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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.

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: 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.

Read more

A Summit on Jewish Service

This post originally appeared on Heritage Florida Jewish News on September 30, 2016.

By Heritage Florida Jewish News

At the inaugural Service Matters: A Summit on Jewish Service last week, more than 200 people joined together committed to elevate the place of volunteer service in American Jewish life. The Summit was hosted by Repair the World with more than 35 partners from across the fields of Jewish service, social justice, leadership development, and communal engagement.

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You, too, can help repair the world: Pirkei Avot offers inspiration for millennial do-gooders

This post originally appeared on JWeekly.com on Sept 15, 2016

By David Eisner

When lowering my shoulder, planting my feet and pushing hard to make something happen, I love to reflect on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s exhortation to act with “the fierce urgency of now.”

My feelings in those moments usually are not very MLK-like — self-righteousness, self-satisfaction and just a touch of self-pity make me feel both impatient and smug.

Over the last month, however, “the fierce urgency of now” has challenged me in a new way, as I struggle to process the violence, oppression, naked fear, hatred and cynicism that is dominating our national news and politics and spilling into our communities.

The sense of urgency and the desire to act immediately collides with two simple questions: What should I do?  What can I do?

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How to Repair The World and inspire a volunteerism culture

This post originally appeared in Vision in Sept 2016.

By Yasmine Ziadat

David Eisner, CEO and President of NPO Repair The World, explains how businesses and governments can tap into an undervalued pool of potential volunteers, to celebrate our Special ‘Power of Volunteering’ Feature, launching in October.

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How Young Adults Serve with Others and Build New Jewish Community at the Same Time

By David Eisner

This article originally appeared March 24, 2016 in E Jewish Philanthropy.

Across the country, organizations and leaders are looking for proven ways to engage the so-called “unaffiliated” Jewish young adults who don’t connect with the “organized” Jewish community. Finding these young adults is not as mysterious as you might hear: head to a multi-ethnic, urban neighborhood that’s grappling with gentrification; spend some time in a second-hand book store; or hang out at a boutique coffee shop. They’ll be there. And, just as finding these young adults requires going where they already are, engaging them requires empowering them to do what they already care about – not looking for ways to get them to care about something different.

Fortunately, what these young adults care most about – having a positive impact in their community, in communities in need, and in the world – is exactly what our Jewish community would do well to focus on. These parallel interests are a positive sign for the future of Jewish life, and the future of Jewish young adults creating that life in their vision.

We also have new data that crystalizes how we can connect with these “unaffiliated” young Jews and meet their needs and desires in life. This data is documented and analyzed in Building Jewish Community Through Service, Repair the World’s report on the independent evaluation of its flagship Communities program. Based on the first two years of programming in Baltimore, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the data constitutes compelling evidence that:

Jewish young adults, especially “unaffiliated,” find service through a Jewish lens compelling when it is authentic, pluralistic, impactful, and meets the self-articulated needs of local communities. 75% of Communities’ participants are Jewish young adults, of whom an astonishing 70% have low prior Jewish experience.
Service can achieve scale. Repair’s pilot Communities programs grew from engaging 4,000 unique participants in Year 1, to 12,000 in Year 2 (we’re on a path to exceed 17,000 in year 3) – this is in only 5 communities.
Service is “sticky” when it is meaningful and cause oriented – most participants return for more. Among the large numbers of participants who continue to deepen their engagement more than three-quarters say they come back for the impact and the community, both being with “other people who care about what I care about,” and fining opportunities to build authentic relationships with “people from backgrounds different from me.”
Well-structured service programs can effectively convey Jewish content. To deliver deepest meaning, service programs should include three elements: hands-on (direct) service, contextual Jewish and civic education, and personal reflection.  In that framework, 67% of Communities participants increased their understanding of the connection between their social change passion and Jewish values.
Peer-to-peer engagement works. Participants almost universally expressed strong appreciation for the Fellows, and three-quarters credited the Fellows for their ongoing connection to the Communities program.
The Jewish community benefits. Strong findings emerged from focus groups with Jewish community leaders that Communities’ new approach to engagement for young adults has inspired the broader Jewish community toward service, toward working more effectively with young adults and toward building stronger relationships with other communities.
Now let me back up. I joined Repair the World three years ago from the secular service world, eager to further Repair’s mission to make service a defining element of American Jewish life. I found that Repair had built, in its first four years, astonishing depths of knowledge about how to make Jewish service programming authentic and impactful, and also how to engage Jewish young adults in that work. However, no Jewish organizations were leveraging that knowledge at any scale. In fact, the number of service opportunities offered with a Jewish lens was actually shrinking as organizations closed or deprioritized programs they considered unsustainable and poorly connected to their core missions.

