Kieva Mark's Mitzvah Project
Fairness and Spirit
My Haftarah reading comes from the book of Zechariah. Zechariah was a prophet who was among the first Jews to return from exile in Babylon. The first Temple – built by King Solomon - had been destroyed in 586 BCE. 50 years later, the Persian king Cyrus had conquered Babylon and he permitted around 40,000 Jews to go back to Israel. He encourages the governor Zerubbabel to rebuild the Temple, assuring him that G-d will remove all obstacles: “Who art thou, O great mountain before Zerubbabel? Thou shalt become a plain.” And how will this be accomplished? “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit saith the Lord of Hosts.” This is the central theme of Zechariah’s teaching, and is true of so much else in Jewish history. It is not by strength or power but by our spirit and the spirit of G-d in us that will guide us to complete the work to be done.
Just as Zechariah urged the Jewish people to do the work to repair the Temple and start their lives again, Judaism speaks of the obligation of tikkun olam, which means, repairing the world. We all know that the world is not a perfect place, and that there are great injustices everywhere. Perspective is a word my parents have taught me. In my country, in my town and in my home, I am easily provided with the opportunities to do what I want, and to be who I want to be. Many of you have these same opportunities.
As I thought about what I could do to make the world a little better, I recalled a special episode of American Idol, titled American Idol Gives Back. Seeing the faces of sick children, yet children who could still smile through all their suffering, made me think not just about the “unfairness” of this world but also of the human spirit which is so relevant in my haftarah reading. One of the contestants on Idol talked about malaria and its terrible impact. I did some research and learned that a survey performed in 2008 showed that 7% of deaths of children under five worldwide were caused by malaria. Today, approximately one million people die from malaria every year. Ninety percent of this horrifying number comes from Africa, and 70% are children under the age of five. I saw how devastating the situation in Africa was, and how mosquito nets helped so much and cost so little.
I am eager to help and have decided to raise money to send mosquito nets to Africa for my Bat Mitzvah project. When I began my search to see how I could help, I spoke with Cantor Michael who enthusiastically told me about a small Jewish tribe in Uganda called the Abayudaya (A-Buy-you-die-ya). By an incredible coincidence, the tribe’s leader, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, spoke at Temple Emeth last year. The story of the tribe and their survival is an amazing tale of spirit. Though the community is small in number - approximately 1,500 members – its’ unique history and recent revitalization are remarkable. You can read more about them at bechollashon.org.
The Abayudaya are working hard to improve poor living conditions in Uganda. Rabbi Sizomu and his small Ugandan tribe are an inspiration and a testament to the spirit within. This project has become very important to me. What I like most about this organization is that it has a Jewish connection, but it helps all people, Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. So much can be accomplished with effort and persistence. Collecting money for mosquito nets is gratifying; it is also difficult knowing that I cannot help everyone . . . It IS a GREAT mountain to climb. But, like my Haftarah says, my spirit alone goes a long way in accomplishing an enormous task. So, with this spirit, I have begun to do what I can to help families in need.