Monday, September 30, 2013

Fritzie Platkin z"l - Cinnamon Walnut Sour cream Cake

There were only a few bakeries in Fargo, and the Jewish women rarely purchased anything at them.  They were great bakers.  This was a cake my mother baked regularly, a favorite of my dad's.  I'd never actually made it before now, but seeing and tasting it really brought my mom back.  I can see her wearing a cobbler apron, facing her ancient MixMaster on the counter, adding ingredients, concentrating on the procedures at hand.

This makes a very large, rich, moist cake.  It's quite similar to the Moosewood Cardamom Coffee Cake, so you could, in addition to the cinnamon, add cardamom.  It's also well-known as a Hungarian Sour Cream Coffee Cake.  Whatever you call it, it's wonderful.
She made it in a bundt pan.*  Bundts were all the rage in the 60's and '70's.  (footnote below).

Take out butter to soften.
Preheat oven to 375°
Spray a large bundt  or 10" tube pan with oil

¾ c butter (!) = 1.5 sticks
1½ c sugar
3 eggs
3 c. cake flour
¾  t salt
1½ t. baking soda
1½ t baking powder
12 oz sour cream (non-fat or low-fat is fine) - [they come in 8 or 16 oz containers]
¾ t almond extract or vanilla

Nut Mixture:
¾ c. chopped walnuts
¾ c. sugar
1½ t cinnamon

In large bowl (or mix master), cream the butter with an electric mixer.  Add the sugar and eggs and cream very well.

In another large bowl mix the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, or just mix it into the mix master bowl in you are using a stationary mixer.  Alternate adding the sour cream + extract and the dry ingredients.  (I have no idea why this recipe calls for cake flour, but no arguing with a recipe.)

In a big plastic container with a lid, like a deli container, add the walnut/sugar/cinnamon, put the top on securely, and shake. (This is where you'd add the same amount of cardamom to be Moosewoody.)  A double size hummus container was perfect!

Add 1/3 of the batter to the oiled pan - this is best done by using a spatula and dropping it in rather than pouring, since the batter is very thick.  Add half the cinnamon mixture, spreading it evenly. Add the second 1/3 of the batter, top with the remainder of the nut mixture, and finish it off with the last third of the batter.

Bake at 375 about 50-55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool.  To take the cake out of the tube pan, gently cut around the perimeter of the pan to loosen the sides and around the tube.  I now use a non-stick tube pan, so it means using a plastic spatula/knife.
Pull the cake and tube out and set it on your tray.  Gently scrape the bottom of the cake to loosen it from the bottom and also loosen the cake from the tube itself.  You can then either lift the cake up and pull out the pan,  or invert the cake onto a second plate, pull out the tube, and tip it back on the tray so the rounded side is face-up.

This cake is truly worthy of a nice footed cake server.  It makes about 24 slices, plus some pretty spectacular crumbs.

Betsy Teutsch - Bat Sheva bat Freida

Nordic Ware's Founders

Dave & DottyAll it took was $500 and a good idea back in 1946, when Dave and his wife Dotty, started a business venture in the basement of their home, and from that point on, the company 's first bakeware products took-off. The Rosette Iron, Ebelskiver Pan, Krumkake Iron and Platte Panna Pan, became the first products, as well as the ethnic specialties in which the foundation was laid for the newborn company.
In 1948, the Dave and Dotty purchased Northland Aluminum Products, combining their own line of aluminum products with Northland's, and began producing bakeware and household items under the Nordic Ware trademark. Dave was an entrepreneur at best, and often was heard to say, "If you can sell it, you can usually make it."

The Bundt Pan

In 1950, the landmark pan was introduced, after the Minneapolis Chapter of the Hadassah Society asked Dave and Dotty to produce a kuglehof pan, similar to the one the society's president had received from her grandmother in Germany. Dave produced the pan from cast aluminum for the Hadassah Society and a few for the Nordic Ware trademark, which he sold to department stores using the name, bund pan. (The word bund means a gathering-thus a bund cake, with its characteristic fluting, was a cake suitable for a gathering or party.) Nordic Ware created the pan and filed for a trademark to protect its creation, renaming the pan the Bundt pan.
Ella Helfrich, in 1966, used a Bundt pan for her winning recipe of Tunnel of Fudge Cake, in the 17th Pillsbury Bake-off. Following the contest, Pillsbury was overwhelmed with more than 200,000 requests from people that wanted to purchase a winning Bundt pan. In 1971, Pillsbury launched a line of Bundt cake mixes, licensing the name from Nordic Ware that continued the nationwide quest for Bundt pans. Now, Nordic Ware markets its own line of Gourmet Bundt® Cake Mixes.
"Today, there are nearly 60 million Bundt pans in kitchen's across America," Nordic Ware President David (Dave & Dotty's son). said. "Almost a Bundt pan in every pantry." The Bundt pan has continued its growth in popularity. It has been a guest on TV cooking shows, featured in an array of magazines and also used by some of the world's famous bakers. It is likely the most popular baking mold in the world.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tzelem Elohim and Teshuvah: Kol Nidrei 5744 Adina Abramowitz

