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A Story in the Tapestry: Revamping the Concept of Repairing the World

This post was written by Analucia Lopezvoredo, and originally published in the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation blog on July 26th, 2012.

Analucia LopezrevoredoAnalucia Lopezrevoredo is a resident of the Moishe House in Portland, Oregon. Moishe House is an international organization providing meaningful Jewish experiences to young adults in their twenties through home-based communities. Moishe House recently partnered with Repair the World to host a retreat on Jewish service-learning. Repair the World is an organization that is working to build a movement to make service a defining element of American Jewish life, learning and leadership. This post is a reflection on that retreat.

The term “tikkun olam” has become synonymous with social justice and social action. As Jews, our goal is to fulfill the idea of “repairing the world” by serving communities in need. Though this notion is far from new (dating back to classical rabbinic literature in Lurianic kabbalah), many Jews still find themselves unable to truly connect with this concept. As residents of Moishe House, our goal is to facilitate the fulfillment of “tikkun olam” on a micro and macro level for young Jewish adults in our respective communities. With the help of both Moishe House International and Repair the World, residents of various Houses came together a few weeks ago to critically discuss ways to effectively create service-learning programs.

As someone who feels strongly connected to my local and global community, I’ve never had to convince myself to do service in my free time. It has always been a priority of mine, and something that has helped define who I am. It was no surprise that the majority of people in attendance were similarly committed to the pursuit of social justice and structural change. Hailing from nine different states, retreat participants brought with them diverse experiences, which made for a dynamic weekend. It did not take long to realize, however, that we’ve all struggled to get members of our communities to engage in our service programs. Service, we realized, does not mean the same thing to everyone, and to many, our House events are primarily social or cultural. People come to our programs to meet new folks, reconnect with old friends, and celebrate cultural events and holidays. While these factors help explain why service-learning events have not been amongst our most popular programs in the past, the truth is that service is often a difficult activity in which to engage.

When asked, many people would probably agree that service is something they’d like to do more often. And yet, it calls for people to step out of their comfort zone, give up precious free time and often work with people they don’t know. For some introverts (and even some extroverts), this can be awkward and has the potential to tarnish one’s perception of their role in taking action. As Moishe House residents, we understand how important it is to connect with others. People continue to come to our events because they feel welcomed and feel as if they belong to a community. With this in mind, I realized that in order to revamp our service programs we must first revamp how they are perceived.

For the most part, our Shabbat dinner events are the most popular programs we host. This is partially because they are laid back, but also because people strive to feel and stay connected with others. Giving service-learning events a social twist might be what we need in order to attract our ever-enthusiastic communities to our “tikkun olam” events. If people start to see all of our events as opportunities for community building, then the need to constantly recruit service-minded individuals may become obsolete. We can make Sunday afternoons of service a tradition and the “learning” component of the programs can be combined with a post-service discussion over a delicious meal or drinks. Whatever we choose to do, there is only room for our service programming to grow.

The sessions at the retreat were fantastic. Presenters like Marilyn Sneiderman, the Executive Director of AVODAH, and Will Berkovitz, Senior Vice President of Repair the World, challenged us to think critically about service projects that inspired us, as well as those that turned us away. As a group we shared our fears, goals and triumphs, and most importantly built a strong support network that will continue to be a part of our organization’s success.  Our natural environment was crucial in our takeaway.

Though excruciatingly hot for most of us, our free time was largely spent exploring the grounds of the enchanting Pearlstone Retreat Center. A night hike concluded our time at the Center, and the unforgettable East Coast storm on June 29th that knocked down trees and power lines reminded us all of how small we were in the hands of the almighty. In the end, the retreat was grand in content but (sadly) short in time. We parted ways at Baltimore Harbor, but not before culminating the weekend by volunteering our time at Living Classrooms, a non-profit educational organization that “inspires young people to achieve their potential through hands-on education and job training, using urban, natural, and maritime resources as ‘living classrooms.’” Our time with Living Classrooms sealed our bond with a service-learning experience. Though it was undoubtedly difficult to say goodbye to my new friends, I smiled knowing that soon enough we would meet again with stories of success.


Op-Ed: Jewish groups must bring young volunteers on board

NEW YORK (JTA) — Like most nonprofits today, Jewish organizations struggle to fulfill all the needs of their client base with limited resources, as competition for funding dollars climbs, government support declines and staff are stretched thin. And like most nonprofits, we are able to boost the impact of our programs through the help of volunteers.  Some 62.8 million volunteers in the United States provided over 8 billion hours of their time to nonprofits in 2010, at an estimated dollar value of $160 billion. Clearly, volunteers are an important asset to any nonprofit organization.

