Service As An Act Of Prayer

This article originally appeared in The New York Jewish Week on July 9, 2019

By Jeremy Nicholson, 2018-19 Repair the World Harlem Fellow

Every Wednesday, at 3:30 p.m., the quaint and quiet basement of All Souls’ Episcopal Church on St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem comes alive. Knives are put to use, pots boil, ovens warm in the background as friends and acquaintances, old and new, chatter. In the next five hours, a meal for up to 100 people will be prepared, served, put away, and by the end of the night, the basement returns to its sleepy state.

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What was learned here will leave here: Reflections on My Site Development Fellowship

By Rachel Bukowitz
Repair the World Atlanta Site Development Fellow 2018-19, Pittsburgh Fellow 2017-18

After spending August 2017 through July 2018 as a Food Justice Fellow with Repair the World (Repair) in Pittsburgh, where I served on a team with five other Fellows and consistently volunteered with three nonprofit service partners, I packed up my car and drove down to Atlanta to embark on my second year with Repair, this time as a Site Development Fellow. Over the last 12 months, I was the only Fellow in Atlanta, and had a different mandate with regularly scheduled volunteering. My year was devoted to working with Lily Brent, Director of Atlanta Repair, to launch Repair’s eighth “community”– a local site for Repair’s mission to make volunteer service a defining part of a American Jewish life. 

As I reflect on when I first moved to Atlanta to start this new endeavor, I recognize that my site development experience with Repair far surpassed my initial expectations. From cooking alongside local chefs at shelters in Atlanta to serving meals for people experiencing homelessness, to meeting with donors and securing funding from grocery stores for meal preparation, from going into a prison to sign up incarcerated men for birth certificates, to talking to my state senator at the Capitol about ending cash bail, the spectrum of my experiences fundamentally transformed me. This year provided me with the opportunity to hear stories and learn from people directly impacted by inequities across education systems, housing affordability, food access and criminal justice. Furthermore, it made me think critically about how to use my privilege to support excellent social justice work and be an advocate for change. From all of the diverse roles and responsibilities I had this past year, I have come away with three key learnings that I outlined below:

  1. Say “yes” to new opportunities. Committing to being the Site Development Fellow for Atlanta was a big “yes” moment for me in and of itself. I moved to a new state, to a city I had never been to before and knew no one in, and started a new job with a new boss whom I had never met in person. But accepting the role was just the beginning of the “yes-ing”. Once in Atlanta, one of my main goals was to build Repair’s brand and “get our name out there” by taking advantage of every opportunity to tell people what Repair is, what we do, and how they could get involved in our work. I criss-crossed the city attending 80 community-based events, volunteering with 32 nonprofits, tabling at events, co-sponsoring film screenings, speaking on panels, running workshops, hosting volunteer days, you name it! During this 2018-9 program year, Lily and I ran 42 programs! I dove into my new city attending public events that sounded interesting to me and volunteering for organizations working on causes I care about – which guaranteed that I would be far too busy to be bored or lonely, feelings that can come easy moving somewhere new. Each and every volunteer program and community event that I went to pushed me to embrace new experiences and led to me meet fascinating people, which leads into my next learning…
  2. You can learn something from everyone. Although we spent a lot of time and effort facilitating large-scale events, building our network also meant sticking true to Repair’s core model of meeting people one-on-one in the community. One standout meeting for me was with someone who was at that time a stranger, but is now my good friend, Gabe. As a newbie in Atlanta, Gabe provided me with incredible insight into Atlanta’s Jewish community and the city at large. He introduced me to the city’s food forest, an incredible urban agriculture space that I have since repeatedly volunteered at and brought over 40 Repair volunteers to on various occasions. Gabe also introduced me to a network of other values-driven young adults in the city that I am now lucky enough to have as friends. For all that Gabe shared with me, I too shared with him about Repair’s great work across the country and what we were up to Atlanta. A month after Gabe and I met, Lily and I co-hosted our first Repair event with Historic Westside Gardens. Gabe came to the event (and brought friends!) to volunteer. In the months that followed, Gabe continued to stay involved by hosting one of our MLK Shabbat Suppers and volunteering at our bi-weekly gardening group. Excitingly, in the coming year Gabe will be continuing his journey with Repair as a Fellow in Miami! Although not everyone I met with will end up becoming Repair Fellows, I can say that everyone I met with learned about Repair, and I in turn learned more than I could possibly list here from each and every person I met. I want to thank all of the community activists, local leaders and dedicated volunteers that I got to know this year– meeting this community was without a doubt the best part of my year.
  3. Express gratitude. Being a Site Development Fellow was a lot of hard work, and although there were days when my to-do list felt out of control, my efforts were always acknowledged and appreciated. In fact, I received an abundance of thank you’s (in person, over email, by text, and even hand written notes), and in return, I want to send my sincerest thanks to all of my colleagues at Repair the World. I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with such a supportive group of people that celebrate each other’s accomplishments and promote skill-building, divergent thinking, professional development, and empathetic and equitable approaches to work. I can’t thank you all enough for everything I have learned; for teaching me how to launch a social media brand and training me on inclusive marketing, thank you. For showing me how to manage a database and run reports to track metrics towards our goals, thank you. For taking me to the edge of my productive discomfort by creating space for learning about racial justice, pluralism, and intersectionality, thank you. For providing a platform for me to express my own Jewish identity through service and solidarity, thank you. And for inspiring me each day as awesome mentors and femtors (looking at you, Lily and Kate!), thank you, thank you, thank you. All that I have learned here I will take with me to graduate school and beyond, as I do my part in repairing the world. 

