A month ago, I got a tattoo. My first one. One that I had wanted for years, and I finally decided to put my thoughts into action. I had just moved to a new city, just started my postgrad life, and I needed to do something bold to accompany this life change.

I chose to get the Hebrew word kavanah–meaning intention, focus, or purpose–tattooed on my left forearm. Additionally, it can also be understood as “direction of the heart”.

Throughout the years, I’ve found the concept of kavanah to be continuously inspirational and motivating. I believe that it is extremely important to actively be mindful of what we’re doing, and why we’re choosing to do it at this particular moment in time. Each one of us has a story that has led us to this point. At this point in my own life, I’ve chosen to spend a year living and working in Philadelphia as a Fellow with Repair the World. Repair the World is a national Jewish non-profit that seeks to engage young adults in volunteer work and make it a more active part of their lives. I absolutely love the work that I have the opportunity to be a part of here, and I look forward to the chance to do something new every day.

However, placing myself in the field of social justice and non-profit work comes with its own slew of difficulties. Each day, I find myself frustrated by the racial injustices that our system perpetuates, by the stereotypes that are held by so many walking down the street, and simply by the vastness of the troubles that seem to endlessly plague our society. When dealing with all of that on a daily basis, it can quickly feel unsettling and overwhelming. But I’ve found that despite the frustrations that these cause, we’re all looking for something; we’re all looking for meaning. We’re all looking for the reasons behind why we do what we do, and why others do what they do.

I’ve found inspiration in kavanah, in understanding the intention behind these interactions. Each one of us brings something to the table, and I believe that it’s extremely important to consider this as much as we are able. We’re repeatedly given the beautiful ability to take step back from the situations in which we find ourselves, and become more self aware and reflective. Are we truly putting our full selves into these moments? When I’m out volunteering here in Philly, am I really putting my full effort and passion into that experience? If not, what can I do to see this moment in a different light, and give it my entire self? I find that taking that pause gives me the chance to take a step back and remember why I’m here. Life is full of meaning; we just have to take notice of it. Kavanah continually inspires me to refocus, reimagine, and reconnect, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it helps me to transform and grow throughout the rest of this year.


This post originally appeared on the Repair the World Philadelphia Tumblr at http://rtwphilly.tumblr.com/


December Social Good Roundup!

In addition to our monthly Newsletter, we are also bringing you a monthly round-up of our favorite programs from our partners and from across the web. The opportunities below are separated by long term (6+ months), short term (6 months or less) and ongoing service, social good, and travel opportunities.

Be sure to check back monthly for updates and new finds!


Commit…To Service!     (Long-Term Programs)

You Want To Go To There.      (Short-Term and Travel Opportunities)

Be Social. Do Good.    (Social Good Events and Campaigns)

On Chanukah: 8 Nights, 8 Gifts That Give Back

Adam Sandler got it right with his famous Hanukkah song on SNL: “Chanukah is the festival of lights. Instead of one day of presents, we get eight craaazy nights!” Well, almost right. It’s true that there are 8 nights of Chanukah, but this year, instead of giving the same old presents, delight your friends and family with meaningful gifts that really give back. Here are some of our faves for 2014:

1. CSA Subscription
Give your loved one a season’s worth of delicious veggies and fruits by joining together with a couple of friends to sign them up for a CSA. Your friend will get lots of great food, and you’ll support the work of a local farmer.

2. Krochet Kids
Support this international non-profit that empowers people through the creation and sale of knit and crochet hats. Keep your loved one’s warm, and make a difference while you’re at it.

3. Donate in Their Honor.
Got a friend who feels passionately about an organization’s mission? Make their holiday by making a donation in their honor to support the org’s work.

4. Give a Goat
Heifer International empowers people to purchase livestock for families in developing rural countries. Make a difference in a community’s life by donating to “give a goat” in honor of your loved one.

5. Membership to Botanical Garden
Buy your loved one a year long membership to their local botanical garden. They’ll have fun wandering through the trees throughout the whole year. Meanwhile, you’ll support the gardens’ ecological and educational initiatives.