But for Jewish organizations, engaging volunteers holds another critically important place in the fulfillment of our missions. It provides the link between the Jewish community at large and its Jewish communal organizations that is essential for the perpetuation of our people. Therefore, it is time for us to rethink the role of volunteers and rethink how we’re working with them — especially the next generation of young adult volunteers.

Engaging young adults as volunteers with Jewish nonprofits has drawn much attention lately. There is no issue of willingness to volunteer among young Jews. According to Repair the World’s 2011 “Volunteering + Values” report, 78% of young Jewish women and 63% of young Jewish men said they had volunteered during the 12 months prior to the survey. Their volunteerism in general now consists primarily of episodic, one-shot engagements, and most of it occurs outside of the Jewish community.

That means that there is great social spirit in the community, but it is not being channeled often enough through a Jewish lens. Young Jewish adults have a strong desire to create justice in the world. They just do not all connect this to the Jewish value of tzedakah. They want to work hard for those who are disadvantaged. Some just do not see this work as tikkun olam. We must make this connection for them so they understand that their inner values are Jewish values and so they see the Jewish community as a likely vehicle through which to channel those values.

We also must create awareness of the many opportunities to volunteer that exist within the Jewish community. Young adults have varying interests. We must make them aware of the varying opportunities within Jewish communal organizations that may meet their needs. We desire to engage the important human capital provided by volunteers. But they must also know about us in order to engage with our collective work.

That’s the impetus behind a new partnership between Repair the World, the service arm of the American Jewish community, and the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies, the membership association for North America’s 125 Jewish family service agencies.

Repair the World and AJFCA’s new Volunteer Initiative Program will focus on increasing volunteer opportunities for young people at Jewish Family Services organizations and on creating meaningful, effective service that better enables Jewish family service agencies to deliver on their mission. Volunteers will help us serve those in need and we will help them connect their desire to serve with their Jewish traditions and values. Jewish family service agencies provide such a variety of services to their communities — from caring for the elderly and disabled, to lifting up the unemployed, to feeding the hungry, helping to house the poor and more. These agencies are the perfect bridge for young adults with varying passions to the Jewish community.

Of course, while reports can help us identify concerns, we won’t really know what will work until we get on the ground. So starting in April, some 20 Jewish family service organizations, who are AJFCA members from across North America, will work to create better volunteer programs. They will come up with theories, put those theories into practice and help us see what works so we can spread best practices to the rest of the Jewish family service network — and then beyond to the broader Jewish nonprofit world.

In this process, we will not only be informed by good work happening already in the Jewish family service network, but also by emerging efforts in the secular service world such as the Reimagining Service and the Cities of Service initiatives.

The Jewish people has a long and distinguished history of helping others. We brought this tradition to North America more than a century ago and have practiced it through the settlement houses of the turn of the last century, the vast network of Jewish hospitals that now exist primarily for a general population and the work of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society with immigrants not only from the ravaged Jewish communities of Eastern Europe but also refugees from all around the world.

Jewish family service agencies began by assisting Jewish refugees and immigrants, orphans and the poor and needy. Today, these agencies continue to provide critical services to people of all ages of all religious and cultural backgrounds; with special needs and physical needs; and through economic challenges and life-cycle changes.

It’s time that we introduce this crucial work and these impressive organizations to the next generation of volunteers, supporters and advocates. It’s time we foster pride in our contributions to our communities at large and enable young people to embrace their work as an entry point back into the Jewish community.

(Jon Rosenberg is CEO of Repair the World. Lee Sherman is president and CEO of the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies.)

PRESS RELEASE: Repair the World Releases First-Ever Journal on Jewish Service-Learning

– Experts Reveal Insights into Emerging Field –

MARCH 20, 2012 NEW YORK, NY – Repair the World and the Jewish Communal Service Association today released “People of the Book, Community of Action: Exploring Jewish-service-learning,” the first-ever issue of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service dedicated to Jewish service-learning (JSL). The creation of this landmark publication, which includes articles from experts in Jewish service-learning and from organizations such as American Jewish World Service, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel, focuses on trends and best practices for the JSL field. It marks Repair’s continued commitment to the growing the JSL field and aiding the professionals who work in it.

Jewish service-learning combines direct service that responds to real community needs with learning and time for reflection on why that service represents a Jewish value. The new Journal provides background on the field and the relationship between Jewish identity and Jewish service-learning. It also tackles topics such as the cost and value of Jewish service-learning, the creation of a “service people,” the integration of Jewish learning and service, and the state of service in Israel. The Journal also highlights the impact of JSL on the communities its volunteers serve, on participants performing the service, and on the Jewish community at large.