I apologize for the outline format, which enables me to speak more naturally. I hope there are sufficient words here for this to make sense. Please feel free to ask me questions or discuss this Dvar with me.  
adina at

        I.            Introduction
  Baruch Atah Adonai, Ruach Ha’Olam, She’Asani Btzalmo. Blessed are you the Creator who made me in your image. Those of you who get to shul at the very beginning will say this brachah with the community.
  It is amazing that even on Yom Kippur, when we are most aware of our faults, we are reminded that there is Tzelem in each of us.
  Comes from Genesis 1:26, where God says: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
  According to our tradition, the tzelem is in all of us, not just Jews or just men, or not just whomever we consider to be “us.” The original Adam, who contains all future diversity, including Zachar U’Nekeivah – all genders – is the one imbued with the tzelem.
  Concept has tremendous implications for Teshuvah
  I will discuss the concept of Tzelem and Tshuvah on three levels, and at the end of each section I will pose some questions for reflection:
  With others in your circle
  With the larger community
  Secular concept of B’Tzelem is empathy; in last 10 years there have been tremendous advances in understanding how the brain works and what it means on a biological level to experience empathy.

      II.            Tzelem and Teshuvah with yourself
  Rabbi Yoel Kahn said: “Everyone, including ourselves is deserving of respect and forgiveness because we are made in God’s image, somehow a reflection of the divine on earth.[i]
  What is the Tzelem inside us? I think it is made up of two somewhat opposing concepts. The first is the values we all hold inside us of compassion, loving kindness, truth seeking, and forgiveness. These are values we ascribe to God in the 13 attributes and that we are challenged to imitate, to live up to. The second concept of the Tzelem is the spark that makes us unique and individual. This is celebrated in our tradition by the Midrash about that when an early king makes an image of himself on a coin they all look the same, but when the Holy One made us all in His/Her image, we all came out as individuals.
  There is appropriate remorse and then there is beating yourself up. Research suggests that difficulties with self-forgiveness are linked with suicide attempts, eating disorders, and other problems. However self-forgiveness that isn’t genuine can be a crutch that produces a moral sense of righteousness and can actually reduce empathy for others. Healthy way[ii]:
  Don’t get rid of guilt, but do let go of shame. Remorse, rather than self-condemnation is key to healthy self-forgiveness.
  Own up: without this self-forgivers are likely to repeat their bad actions
  Pay your dues: make it up to yourself in a concrete, reparative way.
  Self-forgiveness need not be all or nothing. It’s a slow process; an act of humility and honesty.
  The Name and self-description of the one in who’s image we are made is Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh, I am as I am, or I will be as I will be, or as Rabbi Annie Lewis taught us on Erev Rosh Hashanah, I am not yet what I am not yet, a translation by Lawrence Kushner.
  Our God-likeness is at the essence of being human. “On YK when we are inclined to self-doubt and harsh criticism, we can be uplifted and regain our lost dignity in the sure knowledge that however we have failed ourselves, the Tzelem within us gives us permission to say Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh, I am as I am. (Yoel Kahn)
  To honor the God image in yourself means to be growing and changing. Teshuvah gives us the opportunity to grow and change into our best self, a reflection of the Tzelem inside us.
  Martin Buber taught: in order for the divine image to unfold in human life the “human task in not being but becoming.”
  YK is a day of acceptance of who we are and who we could become.
  Questions for reflection: What are some of the ways you can recognize the Tzelem in yourself, and turn towards your best self? How can you encourage more becoming and less being?