Together with our board and young, ridiculously smart staff, we began retooling the organization to demonstrate the power of meaningful service through a Jewish lens in our own communities, to mobilize young adults to engage in Jewish service at a larger scale than previously seen, and to equip Jewish organizations and professionals to build a service movement. Within months, in the fall of 2013, we launched Repair the World’s new flagship Communities program, under the entrepreneur’s creed of “Launch and Learn” that included commissioning the independent evaluation of the program’s first two years. Operating in Baltimore, Brooklyn, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the program leverages best practices from AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, Public Allies and Points of Light. We deploy cohorts of full-time Repair the World fellows in each community with the explicit goal to connect young adults in those communities with education and food justice causes and with opportunities to serve with organizations embedded in those local communities that are excellent at addressing these critical needs.

Now fast forward back to today. Repair’s service programming, including direct service and contextual education, has matured in just three years to driving ever-deeper relationships between young Jews and local communities working together to address pressing social injustice. Leading national and local Jewish communal organizations are today using resources, training and opportunities to participate in cause-oriented campaigns, delivered by Repair the World – and they are working to build authentic and meaningful social justice programming and to engage Jewish young adults.

Based on my experience in the service field, my assessment of the culture that thrives at Repair the World and the data from this study, I believe that the reinvigorated momentum around service that Repair the World Communities has started in only two short years, as documented by this evaluation, has four drivers beyond a strong board, staff, planning and execution (not, of course, that we take those things for granted!):

Our commitment to make service and educational work authentic and impactful by taking our cues from our community-based partners, so that we serve with, not to or for, the impacted communities;
Our enforcement of “extreme pluralism” in terms of Jewish (and non-Jewish) inclusion and our rejection of any form of “bait and switch” or encouragement of religiosity or observance – we believe service through a Jewish lens can be not just a step toward a Jewish life, but the full expression of a Jewish life;
Our willingness to experience and discuss without flinching or avoidance the sometimes uncomfortable challenges and complexity associated with both the social issues and injustices we serve to address and the multiple narratives of the Jewish connection to those issues; and,
Our ethic of building fast cycles of data-driven learning in all of our activities, which we reinforce across the organization as well as with our partnerships.
We are hopeful that many more Jewish organizations and communities will take advantage of these learnings to build impactful and sustainable programming that embraces the passions of our next generation. This will, simultaneously, strengthen a robust, diverse Jewish community that is fully engaged in improving the lives and communities of our neighbors, a central feature of our commitment to Repair the World.

David Eisner is President and CEO of Repair the World. Building Jewish Community Through Service is available for download here.

March 2016 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 Jobs, Events and Campaigns)

Repair the World, In Detroit, Philly, Pittsburgh and NYC!

Don’t forget to check out upcoming opportunities in our Repair the World Communities:

Up Next: A Jewish Peace Corps

This letter, by Repair the World’s President and CEO, David Eisner, was originally published in HaAretz.

A Call to Heed

In response to “Only ‘Jewish Peace Corps’ can save Zionism from millennial crisis,” February 25, Ari Shavit issues an important call to expand service opportunities for young Jewish adults. Shavit’s right: Jewish service links volunteering to Jewish values in millennials’ minds. Each year Repair the World engages tens of thousands of young adults in meaningful, Jewish-infused service, and we’ve measured strong increases in how they connect their passion to drive social change to their Jewishness. Many even build innovative Jewish communities around this work. Through service initiatives like Passover’s #SupportforRefugees, young adults address today’s urgent issues, make Judaism fit their lives, and challenge themselves to learn, question and lead.

The difficulty for many in the Jewish community is internalizing how crucial it is for the service to be authentic – for programs to reflect uncomfortably extreme pluralism, and for Jewish elements to be offered “no strings attached.” Young adults deepening their appreciation for and identification with Jewish values don’t always build stronger connections to what they perceive to be the “organized” Jewish community. And, that’s okay. For many, this work is not an entry point into Jewish life – it is their Jewish life. As more young adults bring their Jewish expression to authentic service, they are making not just a better world, but a more vibrant Jewish community. 

We hope others heed Shavit’s call and create more opportunities for young adults (and Jews of all ages!) to explore the Jewish imperatives of tikkun olam and creating social change.

-David Eisner, Repair the World President and CEO