 

The Network and Repair the World Camillus House Serving

This article originally appeared on JewishMiami.org on July 8, 2019. 

Join Greater Miami Jewish Federation and Repair the World Miami for service at Camillus House.

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Community Conversation: Inclusivity in Activism

This article originally appeared on Triblive.com on July 8, 2019. 

How do different groups work together to effect change, while being sensitive of each other’s needs? Playback Theatre will lead this workshop. Playback Theatre conducts improvisational storytelling, based on feelings and stories shared by audience members.

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Meet the teenage activist trying to build a climate-change movement in Pittsburgh

This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh City Paper on June 26, 2019.

By Emily Wolfe

Leandra Mira is a little worried the people who pass her think she’s a doomsday prophet.

It’s the “11 YEARS” poster that might cause confusion, propped up next to Mira’s regular perch in Downtown Pittsburgh, right on the City-County Building steps. Those 11 years, some climate researchers say, are all that’s left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.

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Hello, neighbor: Cocktails with a conscience

This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 24, 2019. 

By Natalie Bencivenga

#RepairWithLove: Repair the World Pittsburgh and Casa San Jose, a Latino community resource and welcome center in southwestern Pennsylvania, hosted a cocktail party on Thursday night in East Liberty to welcome fellows and community members to the space and to get to know their neighbors.

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Summer Events for the Food Policy Enthusiast

This article originally appeared on the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center blog on June 17, 2019.

By Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center

In celebration of the first day of summer on Friday, June 21st, the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center is excited to share 14 upcoming food policy events happening around NYC over the next few months. We hope you enjoy them!

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Takeaways from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

A version of this article appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times.

By Lily Brent, Director, Repair the World Atlanta

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama has a steel pillar for each county in the United States where a lynching took place. When I visited with my fellow Repair the World City Directors last month, I thought it would be easy to find the monument for Fulton County because I knew it would be crowded with the names of the 35 documented victims of racial terror lynchings in the community where I make my home. I scanned the oxidized columns one after another after another. There are more than 800. Many of them crowded with names like Lillie (mine) and Daniel (my father’s) and Adam (my brother’s) and Squire, Julia, Evan, Robert, George, Thomas, Lit, Cairo, and Lincoln. The Fulton County pillar was lost to me in a killing forest.

With the help of staff, I found our Fulton County history suspended from the ceiling, hanging heavy and ominous over my head.

The Memorial is at once a place of deep dignity and honor for Black Americans who were denied due process, terrorized, tortured, murdered, and who have gone largely unacknowledged for a hundred years or more. Or far less. It is also a place of shame. That shame is too complex to unpack fully here, but I will share a piece of mine with you in good faith.

As a Jew who worked with genocide survivors in Rwanda, I consider myself someone well-steeped in “man’s inhumanity to man.” Here in the United States, I have worked in prisons and public schools and I know we are far from freedom and justice for all.

I lived and worked in Rwanda during the final year of gacaca, the country’s truth and reconciliation process after a genocide in which over 800,000 human beings were murdered in 90 days. Looking out at the country’s stunning vistas of green hills as far as the eye can see, I marveled at how such a beautiful landscape could be so blood-soaked: that gentle ribbon of river was choked with bodies, red like a plague in April 1994. I questioned how neighbors could continue to live alongside each other when members of one family had macheted members of the other. That kind of tolerance seemed inconceivable.

What I failed to realize–and now I cannot believe the colossal nature of my ignorance and naivete, my blinding white privilege–is that we in the United States are living our own unresolved legacy of violence. Just as I walked through the Eastern Province of Rwanda and had someone point out the house of the man who killed his father, I walked through Selma with activist Joanne Bland, who pointed out the business establishment of the man thought to have murdered Reverend James Reeb. Here neighbors are also living alongside descendants of those who lynched their family members. Yet we’ve never sat together in the fields, community by community, and told our stories.

Many of us have made or will make pilgrimages to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)’s Legacy Museum and Memorial for Peace and Justice. Many of us will be moved by re-encountering our American history from a lens of racial terror, and facing the founding “myth of racial difference” that has justified everything from slavery, to convict leasing, to casting black children as “super-predators.” In Rwanda, moving forward after atrocities called for a reckoning with the crimes committed, not through retribution, but through truth-telling. This is the movement EJI is creating. As Jews, what is our place in this movement?