    III.            Tzelem and Teshuvah with others in your Circle
  A few moments ago during the Kol Nidrei, we gave ourselves permission to “L’hitpallel im HaAvaryanim” To pray with the others – the ones from the other side, the imperfect ones, the others who also are made B’Tzelem.
  Tradition tells us that we must ask for Teshuvah from another person up to three times, in other words we have to engage in a real conversation. 
   Buber says in I and Thou that God exists in the space between people, when we are truly present for each other. This involves shutting down some of our own ego and assumptions to be in that place with someone else, especially those we find harder to be with. To recognize the tzelem in the other is a profound act of being present.
  With some people, easy to recognize the tzelem, others harder. B’Tzelem asks us to recognize the holiness in each person no matter who they are or how difficult they are.
  Many times when we think about interacting with a difficult person we have imaginary conversations in our heads, usually about all the ways that it could go badly. Tradition asks us to have real conversations, to shut down the imaginary voice in your head and interact on the I-Thou level.
  Other people it may be hard for any of us to see the Tzelem in include
  Vastly different perspectives
  Mental illness
  Evil (one definition of a sociopath is a person without empathy)
  “While nothing is easier to denounce the evil doer, nothing is more difficult than to understand him.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  Empathy can be learned – empathy appears to be like a muscle – it can be strengthened through exercise that actually causes physiological change.
  Study by Helen Weng et al “Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering”[iii]:
  One group of subjects learned to practice what’s called “compassionate meditation” by focusing on a specific person while repeating a phrase like, “May you be free from suffering.”  The subjects concentrated on five different people: A loved one, a friend, themselves, a stranger and then someone they were in conflict with. Another group of subjects performed general positive thinking. Both groups did the exercise 30 minutes a day for two weeks. Then everyone was asked to spend money to help a fictional character who had been treated unfairly. And the subjects who did compassionate meditation were more likely to spend their money to help than those who trained to just think more positively. The researchers also did brain scans of those who behaved most altruistically, before and after training. And people who were most altruistic after training showed the biggest increases in activity in brain areas involved in empathy and positive emotion.
  Tillet Wright created the “Self-evident Truths[iv]” project in 2010 response to the opposition to equal marriage. Her goal was to take 10,000 pictures of people all over the U.S. who consider themselves “not 100% straight.” As of the last update, she has travelled to 25 cities and taken pictures of 4,000 faces. The idea was to show the anti-marriage equality people who we are. She says: if a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a face is a whole new vocabulary. Visibility is key; familiarity is the gateway drug to empathy[v].
  Questions for reflection: In this coming year, what can you do to grow your empathy muscle?  What will you do to acknowledge the tzelem in others even if they are vastly different than yourself?

   IV.            Tzelem and Tshuvah with the Wider World
·         The concept of the tzelem in others is what inspires me to do social justice work. If we are all made in the tzelem, how can it be that there is widening inequality and where the zip code where an American is born does more to determine their health, educational and economic outcomes than any other factor?
·         To acknowledge the tzelem in a person from another place, another culture, religion, set of assumptions is a radical act of empathy, or of seeing the tzelem. This is even more difficult if you have been through a personal or political tragedy.
·         Why do some people react to tragic events with revenge and others with forgiveness? According to Michael McCollough, professor of psychology at the University of Miami, and the author of Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct says we need to acknowledge 3 truths[vi]:
a.       The desire for revenge is a built in feature of human nature - found in over 95% of cultures studied
b.      The capacity for forgiveness is a built in feature of Human nature – also found in over 95% of cultures studied
c.       To make the world a more forgiving place, don’t try to change human nature – change the world!
·         An interesting example in the Torah of changing the world instead of human nature are the Arey Miklat – the cities of refuge – that a person who commits an accidental killing is supposed to escape to, in order to not be killed by the revenge seeking relative. The Torah doesn’t think it can eliminate revenge, but rather that people can create structures and systems to contain and limit revenge.
·         In his book Empathic Civilization, Jeremy Rifkin calls humans “Homo-Empathicus and contends that we are soft wired for empathy.  He talks about how neurologists have discovered that humans have what are called “mirror neurons” that are triggered when one person is engaged with another. So if I see a spider crawling up your arm, I will also feel a creepy feeling on my arm.[vii]
·         He shows how as technologies evolved, humans were able to empathize with wider groups of people:
·         Hunter gatherer could empathize only with family, tribe.
·         Then with great agricultural advances it went to theological empathy, where we could empathize with those of the same religion.
·         In the 19th century, Industrial revolution, we created a fiction called the nation state and we can empathize with people in our country. 
·         Then he asks this radical question - Is it really a big stretch to connect our empathy to the whole human race? We have the technology to think viscerally as a family – earthquake in Haiti – twitter and email got us all empathizing with Haiti. What can we do in our institutions  bring out empathic sociability and lay the groundwork for the empathic civilization?
·         Or in other words can we see the tzelem in all people on earth? (“L’taken  Olam B’malchut Shaddai”) 
·         It is in the wider community where it is often hardest to see the tzelem in others who may seem other, may seem like part of “those people” who have different values than we do.
·         Question for reflection: What would you like to commit to tonight to do in the coming year to see the Tzelem in a group of people you currently see as the other?

