Yad LaKashish Turns 50

One of my favorite places to go in Jerusalem is Yad LaKashish (Lifeline for the Old). It is a wonderful organization that truly honors the elderly of Israel while also providing a special experience for tour groups.

Rosh Hashanah this year marks Yad LaKashish’s 50th anniversary. It is truly remarkable how this tzedakah (charity) project has grown. I was first introduced to Yad LaKashish in the summer of 1994 when “The Tzedakah Man” Danny Siegel took a handful of us teens from my USY Israel Pilgrimage group there. We could choose from a list of charitable organizations and I chose Yad LaKashish on a friend’s recommendation. At the time, all I knew about the place was that they sold funny looking tallit (prayer shawl) bags that looked like animal puppets.

Walking through the different craft rooms I was amazed at what these busy elderly artisans were creating. Senior citizens from all walks of Israeli life were putting their talents to work at a time when many of their contemporaries were enjoying their retirement and moving into homes for the aged. I remember seeing the pride on the faces of the Ethiopian and Russian immigrants who brought their artistic ideas from their home country and were able to see their crafts being sold in the Yad LaKashish gift shop.

Yad LaKashish has been able to help needy senior citizens with its unique method of restoring a sense of pride and purpose. These poor and sometimes disabled elderly are able to remain active members of society. Today, the monthly stipend Yad LaKashish provides for these elderly artisans has more than tripled thanks to generous donations from around the world (they don’t receive government funding). In addition to the stipend and holiday bonuses, Yad LaKashish is able to offer meals, transportation and subsidized eye and dental care to the workers. They also take all the elderly artisans on a free day trip outside of Jerusalem.

I try to put Yad LaKashish on the itinerary of every group I take to Israel. I enjoy seeing the smiles on the faces of the visitors as we tour the facility. Those smiles continue as the group goes on a spending spree in the gift shop buying all the beautiful jewelry, crafts and Judaica that these proud and talented men and women created. To donate to Yad LaKashish or shop in their online store visit http://lifeline.org.il.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Pastor Henry Covington Dies

Mitch Albom has been writing more eulogies lately than most rabbis. I was deeply moved Sunday after reading Albom’s beautiful memorial for his sister (technically his wife’s sister, but he lovingly removed the “in-law” title), who died after battling breast cancer recently.

Yesterday, Albom traveled to New York City with Reverend Henry Covington to appear on NBC’s “Today Show” together. Covington, the pastor of Pilgrim Church/I Am My Brother’s Keeper ministries in Detroit, was featured prominently in Albom’s best-selling book last year, “Have a Little Faith.”

Sadly, Henry Covington passed away Tuesday night at 53 in New York, his hometown. Covington’s church was well-known for the giant hole in its roof, which led Albom to create the Hole in the Roof foundation. As the driving force behind the fundraising efforts, Albom was able to help have the hole in the church roof repaired.

I had the great opportunity to meet Henry in October 2009 at the Fox Theater in Detroit when Mitch Albom brought many of his friends together to raise money for the I Am My Brother’s Keeper ministries in Detroit. While it was great to meet such celebrities as Dave Barry, Anita Baker and the late Ernie Harwell, the biggest treat was talking to Rev. Covington who truly became a local hero in Detroit.

Mitch Albom posted a statement on his Web site, announcing Henry Covington’s death: “Henry was a dear friend, an inspiring pastor, and a very kind soul. He took care of those who were ignored by others. He opened his home and his church to those who needed him most. And he gave thanks each day for the opportunity to do so.” Covington is survived by his wife, Annette, and their four children.

