Post-Election Service

At Repair the World, we’ve engaged thousands of Jewish millennials and our neighbors in meaningful service to address inequity in our four community hubs – Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Detroit. In the past year, as our work began more explicitly focusing on racial justice, we’ve done a lot of listening; since the election, our listening has intensified. We’ve gathered community members for open space meetings and for conversation over the Shabbat dinner tables, we’ve attended community gatherings led by community organizers and local politicians, and we’ve talked to our neighbors and our community partners.

Here’s some of what we’ve been hearing:

  • Fear. We’ve heard fear that people of color, Muslims, immigrants, people that identify as LGBTQ, and members of the Jewish community are not safe. The fear is real and palpable, and it comes from both those groups and those who consider themselves allies. The uptick in violence since the election — racist threats and actions, and violence against individuals based on whom they supported — has heightened their concerns.
  • A desire to act. People, especially young people, want to take action and shift their priorities. Some are interested in getting more involved politically, and some want to take action locally to stand in solidarity with their neighbors.
  • A desire to connect across difference, especially among white people. For some this means wanting to get to know more people in their diverse neighborhoods. Jews want to organize meals with Muslims. White people want to show up to connect with people of color. And, others are looking for ways to connect across the political divide, either locally or nationally.

At Repair, we believe that service has a more powerful role to play in America than ever before.

  • Serving together is one of the most effective opportunities for people to connect across differences to build and strengthen community. Whether building relationships with people serving alongside you or finding a better understanding of underserved individuals, service can expose us to those who hold different perspectives and life experiences, helping us to grow and become stronger.
  • Service offers a deeply Jewish response to addressing inequality and injustice. We recall that the Torah teaches us to care for the stranger and those who are vulnerable thirty-six times, invoking our memory of what it was like to be strangers in the land of Egypt. Service allows us to address immediate shortcomings, even when systemic or political change feels daunting.
  • Service allows everyone to take action in solidarity. There’s an obvious unevenness to how inequities impact us. For those less directly affected by these unfairnesses, addressing them through action and service can demonstrate that we stand with those who face more adversity.
  • Service heals both those of us who serve and those with whom we serve. When emotional strains pull at us, acting externally to repair society’s brokenness can help make us whole internally.

In the coming weeks and months, Repair the World will be recommitting to our efforts to make service a defining element of Jewish life.

In NYC, we are launching a new Volunteer Corps whose members will commit to volunteering at least twice a month with our service partners in Central Brooklyn.

In Philly, we’re holding a Post-Election Cocktails with a Conscience on the evening of Thursday, December 8 at our Workshop at 4029 Market St. In addition to offering each other support and comfort, we’ll have a chance to take stock of where we are, to determine what action steps we want to take to move forward as a community, and to advance and defend values and principles like fairness, justice, compassion, and kindness that are at the core of who we are. This gathering will be followed by a Day of Service on Sunday, December 18, in addition to other actions we’ll shape together.

In Pittsburgh, we are continuing to work with and listen to our community in the way that we did in holding an evening of healing on November 9th. As part of these efforts, we’ll be holding a Cocktails with a Conscience event on December 2nd at our Workshop at 6022 Broad Street. This will be followed by a dinner on December 8th, where we’ll talk about hunger in our city and outline specific work done to combat it. We will follow that up with a lot of service opportunities around MLK Day as well as ways to innovate for the social good in our community.

In Detroit, we are continuing to work with Freedom House to offer a safe space and educational workshops to the refugees and asylum seekers they house and planning Southwest Holiday Fest for December 10 to showcase the proud diversity and inclusion of of Mexicantown.

In Baltimore, we are continuing to work alongside our community partners to produce relevant and impactful action and learning. On December 9, in partnership with Jews United for Justice, we are hosting a Turn the Tables Shabbat Dinner where we will be discussing water affordability and accessibility, a major issue in Baltimore, as well as nationally and globally. We will also be holding days of service on Mitzvah Day (December 24-25) and on MLK Day (January 13-16) where we will be exploring racial injustices, religious tolerance, and other issues as they impact the Baltimore community.

Nationally, we are expanding Act Now for Racial Justice, a campaign to engage individuals and organizations in meaningful discussions and in action through service that shows solidarity and makes a difference in creating more cohesion in support of ending systemic racism.

We are committed to living and acting upon our values, no less now than before November 8. This call to justice binds us to vulnerable and marginalized people in our communities, and we hope that our answering that call through service will resonate with the Jewish community. We invite everyone to be a part of a stronger and more just world.

A Racial Justice Shabbat Dinner with Michael Twitty

Shabbat dinner naturally has a lot going for it. The food (challah! matzo ball soup!), the singing, the camaraderie, the chance to truly rest and enjoy friends and family after a long week – it’s hard to improve upon. But one recent Shabbat dinner held in Atlanta, Georgia last week stands out from the pack.