     V.            Conclusion
·         There is a beautiful Midrash in Talmud Pesachim (54a) that says that before the world was created, God created seven things. Among them was Teshuvah. Since human beings have free will, it is inevitable that they will make mistakes, that many times it will be hard for them to see the tzelem in themselves and others. But Teshuvah is a prerequisite to the world’s existence, and it is always available to you as a way back to the best in yourself.
·         At this moment I ask you to try to believe that you your core spirit is a reflection of Godliness, a piece of the Tzelem, that you are welcomed into a holy community, and that you are capable of Teshuvah, of becoming your highest self, towards yourself, your loved ones and friends and your larger community.
·         Whenever you come into the service tomorrow, I invite you to say the Brachah, Baruch Atah Adonai, Ruach Ha’Olam, She’Asani Btzalmo. Blessed are you the Creator who made me in your image.
·         I wish everyone an easy fast and to be inscribed into the Book of Life and wellbeing. Shannah Tova.

[ii] See Juliana Breines, August 23, 2012, “The Healthy Way to Forgive Yourself”

[iv] See the Self Evident Truths Project web site at

[v] Listen to Tillet Wright’s TED talk titled “Fifty Shades of Gay” at

[vii] For a summary of the concepts of this book in an animated talk see:

Open Our Gates - Yom Kippur Davar Torah by Betsy Teutsch 5733

Open Our Gates: Not Either/Or, but Both/And

[Note: at the suggestion of Joyce Norden, I am including links for those who would like more information or wish to donate to some of these initiatives.]
Shabbat shalom, on this the Shabbat of Shabbatot, the holiest moments of our year.
In today’s haftarah, Isaiah takes us to task for performing atonement rituals while the poor suffer.  “Is it not the sharing of your bread with those who starve, the bringing of the wretched poor into your house, or clothing someone you see who is naked?” which is the point?

On Yom Kippur, we pray for compassion, realizing that even though we have good deeds to commend us, we have all fallen short.  We pray to do better, and to make it through the closing gates of compassion.  We pray for sustenance, mazel, protection, safety, security -  none of which we can take for granted, but mostly, we do.  

One of the important things about Isaiah’s words is the exhortation to care for those who we see.  But in our modern world, increasingly we do not see the have-nots.  While it may not be our intent, it is the result of planning, policy, and increasingly disparate income distribution which protects and reinforces privilege.  We live in metaphorically gated communities, walling ourselves off.  If we want to get through the gates of redemption, we need to take a good look at how we systematically keep our gates closed to the Other.  

Today I will mention seven gates of protected privilege, and then I will share seven relatively simple gate busters.  The first seven gates are local/national; the seven gate openers are global, reflecting the book research I have been doing for the last 18 months on global poverty alleviation. In truth, it is easier to provide life-saving drugs for a dollar a dose than to restructure American life.

Let’s look at seven gates within which we live our lives.

1. Through a combination of burglar alarms, so-called “security systems”, air conditioning, and cars, we have effectively gated our houses so that no one can get through, unless we let them, or they outsmart us.  In our house, the dreaded invader is actually pollen.  As a result, we have accepted lifestyles which preclude anyone, friend or neighbor, ever dropping by. Our doors are closed.  When is the last time you were a spontaneous visitor, or hosted spur of the moment guests?  If a person in need knocked on our doors, most of us would feel very nervous about letting them in.  Because we would think a person that did this is crazy.  What kind of world have we built, that if someone needs something and reaches out directly at our doorsteps, we are most inclined to call 911?