UPDATE: Mitch Albom has published his obituary for Henry Covington on the Detroit Free Press website.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Bringing Light to Humanity on Hanukkah

Here is my Hanukkah message that was published on the Read the Spirit website. Read the Spirit’s editor David Crumm introduced my message by connecting it to the Retik family. Ben Retik, who lost his father in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, lit the White House menorah last week. Crumm wrote:

Ben’s mother Susan might have retreated from the world in her grief. Instead, she and another 9/11 widow founded BeyondThe11th, a nonprofit group that works with widows in Afghanistan whose lives have been devastated by war and terrorism. Talk about shining one’s light to the whole world! Despite their loss, the Retik family has made the planet a better and safer place through their charitable work in helping widows half a world away rebuild their families’ lives.


Hanukkah: From Darkness to Light

A Chasidic story is told of a man entering a dark room. He is overwhelmed by the darkness.
“Don’t worry,” said his friend. “The darkness hits only at first. Soon your eyes will grow accustomed to it, and you will hardly notice the dark.”
“My friend,” replied the man, “that is our problem. Judaism teaches us to distinguish between lightness and darkness. But unfortunately, by becoming too accustomed to the situation, we begin to think of the darkness as light!”
Distinguishing between lightness and darkness is so much a part of who we are as the Jewish people. Each Saturday night, we bid farewell to Shabbat by distinguishing between lightness and darkness. But we make other distinctions as well. We acknowledge the separation between holy and secular, and between the six regular days of the week and the holiness of the Sabbath. We also proclaim that God has separated the Jewish people from all other peoples. For we have been chosen by God to be a holy people.
But what does this “chosenness” really mean? After all, it might even make some of us feel uncomfortable being the “chosen people” around our non-Jewish friends, colleagues, and neighbors. I’m reminded of the famous scene from Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye calls out to God: “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
Jewish people shouldn’t feel uneasy or uncomfortable with the notion that we are chosen. After all, it’s not about superiority or status, but rather responsibility. Jewish people have the responsibility to seek out justice in the world. We have to help repair our fractured world. The man in the Chasidic story wasn’t comforted by the fact that his eyes would eventually adjust to the dark—and he was on to something. It is our responsibility, as individuals and as a community, to see the darkness in the world and to create light.
This is what it means to be a people chosen by God. And this, I strongly believe, is the message of Hanukkah. Each night, we commemorate the miracle by increasing the light in this dark world. The rabbis of the Talmud taught that we increase the holiness; we don’t diminish it. Each night of Hanukkah, we increase the holiness in the world—and that is why God holds the Jewish people accountable. Why God has chosen us to be God’s people—responsible stewards of the earth, partners in fixing a broken world, and pursuers of shalom (peace) and tzedek (justice).
Jewish people have the responsibility to bring light to humanity through social justice. As a light unto the nations, we are obligated to think of ourselves and our actions as an example for the entire human race, outside of our own community. We must live our lives according to the words of God as articulated in our holy Torah: I the Lord have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will protect you, and make for you a covenant, to be a light unto the nations.
To be a “light unto the nations” means that when there is darkness in our world, we must be the guiding light, the symbol of leadership, the beacon of hope, and the impetus for change. We must lead the way out of the darkness and into the light. We do this by realizing that our efforts at both justice and righteousness must extend beyond our own people.
SPEAKING OUT; REACHING OUT
As Jews, we have an increased moral obligation to respond, to speak out, and to take action against ethnic cleansing regardless of the ethnicity, race or religion of the people being victimized. We have experienced horrific darkness, but we have always persevered and found the light. If “Never Again” is to be our watchword, reminding us of our persecution, then we must remain true to it. We must live up to that phrase, and when we see darkness engulfing other humans, we must not stand idly by and be passive. We must act.
My teacher, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg teaches the following about Hanukkah: “Pessimists and assimilationists have more than once informed Jews that there is no more oil left to burn. As long as Hanukkah is studied and remembered, Jews will not surrender to the night. The proper response, as Hanukkah teaches, is not to curse the darkness but to light a candle.” If all peoples light a candle, our world will be a much brighter place for all of us.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Glenn Beck Vs. Social Justice

Reform Judaism might have been the first Jewish movement to embrace social justice in the 20th century, but the first decade of our current century has seen a vast increase in the importance of Tikkun Olam in the global Jewish community.  There are few Jewish congregations in North America that have yet to embrace a coordinated social action initiative.

