civilian protection and medical evacuations.”

During the Rwandan genocide, Canadian general Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the UN’s peacekeeping force in Rwanda, asked for a few thousand troops to end the orchestrated, pre-planned, genocidal slaughter of Tutsis by Hutus. The request was denied. Since then, books and movies have been written and produced about the refusal of the world community to respond to his simple request. Tears have flowed and apologies have been forthcoming from major political figures.

I figure that more than $1 billion has been spent on apologizing for Rwanda. What a waste of money.

And guess what? Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, commander of the proposed UN mission to Darfur, is now begging for 24 helicopters that he says are “essential for security and protection operations.”

But not a single helicopter has so far been offered by one single nation. Not one!

In 1994 in Rwanda, over a 100-day period, the world watched silently as children were slaughtered in front of their parents. as women were gang raped and subjected to unspeakable acts before being killed, and as men, if they were lucky, were hacked to death by machete wielding thugs.

Today, in January 2008, a mere 13 years after words of regret and apology started to flow from the lying pens of politicians and citizens alike, the same barbarism is occurring in Sudan.

The carnage in Darfur continues, and the world seems to be no more compassionate today than it was during the Rwandan crisis, or for that matter during our crisis, the Holocaust.

The world is full of it.

Children, little tiny creations of God, are being murdered before our very eyes, and we’re watching it happen all over again. And guess what? It will happen again and again and again.

Any ideas? “Never again” doesn’t seem to be working.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

And Then I Became a Jew Part 1

Your people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
– Book of Ruth (Judaism’s first convert)

Why would a person choose Judaism? What does a person converting from Christianity do with his or her belief in Jesus? Are Jews from birth really accepting of converts? The following is from an interview I conducted with Torontonian Bruce Cowley, who was born a Baptist and five years into his marriage, having already had children, decided to study Judaism, go to the mikvah, undergo a brit milah and stand before a bet din. Why? Because he wanted to be a Jew.

My conversion on May 13, 1995, was very natural and it all felt right for me. I always said I wouldn’t convert for marriage. I did it for the right reasons.

I didn’t want to be a passive parent who says to my children, about Judaism, “Go talk to your mom.” I wanted to engage with my children. I wanted to learn, to be informed so I could talk to them. Rabbi Reuven Bulka, from Ottawa, said, ‘Take a conversion course.’ I did.

Prior to my conversion, Linda’s parents weren’t pleased that we were a couple. Her father encouraged us to live together, hoping we would break up. We didn’t. They really are wonderful people though – her father is very smart, supportive and a great guy. Once they got to know me, they realized I was a good person.

My parents – who live in Calgary – they were a little quieter. My marrying a Jewish woman was not their fantasy, but they had been prepared because my oldest sister married a French Canadian Catholic and my other sister married an Irish Catholic. It was a bigger deal to them when my sister married the Irish Catholic then when I married a Jew. Linda and I were married on Oct. 29, 1988.

I was raised in a relatively conservative Baptist home. It was not evangelical. I draw parallels between my parents and a good Jewish home, because they lived their beliefs. My parents were always taking people in – you know, troubled people. They stressed tolerance. My father never said anything negative about anyone based on their religion, language or anything. Being a Baptist provided me with respect.

The fact that I was brought up in a good Christian home allowed my eyes to be opened to the positive stuff. When I was first exposed to Judaism, I think it was that kind of tolerance that allowed me to embrace Judaism.

When I finally converted it wasn’t like I was struck by lightning – you know, like all of a sudden, I went to the mikvah, had a circumcision and stood before the bet din, and I was a Jew. It was gradual.

Circumcision? There was a a urologist and some serious guys in the room davening. I was already Jewish in my mind, so I was happy to do it. I wanted to do it. It’s a mitzvah. A while later, I called in to a CBC show and assured the (circumcision) naysayers that it does not affect your sensitivity in the slightest.

I think Judaism is a model for living. It provides a set of moral guidelines for me and my family. It’s a model of goodness, one that human beings can live by and feel comfortable with. When I’m faced with a decision I try to find a reference point. I ask what is a good Jews supposed to do. You have to find your reference point and for me it’s Judaism. I bounce everything off it.

(“How do other Jews treat me?” Read part 2 next week for Bruce’s response.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Tale of Two Kidneys

This is a beautiful e-mail sent by a mother to family members expressing great pride in her daughter for giving a selfless gift to a stranger. Please read it and comment. Let us know if you are familiar with similar situations. There is much goodness in our world. We need to build on it so it is audible to all...so it is loud! Well done!

Yesterday, on Thursday, December the 13th, 2007, two days after Chanukah, two weeks before Christmas, our daughter Lori gave one of her healthy kidneys to a woman she has never met.

Lori had been thoroughly tested and found to be a perfect match and in perfect health, and everything was a "go". She and Yocheved (the recipient) spoke on the phone for hours.