6. Punjammies
Get a pair of these beautiful, sari-inspired pajamas sewn by women in India who have been rescued or who escaped from a life of forced prostitution. Your purchase will have your loved one sleeping in style, and will support the work of an amazing organization.

7. VWU Certificate
You have heard of an IOU certificate. Do one better and make them an VWU (volunteer with you) certificate, good for one day (or more) of volunteering together at the organization or cause of their choice.

8. Beauty + Ethics
Have a friend who is obsessed with lotions or fancy soaps? Buy them something delicious (and certified cruelty free!) at The Body Shop (“beauty with heart”) and your purchase will help support campaigns against animal testing, that support children worldwide, foster environmental stewardship, and more.

Turn the Tables on MLK Day with Repair the World

“What is it America has failed to hear? …It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King’s heroic legacy of advancing civil and human rights in America lives on, even nearly 50 years after his death. But in recent months, whether in Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, or countless other cities and towns across the country, there have been too many reminders that the work to ensure justice and freedom for all our country’s citizens is far from complete.

That is why this year, in honor of MLK Day, Repair the World is launching Turn the Tables – an initiative that promotes the principles at the center of Dr. King’s ideology, and works towards the promise of a more just society. The road ahead is long, so we must walk it together.

There are two ways to get involved over MLK Day weekend:

Host a Shabbat Supper
On January 16, turn your table into a forum for conversations about justice. Shabbat has traditionally been a sacred weekly time for Jews to gather with those closest to them. Repair the World invites everyone to use the Shabbat before MLK day as an opportunity to break bread and reflect on racial injustice issues that are on the minds of Americans following the tragic events in Ferguson, Staten Island and elsewhere.

Take Action
MLK Day is a nationally recognized Day of Service. On January 19, join thousands of Americans across the country in making our communities stronger and standing up to the challenges of racial inequality in meaningful and tangible ways. Sign up to make the commitment to make a difference for a cause you care about.

Learn more about Repair the World’s Turn the Tables initiative and get access to tons of resources for MLK Day and beyond.

Repair Inspiration: America’s Top Charitable Causes

Whether it is environmental action, women’s health, or human rights, you know which issues you feel most passionate about. And you likely know which causes get your friends and family fired up too. But what about the country as a whole?

Mashable published an article about a recent poll tracking charitable donations in the United States. In exciting news, charitable giving increased in 2013 for the first time in 5 years!

Curious how Americans give and what they give to? Read the excerpt below, or check out the whole article at Mashable. You can also read the in depth report at Harris Interactive, the organization that conducted the poll. How do your own interests compare with your fellow Americans?

The Charitable Causes Americans Care About Most
By: Matt Petronzio

According to a recent Harris Poll on charitable donations in the U.S., overall giving increased in 2013 — the first time since the 2008 recession. One in four Americans feel it’s their personal responsibility to help make the world a better place by being actively involved in causes and issues, while an additional 17% believe it’s important to volunteer and donate to charity.

When it comes to specific causes, 18% of Americans say they care most about youth and families, followed by animals (12%), medical research (12%) and education (11%). There are some discrepancies, however — one could argue education is an important facet of youth and families-related causes.

Read more…

On Justice and the Eric Garner Decision

Dear Friends,

Yesterday we heard the news that the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner was not indicted. Shortly afterwards I listened, as protesters peaceful but fervent passed through the streets of midtown. From Union Square to Times Square “I can’t breathe” echoed in steady succession. Voices of anger, sorrow, desperation and determination resounding throughout the city.

I thought of the prophetic lines from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “…what is it America has failed to hear? …It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

The structural injustices and racism that confronted us so starkly and so recently in Ferguson, have resurfaced once again. A different case, a different place, yet the very same grand jury decision, and the very same inequity that is a dominant factor in millions of our fellow citizens’ lives. It is clear that these cases are repetitive and symptomatic of so much that has been so wrong for so long.

This year, we mourn Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, and many others who were killed in an environment of deep-seated, systemic violence in both our communities and in our country. As the news reports on young people of color who are harassed, jailed and killed, we may feel heartbroken, angry and, at times, hopeless. For some of us, places like Staten Island, Illinois or Ferguson feel far, worlds apart. For others, they feel too close to home. During this time many of us re-excavate the basis of our own complicity in America’s racial injustice: loss of urgency in working to bring change, juxtaposed with active furtherance of the privileges that life affords our families and ourselves. For many in Jewish communities, we are left with questions: Where do we as Jews fit into struggles against racial inequality?

It’s these questions and contemplation that should catalyze our endeavor to engage the Jewish community, to serve in partnership and solidarity with people who feel these injustices every day, and to work to ensure that justice exists in every corner of our country for every person, regardless of race.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 12.52.40 PM

David Eisner
President and CEO
Repair the World

Repair Inspiration: #GivingTuesday and Shmita

Today is #GivingTuesday – a global day dedicated to giving back. Yeah, pretty much right up Repair the World’s alley, right? That’s why we teamed up with eJewishPhilanthropy on this essay that adds a Jewish dimension (specifically the wisdom of the shmita year) to the annual observance. Check out an excerpt below, then read the whole piece over at eJewishPhilanthropy’s website.

#GivingTuesday and the Shmita Year
By: David Eisner, President and CEO of Repair the World

We have reached an exciting time of the year. The air has turned crisp and the leaves vibrant shades of red and yellow. The holiday season, with its family gatherings and festive mood, is just around the corner. For many, the old song’s adage rings true: “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

But in today’s busy world, with its onslaught of advertisements blaring messages of consumption from all corners, it can be all too easy to lose touch with the season’s deeper meanings. It is all too easy to forget to stop, truly give thanks and, most importantly, to give back.

At Repair the World, we work to make giving back a defining part of American Jewish life. We aim to inspire people in the Jewish community and beyond to make service to others a priority in their lives. Our Fellowship program is an example. Throughout the 11-month program, Repair the World empowers young Jews living and volunteering in 5 cities across the United States (Pittsburgh, New York City, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Baltimore), to address social issues and build relationships in their communities through service. Meanwhile, we also seek out connections back to Jewish tradition, which is filled with wisdom about the importance of generosity and seeking out justice. When I first heard about #GivingTuesday – a global day dedicated to giving back – I immediately thought about service, and how giving one’s time to a cause you care about is a way to live out the values of Giving Tuesday, as well as the Jewish value of incorporating service and tikkun olam into daily life. I also began to think about another Jewish concept, shmita.

It just so happens that the Jewish calendar is also in the middle of an exciting moment. Once every seven years in the land of Israel, the shmita year arrives. According to biblical tradition, shmita, which literally means “release,” halts business as usual. Jewish text says, “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh year, you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave, let the wild beasts eat of it.” (Exodus, 23:10-11).

When we let those words settle for a moment, their radical nature comes clear. For an entire calendar year – this past Rosh Hashanah to the next – everything changes. Nothing is planted or harvested from the land. It is allowed to lie fallow and rest. Meanwhile, provisions are made for people of less means to find sustenance.

Another radical aspect of the shmita year is that all debts between people are forgiven and the slates are wiped clean. The text proclaims, “Every seventh year you shall practice release of debts … every creditor shall release his authority over what he claims from his neighbor. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2). Imagine living in a society that had good will and second chances built into its very fabric!

Read the rest on eJewishPhilanthropy’s website.

Repair Interview: Talya Gillman on Covenant’s Pomegranate Prize

What has been keeping you busy since you left Repair the World?
After leaving Repair the World in late August, I began work at the University of Washington’s Carlson Leadership & Public Service Center, coordinating – what else? – service-learning opportunities! The majority of our work at the Carlson Center focuses on creating opportunities for 1,000+ students to volunteer with hundreds of different community-based organizations in the greater Seattle area each academic quarter. Enrolled in thematically diverse service-learning courses offered by the university, these students spend time with, and support their partner organizations’ efforts each week, for the duration of the term.

The Carlson Center also facilitates multiple service and civic leadership fellowships, and other community engagement opportunities around town, each of which offer space for reflection and discussion about the complex social realities prevalent throughout the city. Operating at this scale, I draw upon principles of partnership, mutuality, flexibility and empathy each day. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to practice and cultivate commitments to these ideals through my work at Repair over the last several years.

Congrats on getting the Pomegranate Prize! Can you tell us a little more about it?
Thank you! I was certainly surprised and humbled by this honor. The Pomegranate Prize is distributed annually by The Covenant Foundation to a small cohort of young, emerging educators who demonstrate promise in the field of Jewish education.

Although I’m no longer collaborating on the development of training and service-learning curricula for Repair’s programs, the Pomegranate Prize will help me explore something I’ve been thinking about for some time now: the connections between positive character traits (empathy, kindness, generosity, critical thinking, humility, etc.) and practical and impactful social justice work. My goal is to study, support, and build programs that use Jewish teachings, ritual, vocabulary and other resources to cultivate these ‘postures’ in young people, believing that if we can help these traits become more authentically ingrained within individuals and the Jewish community broadly, then maybe we can strengthen our inclinations and abilities to effectively address large and small-scale inequalities in society.

My interest in this work is grounded in learnings and values that have been sparked and deepened through my experiences with organizations like Repair, American Jewish World Service, ATZUM and others, and I’m eager to do what I can to channel the knowledge and insights that have come from them, to help address pressing needs in our world. And, I’m excited about joining the Covenant ‘community’ via the Pomegranate Prize, because it’s clear that so many thoughtful people within it are already doing this kind of work in powerful ways!

What’s next on the horizon for you?
In addition to my work at the University of Washington, I’ve also begun graduate studies at Seattle University (yep different schools ;-)), towards a Masters in Transformational Leadership (MATL). I’m loving it – the content and ideas have consistently been inspiring, challenging, thought-provoking, and more!

Seattle U is grounded in the Jesuit tradition, and/so steeped in principles of social justice (Jewish tradition offers many similar or parallel concepts, to be sure!). The MATL itself facilitates deep exploration of leadership and the mechanics of “meaning-making” in this justice context, and I’m eager to soak up as much as I can in order to develop programs and content that – as I mentioned before – help cultivate positive social values and character traits in more and more young people today.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov had a teaching: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.” But I like to say instead, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is to help each other across.” And, I’m grateful for the opportunities the Pomegranate Prize represents, because I’m certain they will help chart new pathways for this important work!

November Social Good Roundup!

In addition to our monthly Newsletter, we are also bringing you a monthly round-up of our favorite programs from our partners and from across the web. The opportunities below are separated by long term (6+ months), short term (6 months or less) and ongoing service, social good, and travel opportunities.

Be sure to check back monthly for updates and new finds!


Commit…To Service!     (Long-Term Programs)

You Want To Go To There.      (Short-Term and Travel Opportunities)

Be Social. Do Good.    (Social Good Events and Campaigns)

Coming Up: Transgender Day of Remembrance

On November 20th, the Jewish community will join in in commemorating the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Founded in 1998, TDOR is an internationally-recognized day of action that memorializes trans people who died at the hands of transphobia and discrimination during the previous year. It is observed in more than 20 countries across the globe. Within the Jewish world, Keshet is leading the charge in ensuring rights, respect, and full inclusion for transgendered Jews in their communities. And they have put together a treasure trove of resources, stories, and events in honor of TDOR.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance is a heavy day – filled with the sorrow that comes from hate-fueled violence. In the words of Rabbi Becky Siverstein, the country’s first openly transgender rabbi, “Each time my community gathers for a prayer service, we ask someone in the congregation to say the Mourner’s Kaddish for those who have no one to say Kaddish for them. This is a powerful reminder that in the Jewish tradition mourning is a communal obligation.”

Join Keshet on November 20th and make a stand to advance transgender inclusion within the Jewish community. Find out how to get involved on their website.