While there may be some rabbis who would prioritize the adherence to Jewish law, prayer, ritual, study, and worship above social justice work, there are not many rabbis who have the chutzpah to actually criticize synagogues or individuals for participating in such noble endeavors.

But that’s where Glenn Beck comes in. Back in March, the Fox News personality told his audience to leave churches and synagogues that pursue social justice as a value. I am not a regular viewer of Beck’s show, so when I heard this sound bite I thought I misheard him. But, no, he really said it.

Many church groups and Christian leaders fought back, but there was not a strong rebuttal from Jewish groups. Simon Greer, the President & CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice, wrote in the “On Faith” column on Newsweek’s website that Glenn Beck is “a con man and America is not buying it. I exhort you to stop bottling your ideological agenda and labeling it ‘theology.’ Americans deserve and demand better.”

Greer went on to tell Beck, “You’ve told us what not to look for in a house of worship. But now I ask you, sincerely, what kind of house of worship do you desire? On March 23, you said, ‘Make sure your church puts God first and politics and government last.’ The question then is, how do we put God first?”

In response to Greer’s column Beck retorted: “This is exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany” and that Greer, “a Jew, of all people, should know that.”

Here’s my simple take on this: Social Justice is an essential component of any Jewish theology. As Jews, we should use our hearts to pursue prayer, our heads to pursue the study of Torah and to seek to understand God’s Law, and our hands to assist God in the repair of this broken world in which we share responsibility. The same holds true for all people of faith. Caring about our fellow human and seeking to help them is at the core of being part of a just society.

Glenn Beck? He’s just a crazy man saying ridiculous things to anyone who will tune in and listen. Part of our job in pursuing peace and justice is to publicize just how incredibly wrong and hurtful Glenn Beck’s words are to humanity.

We should be grateful not only for the sacred work that Jewish Funds for Justice is doing, but also for the mitzvah of tochecha (reproachment) that its leader Simon Greer has demonstrated.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Proud of Israel

Israel often gets slammed by the media, so when there is positive coverage of Israel in the news, it is important to showcase it. Several major media outlets have lauded Israel for its quick and efficient aid in Haiti following the devastating earthquake there.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the Orthodox Union writes for the JTA: “The Jewish community, in its entirety, can be proud of its response thus far to the Haitian catastrophe. Rescue teams from the State of Israel and millions of dollars from the Jews of America are but examples of our response. Whatever the motivation for these responses, this has been a religious response, a Jewish response.” He explains earlier in his op-ed that the Jewish way of responding to natural disasters is to: “See. Feel. Act.”

Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see how CNN was singing the praises of Israel’s response in Haiti. Even though the Israelis came from the other side of the world, the report notes that the Israeli army was the first to set up a field hospital in Haiti. One woman explains, “I’ve been here since Thursday and no one except the Israeli hospital has taken our patients.” When the reporter walks into the Israeli field hospital she says that it’s like another world because of the imaging technology and the operating rooms the Israelis have set up. Diane Sawyer also featured the quick response by the Israelis in Haiti on ABC News. Sawyer speaks with a correspondent who helped deliver a baby and then watched as another baby was delivered in the Israel Defense Forces field hospital. The baby was named “Israel.”

Here is the video clip from the CNN report:

In addition to the response by the Israelis on the ground in Haiti, other articles have praised the American Jewish community for the outpouring of aid through charitable gifts and medical supplies. The JTA reports: “By Tuesday, AJWS raised $1.8 million from more than 16,000 people via its Web site. The JUF-Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago raised $283,000 in five days from 2,200 donors. Almost all of it — nearly $260,000 – came in online, from 2,058 individuals. UJA-Federation of Greater Toronto raised $173,240 so far, much of it online. Those involved in the fund-raising effort say the Jewish community’s gifts to the people of Haiti stem from Jewish values.”

