Peace & Justice

Mitzvot in Mexico with Abba

A Teaching by Dov and Elisha in Honor of Abba's Birth-Day

Havdalah, March 22, 2009

In our family, we have a tradition to give tzedakah before lighting our Shabbat candles each week. Tzedakah means we are giving money but it is not charity. Tzedakah actually comes from the Hebrew word "Tzedek" which means JUSTICE--doing what is the right thing to do.

When we went to Oaxaca, we saw children and parents begging for money in the streets even late into the night. We always gave whatever coins we had in our pockets. One time my Abba smiled to a mujer wrapped in a blanket looking so sad. She was sitting on the cement sidewalk with two children. Abba said, "Buenas noches," and looked into her eyes. Her eyes seemed to come alive and she smiled. Abba said, "Ninos, I just learned that we have to do more than give our coins and walk past quickly. We have to look into the people's eyes and give them our respect. Then we are really human-beings to each other."

There were so many people in Oaxaca who made things by hand and sold them on the streets and in the Zocolo. Children sold their family's crafts and women walked the markets with baskets on their heads filled with all kinds of things to sell, even chapulinas to eat (That's fried grasshoppers-- which are very yummy! They are kosher you know! ) If you couldn't walk the streets all day and night selling your family's products because you were handicapped, you'd be on the streets begging.

That's why it meant so much to Abba when we went to Pina Palmera on the coast of Oaxaca. Pina Palmera is a sort of retreat center in the beach town of Zipolte where people of all ages who are handicapped can live and learn to take care of themselves and learn how to make things despite their disabilities. Then they can go back to their villages and work with self-respect and feel like they can contribute to and be part of their community's life. They don't have to be isolated and pushed aside anymore and their "different ability" doesn't have to be a barrier between them and other people.

When we were at the coast of Oaxaca, we looked for Pina Palmera because our friend from Deadwood, Richie Gross who is a fine wood-worker, told us that every year he goes to Pina Palmera for about six weeks and directs the wood-working shop. He told us that the men there play wheechair basketball and it is really rough. The men play outdoors on cement courts so the basketballs get worn out quickly. So before we left Portland, we got four donations of quality basketballs, pumps and needles. We deflated the balls to fit into our suitcases.

When we found Pina Palmera we discovered that it was beautiful! There were paved paths that meandered through palm tree groves so that wheelchaired people could move easily through the center from one palapa to another. The palapas had beautiful roofs of fresh palm branches and we could see how the lower palm branches of each tree in the grove had been trimmed of its branches to make the roofs. We followed the path to the woodshop and met Pablo working there. He knew Richie of course. He was so happy to hear that Richie sent us to Pina Palmera and to hear news about Richie. Pablo had muscular arms and he lay on a slant board to carve with electric tools making forms of birds of all kinds which would be painted by the children at the center and made into mobiles.

The next palapa on the path was the papermaking and printshop. The men there also lay on slant boards working with their hands. They were working on creating invitations for Pablo's upcoming wedding celebration! YEA!!

Abba was so impressed with the men and women, handicapped and helpers, and the respectful environment of Pina Palmera. He told us that the retreat was a tikkun (that means a fixing or repair) for the disrespect and inhumanity and despair that saddened us in the city of Oaxaca. Abba said he wanted to help Pina Palmera prosper in anyway he could. He said he wanted to come back to Pina Palmera and help out.

We left the men of the wheelchair basketball team with our last two new basketballs and pumps, after of course we played basketball with Abba on their court in the blazing sun. It was so hot we had to take our shirts off and we got so sweatty. We beat Abba of course! (You might be wondering what we did with the first two balls. We can tell you about those adventures at another havdalah.)

If you will contribute whatever you can to Pina Palmera, you will be helping us to fulfill our Abba's dream of helping the men and women of Pina Palmera. G-d willing, we will honor our Abba and remember what he taught us on our trip to Mexico by raising money for Pina Palmera and giving it to them on Abba's birthday every year.

Thank you. Shavu-ah Tov!

(For donating to Pina Palmera please visit )