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Friday, September 16, 2011

Lobbying in Washington, D.C.

Friends and family - I am writing once again about an issue that is of vital importance to each of us: Global Hunger. When I have discussed this issue with some, I often hear the following: "We have our own problems, our own hungry." I am not denying that. It is awfully true that there are many, many Americans who live in poverty. We need to do everything we can as humans to help them out. But, recognizing that the United States has limited funds - especially in our current financial situation - we CANNOT ignore the rest of the world. If you are wondering why it is our responsibility to help, that's simple. As the richest (or one of at least) the nation in the world, we are charged with helping out those who are in need, here on our own soil, and everywhere.

Last night, I attended a Cincinnati Reds game. It also happened to be "Hispanic Heritage Night." What this meant was that there were Spanish songs played in the stadium and some of the announcements were made in Spanish. Why am I telling you this? Well, there was a man a few rows in front of me that brought several American flags to the game, and each time the Hispanic announcer would speak or when a song was played in Spanish, the man would stand up, raise his American flag and either scream "God Bless America" or some derogatory comment about the cultures we were celebrating. One of his comments, "Go back across the border" really upset me. After all, the United States is a melting pot. EVERY person that lives in this country (with the exception of Native Americans of course) came from a different country.

I have also heard the following from people - "When my ancestors came to America, we were forced to learn the language and get jobs to survive." That is true, when my family came to this country, they had to learn English to survive. But, the America today is VERY different from the America back then. It is important that we recognize that those who come to the United States are looking for better lives - the same reasons our ancestors came here. If you want to make a difference, speak to those we have elected to make laws!

Last weekend, I traveled with AJWS to Washington, DC to lobby both of the Ohio Senators not to cut the food aid that the US supplies to those in the world who are starving. Tens of thousands of people who live in Northeast Africa, in the Horn of Africa, have already died. As a Jewish person, as an American, and as a human, I realize that I am charged/challenged by God to help those in need. It is not just about money. If that man I observed last night took some time to actually learn about what is going on in the world, he would (I hope) recognize how lucky we are to live in the United States. But, it is more than just luck. We have a responsibility to all humans, not just Americans.

On November 4-5, I will be hosting a "Global Hunger Shabbat" dinner at my home. During this dinner, I hope to share stories of my experiences in Senegal as well as my trip to Washington. I hope to be able to hear thoughts and stories of those who will be in attendance. The most important thing we can do is simple - DO NOT DO NOTHING, DO SOMETHING. Learn, read, seek out information. Polls show that most Americans believe the US spends 25% of its budget on foreign aid. These same Americans want to lower this number to 10%. TRUTH - The United States spends less than 1% of its budget on foreign aid. Can you imagine how much of a difference the United States would make if we spent 10% of our budget on foreign aid?

I am not asking or even suggesting that the US should increase its foreign aid to 10%. What I am asking is that a)the US does not cut any of its aid and b)when the 2012 Farm Bill comes up, that Congress and the Senate work together to reform the current ways we give aid. For example, rather than paying an American company/farmer to grow extra food to be sent as aid, let's invest the money in foreign countries and allow them to become more self sufficient. We would save tremendous amount of money - we would not have to pay the shipping costs to get the aid from us to them. This is only one way.

Here it is - do something, get out there and learn. If you want to learn more about AJWS or about the Global Hunger Shabbat, please check out one of these sites:
http://www.ajws.org
http://ajws.org/hunger/ghs/

Also, to read about the trip to Washington, DC:
http://ajws.org/who_we_are/news/archives/press_releases/ajws_brings_jewish_communal.html

Until next time...
Erin

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11 - 10 years ago

"Erin, Get up....you need to see this."
"Batya, it's 6:45 on my day off, come on, let me sleep."
"Erin, GET UP - Come Here NOW!!"

It was September 11, 2001 and I was supposed to celebrate my 1 year anniversary with Enterprise Rent-A-Car by sleeping in, going for lunch with Batya after school and just relaxing. But, at 6:46 am (Arizona Time - 8:46 EST), I was woken up by Batya and immediately glued to the television. When the second plane struck the second tower 17 minutes later, I was a ball of tears. So many thoughts were going through my mind.

"Oh my God, Jason is supposed to be in NYC for an interview. How close is he to the Twin Towers?"

"Bekki - where is she and why can't I get through to her on the phone?"