The New York Times today also featured an article praising Israel, but this time it had to do with the Winter Olympics. The article explained that Israel is hardly a winter sports powerhouse (no surprise!), but this year may prove differently for Israel in the Winter Olympics in downhill skiing and ice-skating.

I can only hope that this positive coverage of Israel by the media continues. At least the world is taking notice of Israel’s rapid response to the need for humanitarian aid in Haiti.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

JARC

I’m sure that it is not uncommon for children to find themselves involved with many of the same charitable organizations in which their parents were involved. In that vein, I have followed my mother’s lead by making JARC one of my favorite local causes.

JARC enables people with developmental disabilities to live rich, meaningful lives as respected members of the community in settings of their choice; to access a Jewish way of life; to provide support to families; and to educate and sensitize the public about people with disabilities and their value to society. For the past forty years, JARC has been successful in fulfilling this mission.

As a toddler, I grew up in a home that was walking distance from the grocery store. I have fond memories of walking to the Farmer Jack supermarket where the kind gentleman who bagged our groceries was likely the first person with developmental disabilities that I encountered. I recall being curious about him and inquiring to my mother about his condition. Returning to that same grocery store as a teenager and watching him collect the stray carts from the parking lot, I recognized what a hard worker he was. I recall thinking how wonderful it was that he was so dedicated to his job. Everyone knew him. He was a valued member of the community.

It is certainly natural when seeing a person with developmental disabilities to whisper to oneself “There but for the grace of God go I.” One thinks, It could just as easily be my child with that condition. Yet that is not the reason I have become involved with JARC. Rather, I believe we owe it to these men and women, as well as to their families. They deserve to live in a nice home, to have jobs, to be creative, to be involved in the community. JARC makes that a reality for them.

JARC began forty years ago by a group of Jewish parents concerned about the future of their children with developmental disabilities. Today, JARC is one of the nation’s largest providers of community-based Jewish residential services, serving nearly 150 adults in its group homes and various supported living arrangements.

Tonight, hundreds of JARC supporters will come together for the annual fundraiser at the Fisher Theater in Detroit. It’s become a yearly routine. The young adults will gather for dinner at a pre-glow event that demonstrates that the future of JARC’s communal support is secure. We’ll then take our seats for a moving, tear-jerking video about the important work that JARC does. We’ll then enjoy the Broadway musical “Legally Blonde.”

JARC is a “feel good” organization. It makes people feel good to know that JARC helps the men and women it serves live better lives. I have seen this first-hand. A few weeks ago on the Sukkot holiday, several dozen people served by JARC came to our home for a sukkah party. It was a wonderful experience and very important for my children to be exposed to people with developmental disabilities. It is my hope that my own children will eventually follow in my footsteps and support JARC as an active volunteer.

Last week, JARC dedicated another home in the community. But this home is different. It is the first energy-efficient, barrier-free group home in the United States. As I stood at the dedication ceremony, all I could think was “Wow!”

The article in the Detroit Free Press explained the uniqueness of this home:

The 3,200-square-foot ranch is being used as a group home by JARC, a Farmington Hills-based nonprofit that helps adults with developmental disabilities. Six women, ages 30 to 70, moved into the home on Minglewood last month, said Richard Loewenstein, chief executive officer of JARC.

The home has geothermal heat and bamboo flooring and uses recycled building materials and native plants for landscaping.

As two of the home’s residents are disabled, the home has features like wide doors and low sinks to accommodate wheelchairs. It has four bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths.

It is great to see how this important organization has grown over its first forty years. But it is even better to see how it continues to push forward for the sake of the wonderful community of men and women that it serves.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Ethics of Justice

Listening to the Torah reading on Shemini Atzeret this past Shabbat morning, my attention was focused on the hungry. One might think that it would have been on Yom Kippur that my attention was on the hungry as I spent the day fasting. However, I couldn’t help but think of those human beings without enough sustenance during the Sukkot festival and into the holiday of Shemini Atzeret.