2.  We have literally built gated communities.  I often made fun of the one my in-laws lived in, since it actually had a gate, for which you needed a password or someone to buzz you in, but any affluent American neighborhood actually has an invisible gate.  Housing stock tends to be segregated by class, perhaps, rather than race, but segregation it is.  A low income family on my block set off a stir because their noisy kids played outside all the time.  “This is not how people behave here”, one irate African American neighbor complained.  

3.  We have created an alternate system of private education, so very few of us send our kids to the local public schools, unless we live in high income areas.  We sent our kids to day school, so we felt somewhat virtuous, but in fact, we fit into the same pattern as most upper-middle-class Philadelphians.  Our kids received superior educations with PLU’s - People Like Us.  I learned this term from my daughter-in-law Becca and it captures the assumptions we share with peers, or within lifestyle enclaves.   

Mt. Airy is very PLU, if you shop at Weavers Way, eat local, and live in precincts which are 98% Democratic.  I just read in the NYTImes Retirement section that 1 in 500 Americans over 65 have a regular yoga practice. If you find that surprising, welcome to the club, since in our neighborhood it is more like 1 in 5.  Private school, for all its merits, has gradually hollowed out public education and contributes to the shameful situation in which we find ourselves today. Not intentional, but just the same, we have erected a gate around our children to make sure they have good educational experiences, and as for the rest of the children - we will go to rallies and beg for money from Harrisburg and hope it works.

4.  We have built transportation systems designed for people with adequate financial resources.  That means you drive a car, or if you go a distance, you fly.  Amtrak is an expensive option, but it IS an option in the Bos-Wash corridor.  I lived in Philly for 20 years before I got on a bus, because I had no idea where they went, and the system was not designed to attract affluent customers.  Buses, in Philly, are for poor folk.  

I recently visited Mpls, and was heading from there to Des Moines, Iowa, to visit family.  I logged onto Amtrak to make a reservation, but - no train!  Not on the Bos/Wash corridor.  There were flights, I am sure, but I wanted to see the cornfields, so I booked a Greyhound bus.  (Not a Bolt or Mega, with wifi.  Just Greyhound.)  There was no accessible info online on how to get from the airport where I was dropping off my car to the bus depot downtown.  The car rental people had no information, having never talked to anyone who needed to travel to a bus depot.  Eventually I took a van downtown to Greyhound, and was pretty flabbergasted when the first stop on our journey was - the Twin Cities airport.  Point is, so few people ever need this information that it is invisible.

At a bus stop break, where we parked at  a gas station convenience store in SmallTown, Minnesota, one of the passengers started to shake and lose his balance.  This happened a few times, and the clerk came out from behind her plexiglass shielded cash register to check on him.  He confirmed he was NOT okay.  The bus driver came around and instructed this kind woman to call an ambulance.  Then we took off.  An impoverished man taken care of by our safety net - that’s a good thing.  But what happened to him next, after he was discharged from the emergency room?

5. While the gentleman on the bus was taken to a hospital, for many in our country, that is not the case.  They are undocumented and will be turned away, or they ironically have too much income to qualify for medicaid but not enough to afford insurance.  Let us pray that the expansion of medical care insurance in our country will move forward.  

6. When I was young, my male counterparts worked very hard to avoid the draft.  That was Vietnam, a turning point for our country when young, well-educated (which means affluent) men resisted the call to military service.  This upended our military which was, cleverly and with our complicity, recast as a Volunteer Army.  In exchange for taking the risk of being killed, or disabled for life, you can enlist in our armed forces.  Affluent people rarely take the military up on this offer, so we have walled ourselves off from risk-sharing and outsourced our defence to lower income Americans with fewer options and more interest in service.  You can bet we would not have invaded Iraq if it had involved drafting high income soldiers, People Like Us.

7.  The immigration debate rages, and due to post 9/11 security concerns, we have made it ever harder to immigrate to this country.  We make it difficult for students who want study visas, and we have actually built a separation wall on the Arizona/Mexican border despite the fact that Mexican immigration has markedly slowed.  In one generation the Mexican birth rate has dropped from 7.3 per Mexican woman in 1960 to 2.4 in 2009.  Jobs dried up during our recession, and the Mexican economy has been improving.  Just saying.

In general, we Americans have not just gates on our Northern and Southern borders, but are bounded by two oceans.  We manage not to see the rest of the world, even more than we manage not to see American poverty.  Not to say that it is picnic to be poor and homeless in the United States, (and hats off to all the work our community does through NPIHN to address local homeless families) but relatively speaking, try living without running water, electricity, and sanitation, and you’d take American poverty hands down.

