Category Archives: Misc

What Does Kosher Mean Today?

By Scott Fox

Food is perhaps one of the “greyest” aspects of Jewish life today. The Torah instructs us to abstain from ritually impure foods—but what does this mean in the 21st century?

One could argue that keeping kosher is both easier and more difficult than ever before. Today, between one-third and one-half of food in American supermarkets is kosher-certified, an astronomical increase since previous decades. It may seem surprising that so many companies pay for kosher certification (Orthodox Union, the blue label of hekhshers requires fees between $4,000 and $10,000) since observant Jews make up such a small portion of the consumer market, but others like Muslims, vegetarians and those concerned with food allergies are also buying into the kosher market for different reasons.

“It’s easier now than ever before to keep kosher,” says Rabbi Alexander Davis, senior rabbi of Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. “It’s really just a question of choices. You can find practically any ingredient with a hekhsher today.”

But in a society with greater choices, many Jews no longer cling to traditional dietary rituals. This can be seen particularly in the Conservative movement, where many believe fewer Jews keep kosher than ever before. Davis infers that earlier generations of Jews were willing to do more to keep kosher, citing a congregant’s parent who grew up in North Dakota and traveled across state lines once a month in order to purchase kosher meat. But Davis estimates that only 20 percent of his congregation keeps strictly kosher in their homes today. And according to the most recent National Jewish Population survey in 2000, only 30 percent of Jews maintain kosher homes.

As an observant Convservative Jew, keeping kosher has often felt like the most essential part of my Jewish identity, probably because it requires the most continual focus. I feel like I can skip going to shul for Shabbat, but not skip out of kashrut for a lobster roll. Going to college 40 miles away from the nearest provider of kosher meat, I’ve become primarily a vegetarian in order to keep up my religious obligation. Of course, by kashrut, I mean my own internal conception of keeping kosher. That includes not asking if certain restaurant dishes contain meat and assuming that what looks like dairy is dairy. Ignorance can sometimes be bliss. I also tend to rationalize eating products without a hekhsher by looking through a food item’s ingredient list and assuring myself that none of them sound like they contain treif even if that’s not really the case. In some ways, kosher is more of a mindset that makes me feel okay about what I eat.

Cost is another factor. As food prices rise and incomes lower from years of economic turmoil, many feel that being kosher is too expensive. The price of kosher food is typically more expensive than regular food, as is buying two sets of dishes and silverware. The price difference is particularly true in communities that don’t have easy access to kosher products. Aaron Rubenstein, rabbi of Beth Shalom, a conservative synagogue in Memphis, said the high cost was definitely a reason for people to avoid keeping strictly kosher homes.

“Some people might be willing to go vegetarian to keep kosher [on a budget],” says Rubenstein. “But for others, it is hard for them to part from meat in their diet. Some people feel that they’re being price gouged and think they should not be buying into the system because someone is taking advantage of their need for Passover food or kosher meat.”

Hazon, a leading Jewish food organization, is helping to make kosher food an affordable option. The group sponsors community supported agriculture (CSA) programs in the United States, Canada and Israel. Hazon’s programs provide access to healthy, local produce to connect clients with their Jewish communities. Jewish food banks have also helped those unable to afford food. But those endeavors cannot solve the entire cost problem of kosher food.

But kashrut is about more than just food. Many feel that food is not kosher if the workers, animals or environment are mistreated in the process, even if the food meets all halachic standards. Many became aware of the terrible conditions in slaughterhouses after newspaper articles and a federal government raid exposed Agriprocessors, the largest producer of kosher meat, violating many labor laws, including the use of undocumented immigrants and child labor. Until the federal government raided their plant in Iowa in 2008, about half of the country’s kosher meat came from Agriprocessors. Since the company was forced to restructure after the scandal, their meat prices have risen even further.

The shame of Agriprocessors led the Conservative movement to sponsor the implementation of a hekhsher tzedek. Rubenstein calls the new certification more of an “ethical good housekeeping seal” than an actual determination of whether a product is halachically kosher or not.

But will our generation of Jews continue to keep up this somewhat idealistic obligation that is kashrut as they move through adulthood? Davis is optimistic. “There’s a greater awareness among that generation of the role food plays in our lives,” he says. “I think and hope that, as a Jewish expression of our identity and ideals, eating with consciousness would be more attractive than ever.”

The Rise of Jews in the True North

By Scott Fox

Last week, Canada’s Consul General came to talk at my school (Carleton College in Minnesota) about the importance of the United States’ relationship with Canada. But what actually came across was a recruitment speech for joining our Northern neighbor. To tell the truth, I was nearly convinced as he mentioned the country’s comparatively low national unemployment (around six percent), government-provided healthcare for all and its drive for new immigrants.

I’m not the only American looking to Canada for a brighter future. In 2007, the number of American citizens moving to Canada reached its highest rate in 30 years—and the numbers have only been climbing since.

But what does Canada offer Jews? If you’re a Canada-curious American Jew thinking of heading North, don’t worry aboot the lack of Canadian yiddishkeit. Even though they’re usually overlooked, Canadian Jews have a rich culture and history in North America just like their American counterparts. In fact, Canada is home to the fourth largest Jewish population in the world, only standing behind the United States, Israel and France.

Around 375,000 Jews live in Canada—just over one percent of the national population—and are concentrated in the Toronto and Montreal metropolitan areas. And according to writer Jonathan Rosenblum, 74 percent of Canadian Jews have visited Israel—twice the rate of American Jews.

Canadian Jews experienced a somewhat parallel history as their American counterparts. Jews first came to Canada in large numbers between 1880 and 1930 from Eastern Europe. Most settled in Montreal, but rising Jewish immigration also led to rising anti-Semitism. The city’s French Catholic leadership supported discrimination against Jews in housing and employment, and a homegrown French Nazi movement also flourished in the 1930s. However, after World War II, anti-Semitism declined, and during the Quebec separatist movement of the 1970s, most Jews left for Toronto due to their strong opposition to the movement.

In the realm of entertainment, Jews have been as prolific in Canada as in the United States. Recording artist and actor Drake, one of Canada’s biggest stars, identifies as Jewish, attended Jewish day school and had a bar mitzvah. “My mother is Jewish and we have great Jewish dinners on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” he says.

The most popular sitcom in Canadian history was “King of Kensington,” which starred the late Al Waxman, who was born in Toronto to Jewish immigrants from Poland. Leonard Cohen, whose grandfather was the founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, is the Canuck answer to Bob Dylan. And of course the greatest Canadian entertainer of all is Jewish William Shatner.

And much of what we consider American-Jewish humor is actually Canadian-Jewish. Lome Michaels, Eugene Levy and Seth Rogen are among other funny makers who grew up in Canada. Rogen, whose parents met at an Israeli kibbutz, was born in Vancouver and got his start by performing stand-up routines at bar mitzvahs. His early jokes usually revolved around his Jewish upbringing. His hit film, Superbad, was co-written with Evan Goldberg, a friend Rogen met in bar mitzvah class. In another movie, Funny People, Rogen even wears a “Super Jew” t-shirt that has the Superman “S” inside a Star of David. Canadian literature also has its own major Jewish writer, Mordecai Richler, a foulmouthed version of Saul Bellow and Phillip Roth wrapped into Tim Horton’s pancake.

Becoming Canadian wouldn’t even mean shifting your taste buds that much. Like American Jews, Canadian Jews love deli food, but with French-inspired touches. Montreal-style bagels are smaller, sweeter, denser and have a larger hole than traditional New York bagels. Deli meat is also smoked Montreal-style with less sugar and more peppercorns and coriander than American salted, cured meats.

Hearing about the exciting world of Canadian Jewry almost makes me want to say, “Next year in Mississauga!” But I don’t think I can handle the Montreal-style bagel.

“Ex-Gays”: Not Just for Christians

by Steven Philp

This past Saturday, people gathered outside Barnes & Noble in El Paso, TX to protest a book signing by Pastor Tom Brown, a local clergyman who gained notoriety during the midterm election for organizing a ballot initiative that stripped health benefits from unmarried partners of city employees. He was promoting his new book Breaking Curses, Experiencing Healing, a guide to healing depression, fear, anxiety, anger and homosexuality through the Christian faith. In an interview with El Paso Times, Brown referred to the last point, claiming that “through a step-by-step process of cleanliness” one can rid oneself of these unwanted feelings and “find healing through Christ.” Outside, 12 protestors from the LGBT-rights group El Paso for Equality waved signs reading “Homosexuality is not an illness” and “Keep sex and religion in the bedroom.” Drivers of passing cars honked in support.

Brown said he was surprised by the negative reaction he received from the LGBT community and their allies. “Once people read the two chapters that deal with homosexuality in my book, they will see that there is not a word of hatred in there,” he said. “It’s all about understanding those who struggle with the same-sex issue and how to find healing through Christ. For those marchers, I would first challenge them to read the book before making a prejudgment.” In an interview with NBC El Paso, Brown said that he is not attempting to single out the LGBT community – despite his book and his contributions to the controversial ballot measure – but is doing his job as a minister to “spread the word.”

“He takes the teachings from the Bible and misconstrues them,” El Paso for Equality member Daniel Rollings told El Paso Times. “I’m openly gay and a Christian myself, and Christ does not teach hate. Tom Brown uses the Old Testament verse and Jewish cleanliness laws to make things about how one can be healed of homosexuality.” This statement should give members of the Jewish community pause, as it implies that prohibitions against homosexuality are halakhic territory. When looking at the compiled Jewish and Christian Bibles we find three specific passages that refer to the forbidden nature of same-sex relations, one in Leviticus (18:22) and two in the New Testament (Romans 1:26-27 and I Corinthians 6:9-10, both Pauline letters to early Christian communities). The weight of prohibitions is spaced across the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.  Some have construed other passages as referring to homosexuality – such as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis – yet these contain oblique, rather than explicit, references.

The rhetoric concerning the “healing” of homosexuals is largely Christian. Organizations like Focus on the Family, the National Organization for Marriage, and the American Family Association are a tangible presence within national debate. This raises the question: Are there Jewish groups with a similar “pro-family” agenda? Are community leaders like Tom Brown exclusively a Christian phenomenon?

In 1998, two Jewish couples in New Jersey founded an organization called Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH). According to their website, they “[believe] that homosexuality is a learned behavior and that anyone can choose to disengage from their same-sex sexual fantasies, arousals, behavior and identity – if motivated and supported in that process.” This past year they debuted a new logo to reflect an “increased professionalism,” expanded services, and growing staff made necessary by high demand for their services.

Although there have been voices from within the Orthodox community who have expressed opposition to LGBT rights–take the rabbis who opposed repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell–JONAH is unique in its organization and its alignment with ex-gay Christian organizations. According to a July 2010 press release from Truth Wins Out–a group for LGBT individuals who have experienced ex-gay therapy–one of JONAH’s therapists, Alan Downing, who also worked for the ex-gay organization People Can Change, was accused of sexually harassing his male clients.

Where was our indignation when this case was brought to national attention? It is easy to lose sight of these conservative constituencies within the Jewish community; we populate the most liberal cities in America and boast a large, progressive presence on national media and within the blogosphere. It is tempting to dismiss people like Tom Brown as a Christian problem. Yet–quietly–organizations like JONAH have a real impact on LGBT members of the Jewish community. It’s time we take notice.

For Refugees, a Modern Exodus

By Adam Chandler

Before escaping to Israel in 2003, Ephraim lived in a camp with 15,000 other Eritreans. Like a growing number of refugees from Eritrea as well as the Congo, Darfur, and Southern Sudan, Ephraim set off to evade the lethal farrago of political unrest, genocide, and deprivation that has come to typify the drought-laden portions of Eastern Africa. He left when he was 19, some seven years ago, a decision he says he made “to preserve life.”

The trek itself was a life-risking gambit. He paid smugglers to take him north through a maze of menace filled with unceasing obstacles. Those who don’t die of fatigue, starvation, or dehydration on the way must make it through the Sinai Desert where an Egyptian policy of shoot-on-sight claims dozens of lives yearly. Women making the journey are frequently raped, sometimes by their handlers, and refugees often face financial extortion by a cast of profiteers.

Once the refugees enter Israel, they begin the daunting task of acculturating to life in a new country, looking for jobs and shelter. Some of the women who arrive widowed or pregnant with the children of their assailants end up sleeping in places like Levinsky Park in South Tel Aviv’s seedy Neve Sha’anan neighborhood. This is often where Nic Schlagman  finds them.

Schlagman, 30, first became aware of the community of African refugees simply by walking through the neighborhood surrounding Tel Aviv’s decrepit Central Bus Station. Separate from Tel Aviv’s beach scenes and chic Bauhaus buildings, South Tel Aviv is home base for an ingathering of migrant workers from far-flung countries and exiles who come to Israel to work or start a new life. Israel, a Westernized country boasting a strong economy, has become a prime destination for both.

According to government statistics, there are more than 215,000 foreign workers in Israel, just under half of them working without a legal permit. Schlagman estimates the population of African refugees living in Israel numbers around 25,000. But beyond the hope for work and stability, Schlagman believes the appeal of life in Israel has a deeper resonance for refugees like Ephraim.

“It all began with the Seder.” Schlagman says.

Struck by the narrative of the migrant community in Tel Aviv, Schlagman began working with the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) to provide food, shelter, and cultural immersion assistance for African refugees in Israel. On a spring day in 2009, some of the volunteers were talking about their plans for the Jewish holiday of Passover. The refugees were familiar with the story of Moses leaving Egypt, but were curious about the Passover ritual of the Seder, a ceremonial recounting of the exodus into the Promised Land.

“As we were explaining the festival, it occurred to me that this wasn’t just our story, this was really their story. They literally, in many cases, walked through Egypt crossing the Sinai to flee oppression, hoping to find freedom. We had this idea that we would try to create this Seder together.”

The Seder was held in Levinsky Park and drew 1,000 people, an even split between refugees, curious Israelis, and a melange of contributing community activists and volunteers. The pastor from a refugee church brought in a choir to sing traditional Passover songs with a choir from a nearby Jewish seminary. The event, which aimed to bring about a broader consciousness regarding the refugees, combined the normal order of the Seder with the opportunity for Africans and Israelis to explore parallels between their stories.

Despite the commonalities in narrative, Israel’s policy regarding the refugees is a confusing one. After their status as asylum-seekers is determined, refugees are granted “temporary protection,” which ensures that they are not arrested or deported for three months. At the end of three months, a rubber stamp re-extends their stay another three months. Throughout these periods, refugees are not issued work permits. While the Israeli government doesn’t prosecute employers for hiring illegal labor, the refugees are frequently resigned to working menial jobs without the inherent protections that a work permit provides.

The debate about the refugees inspires much theater. Right-wing Israeli politicians label the refugees anything from infiltrators and security threats to the xenophobic extreme. As Israel faces a demographic problem vis-a-vis its Jewish character, even the idea of naturalizing a relatively small non-Jewish community remains politically unpopular across the spectrum. Calls from the largely-marginalized Israeli left wing argue that Israel was founded as an asylum for those fleeing oppression and genocide, but go largely unheard. Schlagman adds:

“It begs the question, what was the point of coming here? If this land doesn’t allow us to flower from the experiences of our history as wanderers for 2000 years, then what have we learned?”

In the meantime, activists like Schlagman and volunteer groups like the ARDC go about their work. Grassroots efforts have given some refugees a safety net to acclimate to life in the country. And while in limbo, refugees manage a precarious life. Some find better work and even open small businesses. For four years, Ephraim’s family didn’t know where he was. He now works a sanitation job from the early evening until five in the morning. He then goes to class on two hours’ rest and tries to stay awake. Ephraim, who secured a large scholarship at an Israeli university, has found a poetic topic of study: government.  When asked about his long-term plans in Israel or abroad with his family, he explains he doesn’t have any.

“I don’t have time to think about that.”

Rededicating Hanukkah Foods

By Merav Levkowitz

For those of us with food allergies and intolerances, social events tend to be awkward and isolating. So many Jewish events revolve around food and involve eating in social settings or at the houses of others. Though many Jews are used to  accommodating kashrut, vegetarianism, and lactose intolerance, which is common among Jews (but irrelevant during a kosher meat meal!), it can be uncomfortable to ask even the most accommodating host to modify his/her menu or recipes and cook differently, especially when old family recipes are at hand. Celiac disease is one such dietary restriction that requires extra attention and is rising in the prevalence in general and especially among Jews.

Celiac disease is, in a nutshell, an autoimmune digestive disease in which the body is unable to tolerate gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. The exact cause of Celiac disease remains unknown, but it is genetic and often triggered by environmental factors or intense physical event like illness, pregnancy or severe stress. In response to the offensive gluten, the immune system attacks and destroys the villi, the finger-like projections that line the inside of the small intestine and absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. Celiac disease that goes undiagnosed can manifest itself in a wide range of deceptive symptoms, including digestive issues, fatigue, infertility and seizures, among others, and can ultimately result in malnutrition and elevated risks for many illnesses and infections. Once diagnosed, the only way to treat it is to maintain a diet that is strictly free of gluten, which, in addition to being found in the primary grains mentioned above and their products, hides in many other products, like sauces, dressings, food fillers, lip gloss, and envelope adhesive.

In the Jewish world, a gluten-free diet means no challah, matzoh balls, sufganiyot (doughnuts), or even latkes (potato pancakes). Even with the increased awareness and greater supply of specialized products available in stores, maintaining a gluten-free diet often gives the impression of perpetual Passover. We Jewish Celiacs get used to reading labels and asking questions religiously, hosting, testing gluten-free recipes, cooking for ourselves and knowing that we will have to satisfy ourselves solely with the aroma of most challot. Although we cannot eat matzoh, during Passover we bask in the joy of knowing that for eight days our friends and family may get a small taste of what we experience year-round. Still, there is a feeling of loss that comes with not being able to participate in many Jewish rituals, mitzvot, and family traditions.

But with Hanukkah approaching, there is hope for Celiacs and our friends to reclaim the holiday this year and make it safe and enjoyable for all! Try out these flourless potato latkes and gluten-free sufganiyot, and check out this line-up of other gluten-free Hanukkah recipes. Hanukkah is, after all, about rededication and miracles and what better way to celebrate this than by sharing doughnuts that are safe for everyone?!  Happy cooking, and happy Hanukkah!

The Human Touch

By Merav Levkowitz

Tuesday (November 9th) marked seventy-two years since Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass,” which marked the beginning of the Holocaust in Germany. The first manifestation of Nazi-led violence against the Jews, Kristallnacht saw destruction and vandalism of synagogues and Jewish businesses. Over the past few days, Jewish communities around the world have gathered to remember Kristallnacht and the Holocaust. While “Never Forget” has become a mantra for the Jewish people in particular, I, as many others, fear that as time goes on, we risk distancing ourselves from the Holocaust in a dangerous way.

While the Holocaust remains at the root of much of contemporary Jewish thought and action, for many of us it lives on as part of collective memory, which causes pain but is very much intangible. As American Jews in particular, the realities of 1940s Europe are remarkably distant.

Though I am not a descendant of concentration camp survivors, my paternal grandparents escaped to Israel from Poland just before World War II. On both sides, their large families perished at the hands of the Nazis. While I did not grow up seeing the direct imprints (tattoos, even) of the Nazis, the Holocaust was made real for me by my father’s stories of growing up without grandparents. Beyond the stories of what happened, I was struck by what could have been—that is, the way world Jewry, and on a small scale, my own family, would have been different if not for the Nazis.

Museums, monuments, organizations, and films that seek to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, those who perished, and those who acted righteously are crucial to the preservation of knowledge and memory. But they are often sterile; there is nothing like the human touch. In the vast hallways of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, among the statistics and the photographs, I get the chills, but it is when I hear a survivor’s personal account—a story of being separated from parents, for example—that my heart aches and I cry.

My generation is the last that will have the opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors in person. As we lose these contacts, I fear that our understanding of the Holocaust risks fading like old photographs and becoming diluted. It is our duty to maintain our ties with survivors for as long as possible and to preserve their stories. Even in a globalized, virtual world, the human connection continues to reign supreme. Reach out and connect, so that we never forget.

The Fallen Kibbutz: A Microcosm of Israeli Society

By Lily Hoffman Simon

This year marked the centennial birthday of the Kibbutz. However, the structure of these unique societal experiments has changed so dramatically that, today, their original founders would barely recognize them.  The values of a Jewish and Zionist social revolution, which birthed the kibbutz movement, don’t exist in the modern kibbutz. With all of these shifts, are the kibbutzim still a relevant force for Israeli and Jewish life?

A kibbutz is a collective settlement in Israel, traditionally based on communal life, agriculture, and an emphasis on physical labour.  This ideology emerged in Eastern Europe in the 1900s, when Jewish youth began to question the value in a self-victimized, oppressed, and religiously observant Jewish lifestyle, a lifestyle which dominated the Jewish narrative and experience throughout Europe. These idealists, frustrated by the lack of Jewish autonomy, latched on to the growing Zionist momentum to develop their own ideology—that of labour Zionism, which fused the ideas of a Zionist revolution with socialist principles.

Alongside the development of this unique Zionist perspective through the works of A. D. Gordon and Nachman Syrkin, to name a few, masses of Jews began to immigrate to Palestine to form collective, agricultural kvutsot, the precursor to kibbutzim. These communities dominated the Jewish attraction to Israel up until the end of World War II, and helped build Israel’s physical and social infrastructure. The underlying goal was to create a Jewish state based on the principles of Jewish liberation and autonomy, as well as egalitarianism, a return a nature, and the importance of interpersonal relationships.  Traditional kibbutzim forwent paying wages, instead giving everyone a specific job to maintain the collective kibbutz lifestyle. All money and property was shared.

So where are these utopian communities today?  Facing a booming Israeli population, structural changes in the Israeli economy and growing religious influence in national politics, many kibbutzim started to dramatically shift their focus in the 1980s. They underwent a process of privatization, introducing private wages and private property and contracting manual labour from outside the community. The kibbutzim’s initial economic success and vast influence on Israeli politics–the kibbutz-affiliated Labour party was in power until 1977–also contributed to these structural changes. Increased living standards undermined the simple, naturalistic lifestyle they originally promoted, and technological development encouraged them to hire outside labour to work the fields instead of the members themselves. All of these changes represented not only a changing Israel, but a dramatic ideological shift in the kibbutzim. Today about 70% of kibbutzim run on a privatized model, and the kibbutz movement is little more than another lobby group, with loose affiliation to the dwindling Labour Party.

While acknowledging the legacy of the kibbutzim during their prime, it is important to ask whether these societies accomplished their utopian Zionist goals. Was the new Jew created? Were the Jewish people liberated?  Open up any newspaper about Israel, or the Jewish people, and it becomes clear the answer is no.  Israel today is rampant with problems like racism, environmental issues, and religious political dominance. All of these are in direct contradiction to the original kibbutz values. The same can be found in the greater Jewish community, which still tends to focus on its past persecutions as a dominant defining feature of Jewish identity, especially the Holocaust (check out Netanyahu’s speech at Yad Vashem). Despite years of influence on Jewish life towards egalitarian and emancipated ideals, the fall of the kibbutz today seems instead to reflect the stagnation of Israeli and Jewish life.

Sustainable Tzedakah

By Steven Philp

Now that we have entered the month of November, many of us look forward to the prospect of spending time with loved ones for Thanksgiving. Yet during times of celebration, Jews are also called to remember the needy through the commandment of tzedakah. Tzedakah often takes the form of charitable giving–small donations to help the less fortunate meet their most basic needs. Yet many people continue to struggle to make ends meet, and every year we are given the difficult task of counting our blessings in the face of endemic poverty. It is written in the Talmud that the highest forms of tzedakah are those gifts that enable another person to become self-sufficient. As Jews, we ask ourselves: how can we give in a way that contributes toward a permanent solution?

In 2009, activist and lawyer Maggie Anderson asked herself a similar question: as a successful woman of color, what could she do to make a positive–and enduring–contribution to the black community? Her answer was the Empowerment Experiment – a commitment to buy exclusively from black-owned businesses for one year. This pledge took courage; according to Anderson, some labeled the project as pointless, or worse: racist. Yet the sense of pride and community it fomented among her family and friends was worth the effort. The project also helped demonstrate the power of the dollar, when spent correctly. In a recent lecture at the University of Chicago, she paraphrased Martin Luther King Jr., stating that charitable giving–although wonderful–only treats the symptoms, rather than the cause, of poverty. Unlike other ethnic enclaves–the Jewish community included–where a dollar will circulate among local businesses for seven to twenty-nine days, the black community sees money leave their local economy within six hours. Contributing to this problem is the belief that there are no quality black-owned businesses. According to Anderson, there is some truth to this; as young black businesses are outsold by more established operations, they find it difficult to provide competitive services. As a result, a growing number of businesses within black neighborhoods are owned by people who live elsewhere; money spent at these stores is then filtered to those communities, rather than reinvested in their own.

The Empowerment Experiment challenges consumers to replace their charitable giving with charitable spending, finding and sustaining local businesses in an effort to bolster financial stability in our communities. As a result, money is redirected back in to the local economy and invested in projects that increase the standard of living; as businesses thrive, local services – such as schools, libraries, and childcare programs – improve through an increase in tax revenue and sponsorship. With more conscious spending, these communities can support local businessmen and women, and help the needy become self-sufficient. According to Anderson, the data collected through the project has shown a positive impact.

So what can we, as Jews, learn from this project? Perhaps this winter, rather than setting aside our loose change for charitable giving, we can aspire toward the highest level of tzedakah through charitable spending. For Thanksgiving dinner, purchase what you can from food vendors in your community. When preparing for Hanukkah next month, try to see what items on your menu can be bought from local, sustainable sources. Buy your holiday gifts from local businesses, especially those owned by members of minority communities. A component of this project takes courage, traveling outside your community in to neighborhoods you may perceive as less safe. Yet there can be no change without chutzpa, as exemplified by Anderson; facing down her critics, she has shown how a simple change of habit can make a positive impact on your community.

Sarah Silverman On Your Voice Mail!

If you’re already in the market for a really spectacular Hanukkah gift, look no further.  For the next 12 days, Moment will be auctioning off spectacular vacations, rare books, and, yes, even Sarah Silverman’s voice for your voice mail or answering machine.

Click here to bid!

Moment Magazine Happy Hour – October 28th, 5-9 PM

Need a drink before the Stewart/Colbert rallies?  Try a “Stewart Restoring Sanit-ini” or a “Colbert Shot of Fear at Moment Magazine’s Happy Hour, and meet the writers and editors of the independent Jewish magazine that Slate calls “a must read.”


Thursday, October 28

5:00pm – 9:00pm

Madams Organ

2461 18th St NW

Washington, DC


Madam’s offers $1 off all drinks until 8:00 p.m, and will donate 20 percent of all food orders and $1 for each drink to Moment.  Plus, our fantastic raffle will include a 1-year subscription to Moment Magazine, signed copies of Sarah Silverman’s new book and other fabulous prizes.


RSVP on our Facebook page:!/event.php?eid=132997380083479&ref=ts

Until then, sign up for our e-mail blasts and check out our blog at