On Sukkot, we move outdoors and dwell in temporary shelters. In the warm climate of Israel this is a nice custom — spending seven days outdoors eating meals in the warm sukkah. However, with the heavy rainfall that lasted the entirety of the Sukkot festival here in Detroit, how could one sit in the cold, wet sukkah and not think of those who must brave the elements each night on the street.

Many friends told me how their sukkah could not withstand the windy weather and it toppled over. It was easy to make the connection for them that during those rainfalls and wind storms, there were human beings sleeping on the streets of Downtown Detroit in empty refridgerator boxes. When one’s sukkah collapses from the inclement weather, one quickly returns into the safety of their sturdy house. This is certainly not an option for the men and women on the street.

We often say that the sukkah stands to remind us to be thankful for the safety and security of our homes — our shelter. We should be grateful that after the eight-day holiday we are free to return to our permanent dwelling place. However, the truth is that the sukkah is not analogous to the temporary shelter of a homeless person. We spend the holiday feasting with family and friends inside our beautifully decorated sukkah, and most of us then return to our comfortable houses to sleep safely through the night. A local rabbi in Detroit who owns a heating and cooling business even told me that he installed a heating unit complete with duct work in someone’s sukkah this year. That is certainly not an option for a homeless person, living in poverty, trying to brave the cold on the streets.

But it wasn’t just the sukkah that turned my attention to the hungry and the homeless during the Sukkot festival. Days before Sukkot, I attended author Mitch Albom’s event at the Fox Theatre in which he talked about his experience at homeless shelters in Detroit. Albom began flexing his philanthropic muscle to benefit the homeless a few years ago as Detroit was gearing up to host Superbowl XL.

To get a sense of what the homeless and hungry must endure, Albom found himself at a downtown shelter, a Christian rescue mission where he would spend the night. He waited on line for a blanket and soap. He was given a bed. At one point, in line for food, a man turned and asked if he was Mitch Albom. Yes, Albom said. The man nodded slowly. “So… What happened to you?” It could be any of us in that situation.

Albom’s book Have a Little Faith forces the reader to consider the lives of those who live on the streets and spend their nights in deteriorating church shelters in the dangerous neighborhoods of downtown. It certainly made me appreciate my house. I think my sukkah was in better condition than some of the homeless shelters I read about in Albom’s book.

* * *

My attention was also sharply focused on the less fortunate — the hungry and the homeless — during the Sukkot festival for another reason. The local Detroit kosher food pantry, Yad Ezra, hosted their annual dinner during the intermediate days of Sukkot. Yad Ezra must be praised for the holy work they do: They provide free kosher food, toiletries, and household cleaning items to low-income Jewish families in Southeast Michigan.

It would be considered blasphemy to criticize this important communal organization. And yet, I was left extremely surprised that during Sukkot they held their annual dinner at a local synagogue. The “strolling dinner,” which likely cost the organization over $20,000, fed their donors gourmet food while their beneficiaries were standing in line for dinner at shelters in the rain. Their mission is to feed the hungry in our community, and yet on that night it was the well-to-do donors that sustain the organization who were fed. It seems that their priorities were not in tune with their core mission.

I’ve been to many non-profit fundraising events that serve expensive, delicious meals. Of course, one could argue, it’s better not to wine and dine, and just allow all the donations to go to the organization’s mission and overhead. However, these events are part of the culture in the fundraising world. I take exception, however, with the Yad Ezra annual dinner because it is their stated mission to feed the hungry through their kosher food bank. To have an excess of food at this event and to spend the evening talking about feeding the hungry seems paradoxical to me.