Hence the next part of my talk.  Unfortunately I am not telling seven stories of easy fixes for the situations I just outlined.  But when it comes to world poverty, there are easy fixes.  Because of inadequate governance and inequitable distribution, end users cannot access them.

Whether you fast with difficulty, or find it a meaningful spiritual practice, hunger for us is just that - an option.  I want to share with you seven ways of improving people’s lives  globally, many of which I have learned about in this last year, researching a book on 100 Tools under $100 for poverty alleviation.  Quite a few of them involve food.

Giving the kind of aid the haftarah envisions, handouts, is obviously important.  The persistent poverty described by Isaiah presumes poverty is a constant.  But we are learning that many of the poverty traps - the things that keep the poor getting poorer -  can be addressed and some can be avoided altogether.  We will not get rid of global poverty, but we can lessen its severity, and help people with a hand up.  Poor people are praying for sustenance, mazel, protection, safety, security - just the same as we are.

1. Children in our world starve.  Droughts, disasters, or political disruptions destroy harvests and citizens of failed states are driven from their homes, seeking food and shelter.  There are - God Bless Them - massive NGO humanitarian responses to meet this flood of need.  (LIke two million in refugee camps in Syria as we speak.)  In the past acutely malnourished children were fed by IV, in field hospitals. Some recovered, but being in a hospital with malnourished children weakened from pneumonia and diarrhea is not where you want to be.

Enter Plumpy’nut.  A French physician, Andre Briend and food engineer Michele Lascanne developed this ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) in the 90’s - which is a tube of peanut base with essential micronutrients added.  Acutely malnourished children can now squeeze the food right into their mouths, and can be cared for by family without hospitalization.  This has multiplied the number of children which can be saved manifold.  It is patented and franchised to factories in the developing world, nearer to locations where it is needed, providing a market for local farmers, as well as employment.  this also lowers the cost.  It does not answer the question of the mother who receives a box of a month’s supply - what is she supposed to eat herself?  What is she to feed her other children, who are hungry, if not technically acutely malnourished?
You can donate to Edesia Global , which manufactures Plumpy’Nut in Providence RI for global humanitarian distribution.  

2. Pregnant mothers who are anemic, generally an iron deficiency resulting from inadequate nutrition, are at high risk for hemorrhaging in childbirth.  Maternal death is a tragedy.  It is also a disaster, if not a death sentence,  for a woman’s surviving children.  Much effort has been expended this last decade of the Millenium Development Goals to lower maternal death, and there have been many gains.  But that just means fewer women die of completely preventable (and completely predictable) birth complications.  We are talking about millions and millions of at-risk women.

Misoprostol is a well-researched pill which prevents postpartum excessive blood loss and is recommended by the WHO.  It does not need refrigeration nor does it require an injection.  It saves mothers’ lives, and is an off-patent drug, so it’s very inexpensive. The problem is getting it to the birth attendants and clinics.

Melodie Holden started an organization called Venture Strategies Innovations which now works with health systems in 15 countries to get women access to miso.  Countless women’s lives have been saved, and they live to take care of the new baby and their other children.  
Fewer people need to say “your wife, your mother, your sister, your daughter, or your friend bled to death because of the lack of a pill that costs under $1.”  Amen.
here is their link:

3. And while we talk about malnutrition - especially when all our stomachs are growling - how about addressing this problem before children become acutely malnourished (that means, near death)?  Inadequate nutrition isn’t just calories, it is also a deficit of essential micronutrients like vitamin A, iodine, zinc, and iron.  Worldwide a quarter of a billion kids get inadequate Vitamin A, which is the leading cause of blindness, and death, and is entirely preventable.  

Breastfeeding is the first course of action, along with supplements. Another approach is to encourage the cultivation of more nutritious crops, some of which can be bred to increase their delivery of micronutrients. A major initiative, SASHA - Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa - is working to deploy sweet potatoes, which are rich in - yes - vitamin a.  They require less water and pesticides than more popular, common crops, and are far more nutritious.  The initiative seeks to raise their popularity and improve their durability and yield. Some if this is done through genetic techniques, the results of which are publicly shared.  This is a side of the GMO debate you don’t hear much, within our gates.  
For more Info, - this is funded by the Gates Foundation.