On November 11, Repair the World hosted a #TurntheTables Shabbat dinner as part of our time at Facing Race: A National Conference – a multiracial, intergenerational gathering focused on racial and social justice. We had spent time at the conference engaging with and learning from community organizers, educators, interfaith clergy members, and other leaders of the racial and social justice movements, and it was time to rest and recharge.

Michael Twitty As night fell and the Shabbat candles were lit, more than 100 people joined together around the table (or rather, many tables!) for dinner, discussion, and a conversation with culinary historian and writer, Michael Twitty.

Twitty focuses much of his scholarship on the history and culture behind African and African-diaspora cuisines, as well as on the idea of “identity cooking” – his theory about the way people construct and express their complex identities through food. As a Black Jewish man, Twitty often writes about his own experiences melding the, as he writes on his website, “histories, tastes, flavors, and Diasporic wisdom of being Black and Jewish.”

With the results of the national Presidential election just 3 days old, he spoke about the commonalities and distinctions between the Jewish and Black experience as minorities in America, and the critical importance of loving and protecting one another as full and complex human beings.

During dinner, guests were also prompted to discuss questions around the table like, “Where are you coming from in your racial justice journey?” which gave them a chance to get to know one another on a deeper level. The dinner closed with an alternative take of the Birkat Hamazon – or the grace/thanks traditionally said after meals in the Jewish tradition. The words of the blessing said it all:

“Giving and receiving we open up our hands / from seedtime to harvest we’re partners with the land.
We all share a vision of wholeness and release / Where every child is nourished and we all live in peace.”

For more information about Repair the World’s #TurntheTables Shabbat dinner, check out the article in the Atlanta Jewish Times, read through the dinner guide Repair the World created, and listen to Twitty’s speech in full.

To the Repair the World Community

At Repair the World, we believe that serving together with communities to meet urgent needs can be a valuable path to understanding and building relationships across differences.

Today is a day to focus on for being there for each other, especially for communities experiencing pain and marginalization. Wherever we stand in response to the election results, it is clear that we are a country with deep divisions, a place in which we truly do not understand one another, yet where too many of us dismiss the depth of the others’ despair.

We need to reach out to each other, to our children and elders, to our neighbors and friends, and build community. And, with those we are close to, we prepare ourselves for the difficulty of reaching out and listening to those whom we do not usually hear. In the Repair the World Communities, we will open our workshops for these conversations – hosted by partners and ourselves – conversations that we hope will begin to heal our civic wounds.

We also invite you to reach out to us. Share your thoughts and feelings about the election. Our digital community is a place for dialogue and listening and we invite you to add comments to this post below.

In Jewish tradition, the telling and hearing of a story is one way we create understanding. We encourage you to share your stories today and to ask others for theirs. Through our collective stories, may we continue to build a narrative of understanding and national healing.

We look forward to all of the opportunities in the future to unite in service and solidarity in our local communities.

Repair Interview: Leah Lizarondo of 412 Food Rescue

From the vegetables that rot in our crisper drawers before we cook them, to the uneaten sandwiches that get tossed at a coffee shop at the end of the day, Americans waste a lot of food – nearly 40 percent of the total food supply. Meanwhile 1 in 6 people do not know where their next meal is coming from. Those numbers did not add up to Leah Lizarondo and Gisele Fetterman, so they decided to do something about it in their home city of Pittsburgh.

Their organization, 412 Food Rescue, works to recover un-sellable but perfectly good food from retailers, restaurants, caterers, and universities (among other places) and deliver it to organizations that help to feed people in need. Meanwhile, they empower nearly 1,000 volunteers to make a real difference in the lives of their neighbors.

Repair the World’s Pittsburgh Fellows have partnered closely with 412 Food Rescue since its founding. Now, we are excited to share their work with you. Here, co-founder Leah Lizarondo (pictured at right, with Repair the World Fellows Max and Lydia) talks about creating the “Uber for food rescue,” why ugly vegetables are the next frontier of closing the food gap, and the role that faith communities can play in advancing food justice.

What was the inspiration behind 412 Food Rescue?
We started in direct response to the disconnect that we as a society waste 40 percent of the food supply while 1/6 people go hungry. We work on the retail end of the supply chain, where surplus happens on a daily basis. In aggregate, the food wasted by grocery stores, restaurants, universities, coffee shops, and other retail locations represents the largest source of surplus food aside from our own homes. We partner with the retail locations to pick up their surplus and match the food available to non-profits that serve people who are food insecure.

Right now in Pittsburgh we partner with 150 retailers and 200 non-profits, and have 900 volunteers signed up. In our second year of operation this year, we will rescue 1 million pounds of food.

How do you coordinate the food rescues to make sure they are getting to the right place?
We work dynamically to match every food recovery to the right place and make sure the food is useful to the populations the organization serves. We don’t just drop off food without finding out from our partners if its an appropriate delivery. For example, if we recover 2 dozen bagels from a bagel shop, we are not going to drop those off at a housing facility that serves 200 people. Instead, we might drop them off at a shelter that serves 12 people. We are working on creating an intelligent algorithm that will do this matching for us. And in a couple of weeks, we will be releasing an app that coordinates our volunteers by sending them notifications of food rescue opportunities near them.