I imagine a more appropriate event for this agency in which they encourage their donors to stay home, have a nice dinner in their sukkah with their family and then come to the event to help honor one of their most dedicated donors. They would be asked to bring a bag of non-perishables (even though many did just that before Yom Kippur). The agency leaders could then tell the donors how much money was saved by not serving a full meal or providing a strolling, all-you-can-eat buffet. The donors would be relieved and would not feel guilty eating excessively while talking about the needs of the hungry in the community.

* * *

Finally, my attention was directed at those less fortunate during the Torah reading on Shemini Atzeret. Most of Deuteronomy chapter 15 is concerned with ensuring that there not emerge in the Israelite nation a permanent underclass (persons unable to lift themselves out of poverty). The Torah reading discusses the remission of debts every seventh year and the laws of lending to the poor. Five verses (15:7-11) in the chapter outline Jewish poverty laws requiring us to feed, clothe, and house poor non-Jews as well as Jews. The next verses promote a fair severance pay for workers.

This Torah reading gets to the heart of Jewish ethics and the ideal way in which we must treat our fellow human beings (be they Jewish or gentile, workers or the unemployed). We have a clear role to take care of those less fortunate — the hungry and the homeless.

As I listened to these verses being chanted, I thought about Nathaniel Popper’s harsh critique in the Forward of the Hekhsher Tzedek commission’s Magen Tzedek. He argues that Conservative Jewish leaders who support the “living wage” have done little to lead by way of example and emulate this ethic in their own synagogues. He quotes my colleague Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who wrote a teshuvah (religious ruling) promoting a living wage and edited a book about pursuing social justice to benefit the needy. She said, “There’s somewhat of a reluctance to look inward and think and talk about our own employment practices.”

Fact is, Popper is correct. It is disingenuous for rabbis to call for higher wages and better working conditions at kosher food companies (e.g. Rubashkins) before ensuring that their synagogue’s own janitors and nursery school teachers are compensated fairly. It is easy to levy standards on other establishments, but much more difficult to attain those standards at home first.

What is most important is to work toward a society in which there is no permanent underclass. Not everything will be equal — or even close to it — because that’s not realistic. But we all must help those less fortunate and those who are currently struggling. Not only in the food industry, but in every industry. We should be a part of the process that allows for every working man and woman to earn a fair wage; one in which they can support their family. We rabbis must begin by ensuring that those men and women who clean our synagogues and teach our children are being paid adequately and treated fairly. Then we can branch out to the community-at-large.

Those are the ethics of hunger and homelessness. The ethics of fair rights for the working class. And those are the ethics by which we should strive to live.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Ruth Messinger

Sometimes newspaper editors have to admit they got it wrong — or that their words were not clear enough and led to misunderstanding. Such was the case when Andrew Silow Carroll (editor-in-chief of the New Jersey Jewish News) wrote about Ruth Messinger’s speech to graduates of the Jewish Theological Seminary this past May.

Messinger (right) is the president of the American Jewish World Service and delivered an amazing commencement address at JTS, which is available as an audio file on the JTSA.org website. I first met Ruth Messinger during my final year of rabbinical studies at JTS when I invited her to speak to my fellow rabbinical students as part of a program I created called “Visions of the Jewish Future.” As president of the rabbinical school’s student organization I thought it would be beneficial to hear from some visionaries in the American Jewish community from outside of the Seminary’s gates.

Silow-Carroll wrote about Messinger’s speech in his paper, but Messinger wasn’t thrilled with the way he characterized it. His column was mostly complimentary, but he suggested that she had gone too far in favoring non-Jewish causes over challenges closer to home.

Upon reading the column, Messinger was hurt and requested a face-to-face meeting with Silow-Carroll in which she explained the many Jewish projects at AJWS and touted the new Web resource On1Foot.org, an on-line compendium of rabbinic and contemporary texts on social justice. In my opinion, she really didn’t need to defend the work of her organization in this way. She should have merely mentioned the humanitarian work AJWS provides to the developing world and explained to Silow-Carroll that this is a very Jewish act.