4. So, we improve yields.  That is good, but one little known fact is that after crops are harvested in the developing world, nearly 50% of the crops are ruined.  All that back-breaking labor, half of it performed by women farmers and blam - gone.   Insect infestation means that farmers either need to sell their crops right away, glutting the market and lowering prices, or use costly insecticides to preserve their crops.   
For $2.20, farmers can now purchase PICS -  Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage bags.  Developed by Indiana academics researching in the field with scientists from Africa, it is essentially a heavy duty triple ziplock bag.  It enables a staple, cowpeas (which we call black-eyed peas) to be stored without insecticides, since the bag keeps out all moisture, preventing infestations.  Farmers  can benefit from their full crop production, and sell the stored grain when prices are higher.  Twice as much food and more than twice the income.  The bags are now manufactured in Africa, creating jobs.  They can be reused many seasons.  $2.20 amortized over many growing seasons.  

5. One of the main causes of illness among the global poor is waterborne diseases.  Without sanitation, local water is continually polluted, and drinking it spreads disease. There are many effective water treatment approaches - such as filtration - which  requires equipment, chlorination which requires inputs, or boiling, which consumes fuel and generates emissions, but they all work very well.  

What is less well-known is SODIS, solar disinfection.  Simply fill a 2 liter #1 plastic bottle with untreated water and leave it in the sun for a few hours.  The ultraviolet rays will kill all the pathogens when the interior heat reaches 149.  All the extra heat required to bring the water to boiling, at 212, is unnecessary.  SInce the vast majority of the world’s poor live in areas of high solarization, this is very good news, but hard to disseminate.  People don’t really trust that it could be true.  but it is.  This simple technique will improve and save many lives, and trees, too.
You can donate a Solvatten unit for use in Haiti:

6. There is a field now, poor economics, which actually uses academic tools and studies how poor people make the myriad economic decisions they face every day.  Economists like Esther Duflo study how people fall into poverty traps from which it is nearly impossible to rise up.  Illnesses are one of the biggest causes of American family bankruptcies, and it is no different for the global poor.  A family member falls ill.  Money needs to be scraped together to take the patient to whatever passes for a hospital or clinic, medicines need to be paid for, and family members need to stay and provide the nursing.  All these outlays, while no one is bringing in any money, especially if the patient is a breadwinner, wipes out the family’s fragile economic resources.

If the patient dies, then there are expenses of funeral and burial.  Often people are forced to sell off productive assets to pay the bills - like livestock, or say, a daughter.  Pulling kids out of school.  Borrowing money at usurious rates to pay off debts.  The family is pretty much never going to restabilize.

A recent innovation, spawned by microfinance, is microinsurance.  For a few cents a week, families can buy life insurance.  If an insured person dies, the family quickly collect benefits to pay funeral expenses and settle debts, allowing the family to re-establish some security.  Believe it or not, African mobile phone companies are partnering with for-profit microinsurance companies to offer life insurance to  customers along with every purchase of mobile minutes, in order to develop loyalty in a very competitive market. Millions of people are obtaining life insurance for the first time, and it is helping them avoid that particular poverty trap.   

7.  How many people here have a birth certificate?  Within our gates, it is normal, but there are millions of global births each year that go unregistered.  That means these people are literally not counted.  Their births and deaths are not included in any demographic health or education studies, and they cannot access any government benefits.  Girls cannot prove their age and are vulnerable for forced child marriages.  No birth certificate, no passport.  People for whom birth registration is particularly challenging include nomadic peoples, migrant workers, remote indigenous tribes, and slum families dwelling in unrecognized shanty towns such as the one hauntingly depicted by Katherine Boo in Beyond the Beautiful Forevers. These problems are especially acute for stateless persons, such as refugees and their children, who can be stuck in legal limbo for decades.  (Our own Ari Brochin works with such a population of Burmese refugees in Thailand.)

NGO’s have been waging major campaigns to combat this problem, encouraging countries to make the process simple and free, with remarkably good results, including Apps For That.  Those birth certificates will certainly help open the gates of security for many millions of people previously denied access.
You can sponsor the registration of a child’s birth for $25.

It is a messy world.  I think, though, that Isaiah would be pleasantly surprised to know that we now have the ability to lessen the severity of many harsh fates.  

We sitting in this room are privileged because of good luck, not merit.  As Anne Frank famously said, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."  Think of all that we can do to help inscribe others in the Book of Life..

May we merit to be inscribed as well.

To read more: my book project blog has many initiatives featured.