Tell me about the Ugly CSA.
The Ugly CSA is another one of our programs that tries to tackle food waste at the farm level. About 20% of food waste happens at the farm and manufacturing level. As a society we have these cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables that aren’t realistic, and lot of the produce that is grown at farms is discarded because it doesn’t match those standards. We created a new market for farmers to sell their “ugly” produce at a discount through CSA shares. We launched this past summer with a local farm alliance and sold 40 shares, and plan to scale it up this year.

What are different ways that volunteers get involved in your work?
95% of our volunteer force is dedicated to food recovery. People can sign up to be a “food rescue hero,” which means they pick up surplus food and deliver it to one of our non-profit partners. They are basically like an Uber for food rescue. We have a partnership with Zipcar, which allows volunteers to get a car for an hour for free if they’re doing a food rescue.

Another way volunteers get involved is through our Hidden Harvest program, which just launched this fall. Volunteers help to glean unpicked fruit from private and city trees around Pittsburgh. This fall, volunteers harvested 1,500 pounds of fruit that otherwise would have gone to waste.

Can you share a story of 412 Food Rescue’s impact?
Because we are a nontraditional organization, we can partner with non profits that might not specifically be hunger organizations, but that serve populations that are food insecure. One of those organizations is the Housing Authority of Pittsburgh. We are the first providers to bring food directly to their residencies. Because of the work we’re doing, their residents know where their next meal is coming from – they know they can expect food at a scheduled drop off.

Can you describe your partnership with Repair the World?
I met Zack Block, who runs the Repair the World community in Pittsburgh a few years ago when we were working out of the same co-working space. At the time I was writing for an online magazine, and I wrote about Repair the World when they launched here three years ago. At the time 412 Food Rescue was in its germination stage, and I knew they’d be an instrumental partner in getting our organization off the ground. When we were about to launch, I got in touch with Zack and asked for the fellows’ help in recruiting our first volunteers. Repair the World’s fellows played a big role in getting us started, and continue to make a significant difference in our work of recruiting and retaining volunteers.

What role should religious organizations and faith communities play in food justice work?
I think a lot. As we have demonstrated with Repair the World, outreach to faith based organizations is instrumental to what we do. The common thread between all religions – whether you belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque – is a base message to do good. We offer an easy way to plug in and do that.

Repair Interview: Zamir Hassan of Muslims Against Hunger

Repair the World recently launched our High Holiday campaign, focused on advancing racial justice and building relationships between communities. There are many different ways to get involved (Learn about the root causes of racial injustice in America. Host or attend a Turn the Tables dinner. Take action in solidarity with our neighbors as a multiracial Jewish community.) – and we encourage you to explore them all.

Meanwhile, we will be introducing you to some of our favorite change makers. Here’s Zamir Hassan, founder of Muslims Against Hunger. As a network of more than 20 volunteer communities across the country, the organization is making a real impact on food justice front. Read on to find out more…

What was your inspiration behind starting Muslims Against Hunger?
I grew up in Pakistan and came to graduate school in America in 1973. In 2000, I ended up going to a soup kitchen for the first time as a chaperone for my son’s school in New Jersey. I was shocked. There were people who were homeless living in my community, and I had no idea that they were there. I was ignorant. The Muslim liturgy says I am not supposed to go to bed if my neighbor is hungry. I started reflecting on that, and it motivated me to get engaged with the hunger issue.
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Repair Interview: Rachel Sumekh of Swipe Out Hunger

Repair the World recently launched our High Holiday campaign, focused on advancing racial justice and building relationships between communities. There are many different ways to get involved (Learn about the root causes of racial injustice in America. Host or attend a Turn the Tables dinner. Take action in solidarity with our neighbors as a multiracial Jewish community.) – and we encourage you to explore them all.

Meanwhile, we will be introducing you to some of our favorite change makers. Here’s Rachel Sumekh, the Founding Executive Director of Swipe Out Hunger. Sumekh co-founded the organization – which lets students donate unused points from university meal plans to feed peers and community members facing hunger – during her sophomore year at UCLA. Today, Swipe Out Hunger exists on 23 campuses across the country, and is changing the conversation about poverty and food insecurity on college campuses. Read on…

What was the inspiration behind Swipe Out Hunger?
It started out because we were annoyed with the university for creating meal plans where students who had excess points at the end of a semester lost them. It began informally, with students going into dining halls and buying meals to go, then giving them to homeless and other food insecure people. But the university had some issues with this model. Fortunately, rather than stopping us, they said we should develop a new model. Today, if a student has extra meal swipes, they can opt into the Swipe Out Hunger program and convert that money into resources to help food insecure students.

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