How to find the right volunteer for the job
JTNews · March 17, 2011 · Link
by Janis Siegel
Daily news reports abound in past weeks of mega-earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear radiation, revolutions, and drug cartel wars. They can be overwhelming, but these world events also offer opportunities for those who hear the call to pitch in and practice the Jewish imperative to repair this world, said several Seattle Jewish educators at a Temple Beth Am in-service learning session.
In mid-March, the New York-based organization founded for just that purpose, Repair the World, joined about 100 teaching staff from eight Seattle-area schools and synagogues to emphasize that Jewish classrooms are great places to promote kindness, compassion, and service toward fellow human beings, whoever they are and wherever they may be.
“Repairing the world is our job,” Rivy Kletenik told JTNews. The nationally known educator and head of school at the Seattle Hebrew Academy delivered the keynote address, “The Kabbalah of Kindness: A User’s Guide.”
“I think sometimes tragedy is a wake-up call,” Kletenik said. “Sometimes we just go around in life taking everything for granted. We’re complacent and sometimes we need to be shocked.”
Kletenik gave the Kabbalistic view of Creation, where God contracts to make room for his creation, humanity, and how man ultimately shatters apart under the strain of too much “Divine” light. Therefore, the job of humanity is to right or repair a shattered world.
“Social justice, kindness, and service are at the foundation of Jewish life, no matter what,” Beth Huppin, an award-winning teacher from the Seattle Jewish Community School, told the JTNews. “This is what Jews do, taking care of other people, not just Jews. The texts, through the Torah and the Talmud, speak to that.”
Huppin and Amee Huppin Sherer, also a teacher at SJCS, taught a session called, “Why a Chesed Class Isn’t Enough: Infusing Service and Social Justice Into the Fabric of Our Teaching.” Chesed is the Hebrew word meaning kindness.
“This isn’t just for teachers,” Huppin said. “The most important teachers children have are the community members they interact with. We’re all committed to this. We want our children to see that the community is committed to this.”
According to Robert Beiser, the Repair the World campus director at Hillel at the University of Washington, Jews have a lot of experience to bring to social justice work. In his presentation, “Galvanizing the Jewish Community Toward Justice: A Case Study on Human Trafficking,” Beiser told the group that it’s not only modern Jews’ history of organizing for labor rights and labor union movements, but it’s also their statistically higher economic status in the U.S. and higher rate of college graduation, which, he said, is 39 percent greater than the general population.
“We’re the right people to be doing this work,” Beiser said. “We have political and economic influence and we offer solutions.”
Moreover, added Beiser, Jews have the historical memory of being slaves in Egypt through the Passover story. This legacy, which we are commanded to remember, he said, connects us to those who are in need of help.
“As Jews, we reenact that and we put ourselves in those places,” said Beiser. “You don’t find that in a lot of other cultural traditions. We have those historical traditions that we can draw on.”
Rabbi Will Berkovitz, Repair the World’s national vice president of partnerships and rabbi-in-residence, co-presented with Ken Weinberg, CEO of Jewish Family Service, a session titled “Who is it Really About? Keeping Ego Out of Service and Social Justice Work.”
The pair stressed the need to choose volunteer work wisely, and to prepare for service work by educating one’s self on a particular issue. It is also important, Berkovitz said, to learn about the Jewish perspectives on the topic and to match one’s skills to the task.
“The first value for the Repair the World organization is meeting and addressing real, authentic community needs,” Berkovitz told JTNews. “Start off by being honest about what commitments you can really make, and figure out what kind of work you can do. You start with the needs of the other, which means, ‘What do you need and when do you need me?’”
Berkovitz said that a lot of time is wasted by social service workers who must spend hours coordinating an individual’s schedule and availability.
“For example,” said Berkovitz, “just because someone wants to work with refugees, if the plane comes in at three in the morning, and that’s when they need you there, either you get up at three in the morning or you say that won’t work, and you find the work in the world that really is going to address the need.”
Jewish educators who attended the sessions said they often try to incorporate components of service and kindness into their classrooms.
Jeff Stombaugh, a 2nd-grade Judaic studies teacher at SJCS for the last four years, said he was impressed that so many of his peers from across the Jewish community came together to learn about community service.
“Really ‘seeing’ other people in the world is a perspective that I will definitely be trying to bring into the classroom,” said Stombaugh. “We are always using components of chesed in the classroom by acknowledging the kindnesses we see.”