At Repair the World, our mission is to make meaningful volunteer service a defining part of American Jewish life. As volunteers, we’re often meeting and serving people with whom we don’t share lived experiences. For white, affluent volunteers, this might mean entering an unfamiliar neighborhood, one that doesn’t have a grocery store with fresh produce, or a subway station, and where 40% of residents don’t own cars. We might listen to people striving to break out of poverty and running up against barriers like a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour ($1,160 per month) in a city where the average two-bedroom apartment costs $1,000 per month. We might hear a new perspective in conversation with Black Atlantans. Without understanding our shared history, we are in danger of accepting the poverty and inequity we encounter while volunteering as incidental and accidental and not part of a larger system of inequality rooted in persistent and pernicious white supremacy.

Volunteering, when done right, allows us to stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors. It opens an opportunity to hear the urgent needs in our community, and to strive to meet them. There is something deeply satisfying about knowing that someone will not go hungry tonight because of us. Yet Jewish scholarship teaches us to question. And as we do the important work of meeting urgent needs, I believe we are also obligated to ask ourselves “why?” Why is this work of feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, tutoring children in inadequate schools still necessary in the wealthiest country in the world? Every individual has a story filled with choices, but as Bryan Stevenson of EJI, famously writes, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.” When we see patterns of disenfranchisement and disinvestment persist along racial lines, we have to ask ourselves why.

While Atlanta is a city with a proud legacy of Black leadership and innovation across fields, the patterns of inequity are also clear. Atlanta is tied for the city with the greatest income inequality in the nation and also “has the widest racial achievement gap of any urban school district except Washington, D.C”.  Georgia has the most people under correctional control (prison, jail, probation and parole) of any state in the U.S. and a vastly disproportionate number of people incarcerated in our state are African American. EJI is calling us to the realization that racial disparities in health, wealth, education, and incarceration stem from our unresolved history of slavery, racial terror, and systematic discrimination.

Our heroes of the Civil Rights movement made monumental progress toward the realization of all America promises. And yet the struggle is not over. In my job as Director of Repair the World Atlanta, people often share their desire to make our community more just, but lament, “What can I do?” Racism and inequity are entrenched problems on scale where it can feel hard to make an impact. At Repair, we take small and consistent steps to care for each other. We also urge you to ask the big questions. Here are a few actions you can take this month to gain a greater understanding of our shared history and the perspectives of people whose lived experience of inequity is different from your own.

 

 

Stay tuned for more opportunities for education and action and share your own ideas for applying the lessons of The Legacy Museum and Memorial for Peace and Justice to our daily lives.

The Best Things to Do in Miami This Week

This article originally appeared in the Miami New Times on June 12, 2019.

By Jesse Scott

Wednesday is Juneteenth, which commemorates the abolition of slavery June 19, 1865. To honor the landmark day, Repair the World Miami, Base Hillel Miami, and the National Council for Jewish Women Miami are joining forces for a special gathering, Cocktails With a Conscience.

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Showing up for Pride and beyond

By Jaz Twersky, Education Justice Fellow, Repair the World Brooklyn

The first time I found Stonewall, I stumbled across it by accident. I was looking for the library and turned a corner onto a building covered in rainbow flags. Stonewall is smaller than I expected for a place that feels so momentous. It’s here that 50 years ago, queer and trans people threw bricks back at the police, and in turn claimed their space, their lives, and their defiance. Their pride was quite literally revolutionary.

I am the eldest child of a lesbian couple, I’ve been living as an out and proud bisexual for years now, and I publicly came out as nonbinary this year. I couldn’t live as I do without the activists who for decades fought systems of power — at Stonewall and beyond.

It’s about to be Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the Jewish people receiving the Torah, and it’s traditional to stay up all night and study. There is a Jewish story in which a group of rabbis is asked, “is study or action greater?” They debated it among themselves and concluded that study was greater because it leads to action. I consider this story as I remember Stonewall and the activists there, and apply those learnings to my present-day life. At Repair, we ground our volunteering in service learning, so study, action, and connection motivate us to stay engaged.

This year will be my first Pride in New York City, and there’s something special about being here on the 50th anniversary of the raid and riot, in commemoration of that iconic moment of struggle. While I was not at Stonewall, I hope to contribute to building a better world for future queer generations. You can be part of that process too.

Pride month reminds us to recommit to learning and to action. If you’re looking for ways to get involved, you can send a queer book to an incarcerated person with one of my service partners NYC Books Through Bars, attend the Dyke March, a protest of the discrimination, harassment, and violence against the queer community, or participate in an anti-discrimination training facilitated at Borough Hall.

You can also attend events by some of Repair the World’s partner organizations such as:

We build a holy community by consistently showing up for each other, both in the small everyday moments and in the big events of celebration and struggle. I hope you continue to show up for queer communities during Pride Month and beyond.