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The Congregation Shma Koleinu Blog.

Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion…Day 3

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Tikkun Olam in NicaraguaBlog Entry by Jonah Levine from Camp Jubilee!  Followed by additional comments by Rabbi Scott

Dear Mom and Dad,

They told me to write a letter, so I’m doing it, but I will not enjoy it.

The Nicaragua trip is going well. Today we had beans and rice and eggs for breakfast. Then we had a lecture. They tried to call it a “talk,” but it was basically like school. At least it seemed like school at first, but then it started to differ because SOME PEOPLE (*ahem) decided the talk was optional, and just walked out. For those of us that stayed however (*ahem), it was really interesting. The lady speaking was named Rebecca, and she allowed us to ask questions. Once we had a good number, she started telling us about Nicaraguan history, politics, relations with the U.S., social issues in the country, childhood education, on and on. It was pretty cool to have a conversation with someone who really knew what they were talking about. I’d say the most interesting thing we learned is that Nicaragua doesn’t really have a lot of homeless people; whenever someone is out on the street, family, neighbors, or whoever is able will take them in simply out of kindness.

Afterwards, we piled into the cars and drove to the clinic (on the third day, we are seeing the clinic for the first time). Driving through Ciudad Sandino and Nueva Vida, we got to see up close the community that the clinic serves. When we arrived, Rebecca took us on a tour of the facilities, which consisted of two buildings and a construction site for a third building. *Stephon voice* They have everything: general care, an OBGYN, a radiologist (albeit armed with old technology), a lab technician, multiple dental professionals, and a pharmacy. This visit was just a dry run though, since we didn’t actually do any volunteering before lunch. On the way back, we drove through Ciudad Sandino, and in a feat of pure awesomeness, one member of our group managed to exit the vehicle at the market, buy seven slingshots, and find his way back to Jubilee House at the same time as our car.

Lunch was rice and beans and fried cheese (I’m starting to notice a theme…). Although this time, the beans were refried red beans, instead of just regular red beans. Two thumbs up for progress!

After lunch we went back to the clinic, this time for real. When we arrived, we were assigned jobs. For some reason, no one would let us treat any patients (!), so we were relegated to working on the building site (Jonah, Grace, Norm), fixing wheelchairs and bicycles (Danny, Rabbi Scott, Max, Brandon), and dealing drugs (Abraham). In our four hours volunteering, we raised and set seven concrete pillars (and we learned how to make concrete! Get ready for a building, CSK!), fixed around a dozen bikes and wheelchairs, and unsuccessfully wrote prescriptions for “condones.” The process of leaving was not quite as organized as the going, and the call of “whoever gets in can go with us,” caused us to leave Danny at the clinic.

We all made it back eventually, and spent some time chillaxing outside with some beers (and sodas!). Dinner was Nicaraguan Italian food. The night ended as the previous nights, with Jonah dominating at Set and everyone waking the others up during Uno. Only time (and the itinerary) will tell what tomorrow will bring.

Send snacks and toilet paper,


A Little Commentary from Rabbi Scott

A wealthy man once told his Rabbi that he was giving up all luxuries, all privileged living, all delicacies and adornments. For he was embarrassed by the riches he’d amassed and the decadent lifestyle he’d attained. He discovered that despite it all, he was no happier than anyone else and he was convinced his disillusionment was due to the veils to “realness” his wealth had created. His Rabbi responded with sage advice. “It is indeed noble of you to be able to discern between your riches and your happiness and to understand that one rarely leads to the other. However, by doing what you propose, you would be helping no one. Deprivation is no road to greater contentment and besides, if you were to dedicate yourself to a life of bread and water, whom on earth would you deem worthy of the tzedakah you would still need to provide to the very poor?

We learned today that there is virtually no homeless in Nicaragua. But when the vast majority of one’s fellow citizens live in a state of lack so profound, claiming homelessness would ironically sound almost a bit boastful! But in truth, as you have seen from Jonah’s colorful post, lack of wealth can create greater generosity than one might presume. Don’t hear this as some Pollyannaish view on life, material possessions and the true nature of happiness being derived from less rather than more. Rather, simply as a gloss on an experience that is still unfolding in my mind.

The poverty in Nicaragua is so much more than can be easily understood (or even with a PhD). While our second day was one of fun and enjoyment, Day 3 was a day of trust. Trust, because we were being asked to take so seriously this plight not so that we could ourselves claim a false sense of understanding what it means to live like those in Ciudad Sandino, but instead to strengthen the tools of empathy and compassion so incumbent on all citizens of “wealthy” countries in the 21st century.

Jubilee House Community sets an incredibly high standard for not only the work they do but also how they do it. Despite the temptation to dispense largesse upon needy children, JHC understands that to be “in it” for the long haul means, above all, acting with a sense of fairness and highly developed discretion. I understand better now why we are not spending every day working – this is a symbiotic relationship we are forming – between Americans and Nicaraguans, between us visitors and JHC. I told our group that far more benefit than we could impress upon Nicaragua during our visit is the benefit that we are receiving in serving as active witnesses to a part of the world so much less an anomaly than the world in which we live. A dim shadow in comparison, we seek nonetheless to channel the work of groups like “Witness for Peace,” through which the JHC founders were first introduced to this beautiful place.

This is indeed Tikun Olam – not a repair of the world, that’s far too presumptuous – but acting as messengers delivering shards of the vessels from the original moment of creation and seeking to return a wholeness to the world that is so lacking. This is where the lack is to be found, this is the real poverty of our time.  And this is where we can make the greatest difference of all.

Peace out,

Rabbi Scott


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