"I have to call Mom and see if she has heard anything..."

I remember my Dad telling me that he knew exactly where he was when JFK was shot. I remember exactly where I was when the Challenger blew up. But, this was different. There were terrorist attacks happening on our soil, in the United States - the place that was a safe haven on Earth for anyone who sought it. That day and the several days that followed - I can remember every detail, where I was, what I was doing.

Working for the airport location of Enterprise Rent-A-Car was very challenging. We were immediately instructed to rent vehicles one way (something that ERAC did NOT do at the time) for anyone who needed to get home. There was a sense of real family that week. We were all Americans...and we were all hurting. We still hurt today as we remember the men and women who lost their lives; and the children....the children.

"Where were you when the world stop turning on that September day..." Alan Jackson's words were so apropos and so, so heartfelt. Remember, remember, do NOT forget. That day - did anything else matter? Pictures of the towers falling to the ground, the video....seeing NY'ers running for their lives from the debris. The heroes - the firemen, policemen, etc. all of those that helped that joined in to rescue or find bodies.

"Where is my sister, where is my brother? Why can't I get through? My God, what if something has happened to them?" The thoughts stayed with me until I finally spoke to Mom around 10:30 am - almost 4 hours after I began to worry and wonder. I just could not take my eyes away from the images on the television. To this day, the sounds I heard haunt me...

It has been 10 years since that horrible day. The United States of America is still recovering, but we are STILL HERE. No matter if you are a Packer from Green Bay or a Peach from Georgia - we are still here. To quote one of my favorite bands:

"...And you never did think that
it ever would happen again
In America, did you?
You never did think that
we'd ever get together again
Well we damn sure fooled you

We're walking real proud and
we're talking real loud again in America
You never did think that
it ever would happen again

From the sound up in Long Island
out to San Francisco Bay
And every thing that's
in between them is our home
And we may have done a little
bit of fighting amongst ourselves
but you outside people best leave us alone

Cause we'll all stick together
and you can take that to the bank
That's the cowboys and the hippies
and the rebels and the yanks
You just go and lay your head
on a Pittsburgh Steeler fan
and I think you're gonna finally understand..."

When you wake up on September 11, 2011...take a few moments to think about the freedom we have. Appreciate what it means to be an American. Say hello to a stranger, tell someone you love them, and most importantly - Remember.

"Cause I'm proud to be an American...where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me..."

God Bless America!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Famine in the Horn of Africa

Greetings friends and family!

My experiences in Senegal this summer have continued to have a tremendous effect on me as a Jew and as a human. I am constantly reminded of Leviticus 19:18: V'ahvatah Lereiacha Kamocha - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." What does that mean? I think that one of the most difficult concepts for humans to grasp is to understand and really know what love means. Nachmanides, a medieval Jewish rabbi, taught that in order for a person to truly love his neighbor, he had to understand how to love himself first. That's it. We must learn and develop ways of understanding how we are to love ourselves.

This may seem like such an easy idea...but it is not. If you take a minute to think about all of the things you do in your daily life, you might be surprised at how many of these things harm you. I am constantly reminded by the organizations I pay attention to and by the news agencies of the millions of people around the world who have no idea what it means to love themselves. All you have to do is look at the food crisis, the famine that is going on in Africa today. The United States government (and many other Global North governments) are struggling to figure out how to offset this famine - by money, food, resources, etc.

Where do we start? The first thing is to be aware. Pay attention; read the news; watch the news; read a blog. Whatever it takes. Get out there and just read and watch. It is impossible to miss - we find this "food crisis" in our own back yards. The answer, to quote Bob Dylan is "blowing in the wind." It's out there...and we need to work together to make it happen. Throwing money at the problem is not the answer. Ignoring the problem is not the answer. And, COMPLETELY CUTTING FUNDING AND RESOURCES is NOT the answer.

If you want to learn more about the food crisis and really are interested in helping, check out the following sites:

http://www.ajws.org
http://act.one.org/sign/horn_of_africa_us/?source=horncrisistafem

Take this as a challenge to get out there and so something. Donate money to AJWS, either through my fundraising efforts (http://action.ajws.org/site/TR?pg=fund&fr_id=1110&pxfid=4010) or directly through their website. Let's stop ignoring the problem and make a difference together.

I know, I know, we have problems of our own in our country. It's true...but that does NOT mean we can ignore everyone else.