In a follow-up column Silow-Carroll (left) acknowledged that he “hadn’t been aware of the Jewish learning that infused AJWS and should have asked. I also remembered that the Jewish world is big enough and rich enough to work on many levels, in many circles, in service of the local and the global. Those who would narrow the Jewish mission risk losing non-Jewish allies, young Jews interested in this kind of work, and the opportunity to live Jewish responsibility to its fullest.”

At the end of his column, Silow-Carroll explains that his meeting with Ruth Messinger prompted him to deliver a d’var Torah at his newspaper’s board meeting (something that hadn’t been done in a long time). He found a good d’var Torah at On1Foot.org.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I just finished reading a wonderful book to my three-year-old son. “Much, Much Better” (by Chaim Kosofsky) was sent to us from Leslie and Abigail Wexner as part of the PJ Library in Columbus, Ohio. The book is based on a fable where Elijah the Prophet is the guest at a couple’s Shabbat table (disguised as a poor beggar) and offers them a blessing.

Weekly, the couple invites a stranger without a meal to eat to be their Sabbath guest. One Friday evening, Shlomo and Miriam were distraught because they didn’t have any guests with whom to share their meal. In the middle of the story my son asked me why the couple didn’t just go from house to house looking for a guest to invite. I explained that they were hoping to invite someone who didn’t have a home because that person certainly would not be able to prepare their own meal. He innocently asked me, “Well, do people without a home have a shul (synagogue) to go to?”

It would be equally as beautiful a question if a Christian three-year-old child asked his father if homeless people have a church to go to… or if a Muslim child asked if homeless people have a mosque… or a Buddhist child asked if homeless people have a temple.

I immediately thought of the many houses of worship that double as soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The couple in the story (Shlomo and Miriam) receive the wonderful blessing of a baby after opening their home to this “stranger.” Think of how many blessings synagogues, churches, mosques, and temples would receive if they all opened their doors to feed the homeless.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Urban Entrepreneurial Academy

Detroit entrepreneur Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena, recently created an urban entrepreneurial academy called Bizdom U. Set to launch next month, Bizdom U will be a full-time, two-year program designed to produce entrepreneurs who will start up and lead successful Detroit-based businesses.

The goal is to provide graduates of urban high schools who do not plan to pursue a four-year degree with an alternative education in entrepreneurship. Those who graduate from Bizdom U can expect between $25,000 and $500,000 to be invested over time, based on milestones and performance, into their companies. This is a wonderful contribution to Michigan’s economy and will greatly benefit many young people in Detroit who could create tomorrow’s companies. More information on the project is available at the TechTownWSU site.

Dan Gilbert is a pretty remarkable business man. He founded the Michigan-headquartered Rock Financial in 1985 as a 22-year-old, first-year law student, growing it into one of the largest independent mortgage banks in the country taking it public in 1998. In 1999, Intuit purchased Rock Financial and the national web operation was renamed Quicken Loans Inc. With Dan staying on as CEO, Quicken Loans quickly became the leading provider of home loans on the Internet and about two years later Gilbert bought Quicken Loans Inc. back from Intuit.

Dan is also a partner in the private investment group Camelot Ventures, which recently invested in my cousin’s company, ePrize. Camelot also owns and operates FlashSeat, a company which has created technology and processes that replaces physical tickets for large sports and entertainment events with an electronic approach. Dan was Rawlings Sporting Goods’ largest shareholder and was instrumental in effecting the sale of Rawlings to K2 in March 2003.

I first met Dan because of his involvement in JARC, a non-profit organization that provides housing and services to the developmentally disabled, where he served as President when my mother was the Secretary of the board. JARC is one of my favorite charities and continuously receives awards for being one of the nation’s best non-profits. The photo above was taken at a Cleveland benefit for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in which Dan Gilbert and his business partner David Katzman were honored.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller