an open letter to the world to help New Orleans (yes, still)

From April 10 through April 17, 2011, Emily and I will be joining a group of Rodef Sholom congregants on a mission to New Orleans where we will help to rebuild a school called Our School at Blair Grocery ( in the  Lower Ninth Ward. We visited this same school last year and were deeply moved by the wonderful work that Nat Turner, the school’s founder, is doing in this still decimated community.  Please see the photos above that I’ve attached from last year’s trip.  It’s hard to believe that 5 years after Katrina there are still areas of New Orleans that are suffering such hardship.  Our group, which includes both adults and young people (14 to 77 years old), will be working alongside Nat and his people to help re-build the school and the community. Our synagogue group is being hosted by a larger disaster recovery group called Jewish Funds for Justice, which works in disaster recovery in areas throughout the world.

We are writing to you because we hope to raise $500 for Our School at Blair Grocery to buy necessary items  for the school, to bring comfort and dignity to the students who learn there, and to aid the community as a whole.  We know that when we travel to New Orleans we will not be going alone.  We are going on behalf of our friends, family and our entire synagogue community.  With your help we can lighten the burden and bring healing and redemption to many broken lives.

Please send checks made out to Congregation Rodef Sholom (so that you can each receive a tax deduction).  Write “New Orleans” in the memo section of the check, and send it to Congregation Rodef Sholom, 170 No. San Pedro Road, San Rafael, CA  94903.  Or you can send a note via the comments box below and we will coordinate pick-up. 

If you are unable to support our work financially, please be assured that we understand.  We do ask for your good wishes as we travel to New Orleans again this year.

 Leslie and Emily

 The concern for justice is an act of love.
~Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

1. Deuteronomy: Ki Teitzei

When you go….that’s what ki teitzei means.  These are the commandments that Jews are to follow when they arrive.  I read somewhere that 74 of the 631 mitzvot are listed in this portion.  I haven’t personally counted.

I like rules, especially rules that sound crazy.  Like it’s illegal to spit on the sidewalk in California.  That rule was made once upon a time for some good reason.  You’d have to research the date and time of the rule to figure out how it made sense though.

Some of the mitzvot seem crazy too.  Like why can’t we wear cloth made of both wool and linen ?  And why does a captive bride have to shave her head and grow out her nails?  And we can’t even go to the place where it’s even ok to take a captive bride these days, now can we?  There’s just nothing okay there.

There’s a great article in this month’s Reform Judaism magazine.  It’s called “Lost in Mis-Translation”.  The english language bibles of today, both Jewish and Christian, were originally commissioned for translation in the 1600s by King James for the Christians of the day.  More recent bibles are based on that early translation.  And not only were there errors in the early translation, but often modern people forget that times were very different then and words that meant one thing during biblical times mean something entirely different today.  Not only that, but customs were entirely different.

So considering why we are not allowed to wear cloth made of wool and linen becomes a really interesting little mystery to solve.  This is one of the mitzvot that man is considered unable to understand.  Which for me makes the mystery even more interesting.  Linen was extensively used first by the Egyptians and is made from the flax plant.  I believe their priests wore linen and their dead were mummified in linen.  Wool came much later and is an animal product rather than a plant product.  It is much more elastic than linen (which is not elastic at all) and is much warmer.  So maybe the Jews didn’t want to wear what the Egyptians wore along with what they themselves might have developed.  Or maybe the idea is just that wool is a winter garment and linen a summer garment.  Or maybe it was about mixing animal and plant.  Apparently there is a very strong and useful fabric that is made of both wool and linen.  Maybe the Jews didn’t have the ability to make this cloth themselves and so didn’t want to use it. 

Or maybe, God just said don’t mix these fibers and stop asking why.  I say that very thing to my children, although I promised myself as a child that I’d never say it.  Sometimes the answer is just “because I said so”.

Now I really don’t get why the captive wife has to shave her head and grow her nails.  Any ideas on that one?