They are both teachers. Yocheved teaches deprived children in an inner city New York public school. Lori teaches classes on how to apply the wisdom of Torah to your everyday life.)

It took 4 hours to remove her kidney lapiscopically because the kidney is covered with many veins that have to be carefully moved. Then, in a little icebox, they carried it next door where it took another 4 hours to attach it in Yocheved's body.

We got updates all day, from her husband Yaakov, her devoted friend Rebecca, and her daughter Shoshana. Shosh's voice sounded both scared and stoic. Our last message last night: "When Lori opened her eyes she asked how Yocheved was. When Yocheved opened her eyes, she asked how Lori was. Then they both went to sleep."

So who is Yocheved and how did this come about? Wed. night Lori phoned to tell Joel and I what was going to take place. She reminded us of the blood clinics she organized 10 years ago to help a young man named Jay to find a bone marrow match to save him from leukemia. (It took years. Almost-matches kept him alive until a nearly perfect match was found. He is doing just fine now). Lori was deeply touched by the fact that someone, a stranger, could save Jay's life by giving him some of his bone marrow.

"Since then I discovered that a person can live a very healthy and long life with just one kidney. When I saw an appeal for a 5 year old boy, I offered to help him, but I wasn't a good match. I was told, however, that I was a good match for Yocheved. When I found out she had 7 children and her own sister was, last August, was rejected as a donor because, in the process of being tested for the transplant, her sister's kidneys were discovered to be at the beginning of the same problem, I decided to do it.

"Please don't be upset. I am very happy and excited to be able to save someones life."

Apparently, before the operation, Lori said: "I'm glad Yocheved doesn't live in the same city as I do. She would feel indebted. I might be tempted to take advantage: "What? I gave you my kidney and now you won't carpool for me?" Well, all I can say to Lori is: My darling daughter, when you were a little girl and I was teaching you to "share", I meant candy and toys. We have been told that the transplanted kidney is working. However, there is still a slight chance that Yocheved's body might reject it. Time will tell.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Minister and an Old Jew

By Avrum Rosensweig

We really don’t know what non-Jews think about us. Yet I would hazard to guess if we asked 100 of our people their opinion on such a matter - likely the overwhelming response would be the church and its leaders as a whole, are anti-Jewish. Certainly there is enough evidence to support this belief, however we must keep in mind as well there are Christians who do indeed harbor positive feelings about Jews. The following are some snippets from a speech given by a Minister, Victor Shepherd, (October 2001) when he spoke about a moment he shared with an older Jewish man. As you will see, his words were sincere and his feelings for the Children of Israel, upbeat. It's important to know who our friends are.

…And then there are the men and women I meet in ways that leave me amazed. It happened to me with most poignant profundity when I went to a funeral at Temple Sinai. Because I had arrived 45 minutes early I went to a Jewish restaurant, Marky's Delicatessen, for a cup of tea. I noticed there were no seats available and I was the only man without a hat on. All the other men were wearing either a yarmulke or a fedora. I waited for a minute, not knowing quite what to do, when at the back of the restaurant an old, thin Jewish man with the warmest smile and the face of an angel moved over on his seat and beckoned to me as he called out, "There is room for us both!"

My heart melted. I had grasped the double meaning he had uttered deliberately when he had said, "There is room for us both." I sat down beside him and we began to talk. He told me his older sister brought him to Canada prior to World War II. He and his sister were the sole survivors of his family. I asked him what he had done for a living. "I was a simple peddler. I went door-to-door peddling tablecloths, sheets and pillow cases."

He said he was born in Southeast Poland, in a small insignificant village with a famous Rabbi. "It's a tradition", he continued, "that a rabbi remain in the place where he begins his work. Now a minister has to go wherever he is sent. But our rabbi stayed in our little village, even though he could have gone anywhere at all, because the tradition meant more to him than the money; and besides he loved us so much."

I then told him I was a minister. "Oh, I knew that already", he said as if it need not have been mentioned. It was spirit resonating with spirit

In view of the fact that words like "minister" and "Christian" are synonymous with persecution going back for centuries in Poland, do you have any grasp of what grace floods that old man's heart for him to have said to me, "There is room for us both"? He knew I represented that institution which has afflicted his people for centuries.

I¹ll not see that dear man until the day when Messiah tarries no more. But for my meeting with him I shall thank God for the rest of my life. Today my heart overflows in gratitude to God for the people whom he has brought before me, people from the big city as well as the tiny village in southeast Poland, not to mention soul mates because of whom I shall never be forsaken.

Knowing the One whose depths are unfathomable and whose gift of himself is inexpressible, I am rendered ever more grateful for people whose richness is
inestimable and for a universe whose wonders are endless.

It is important to know who our friends are.