“To succeed, JSL service must be authentic, it must support the needs of the community being served, and it must effectively align its learning program to the work itself. At best, it can help build connections between and among participants, and enhance their long-term commitments to service,” said Jon Rosenberg, CEO of Repair the World. “We hope the Journal will help deepen and broaden the knowledge about Jewish service-learning in the Jewish community and breed best practices.”

Repair the World has been studying the Jewish service-learning (JSL) field since it was founded in 2009 and fostering its growth by providing grants, technical assistance, leadership, support for educators and conducting research and evaluation to inform the field’s development. In 2010-2011, Repair the World released several reports including The Worth of What They Do: The Impact of Short-Term Immersive Jewish Service-Learning on Host Communities–An Exploratory Study, Volunteering + Values: A Repair the World Report on Jewish Young Adults, and Year 2: Refining the Pedagogy of the Group Leadership Training Institute for Immersive Jewish Service Program Leaders. 

Journal Highlights include:

  • From Service-Learning to Service-Activism: What Teach for America Can Teach the Jewish Service Movement, Aaron Dorfman, American Jewish World Service
  • Dual Benefits, Dual Challenges: The Theory and Practice of Integrating Community Impact and Participant Development in Jewish Service-Learning Experiences, Max Klau, City Year and Dana Talmi, Yahel
  • A Judaism that Matters: Creating Integrated Service Learning Communities, Lisa Exler, American Jewish World Service and Jill Jacobs, Rabbis for Human Rights
  • If We Build It, They Will Come: A Case for Developing the Field of Jewish Service-Learning in Israel, Dyonna Ginsburg, The Jewish Agency for Israel
  • Making Meaning: Emerging Adults and Service, Beth Cousens, Imagine Jewish Education
  • Becoming a Servant: How James Kugel’s Conception of Avodat Hashem Can Help Us Think About the Dispositional Goals of Jewish Service-Learning, Jon Levisohn, Brandeis University

The Journal was made possible with support from the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

“We see the depth and breadth of inquiry on display in this exciting edition of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service as a sign of the growing sophistication of the field of Jewish Service Learning,” said Al Levitt, president of the Jim Joseph Foundation.

“Our Foundation works to expand service opportunities that help young people make a difference in the world while connecting to their Jewish values and tradition,” said Lisa Eisen, National Director of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. “We hope our support of this journal will increase awareness and understanding of the rich field of Jewish service learning, and how it can strengthen our young people, our community and our world.

People of the Book, Community of Action is available in both print and online, Repair the World’s blog devoted exclusively to providing resources and a community to the field’s practitioners. This is the first time that the Journal of Jewish Communal Service will be available online. The Journal’s release also includes a digital supplement comprised of smaller pieces from practitioners and experts in the field, including the likes of Ruth Messinger, Jordan Namerow, Michelle Lackie, Amy Weiss, Shimshon Stuart Siegel, and Rabbi Bradley Solmsen.


Established in 2009, Repair the World is a national nonprofit organization that mobilizes Jewish Americans to contend with the world’s most pressing issues through service.  Headquartered in New York City, we connect individuals with meaningful volunteer opportunities to help their local, national and global communities, and builds the capacity of individuals and organizations to run effective service programs rooted in Jewish values. For more information, visit


Hillel, Repair the World partner for community service

With a budding partnership already under way, two groups are planning to redefine the role of service in American Jewish life.

In January 2011, Repair the World, a national organization devoted to promoting service among Jewish communities, teamed up with Penn Hillel as part of a broader mission to engage Jewish college students in sustainable and meaningful service projects.

This semester, many new initiatives and programs of the partnership will kick off, including student-run initiatives and educational sessions.

Last spring, Repair and Hillel awarded three fellowships that include financial, technical and managerial support to student-run initiatives. The fourth fellowship was added this semester, according to Debbie Yunker, Penn Hillel’s assistant director for Leadership Development and Operations.

Repair and Hillel hope students will create initiatives that will develop into permanent service programs at Penn. These students applied for fellowships last May and some have been planning their initiatives since as early as last semester.

Repair hopes to cultivate a “hub for campus-based service,” said Jon Rosenberg, chief executive officer and 1988 College graduate.

Rosenberg believes a period of intensive service should become a “rite of passage” for Jewish young adults, and that the college time frame is by nature a “strategically important time in which to work [with students] because behaviors fostered now can last into the rest of their lives.”

“We want service to get so deeply embedded in the Hillel community that it becomes a part of the organization’s DNA,” he said.

College junior Alexis Mayer, who is one of this year’s fellows, is planning an event for the weekend of Mar. 17, held in conjunction with a national initiative called “Sharsheret Pink Shabbat.”

The event is geared toward raising awareness of the various risks of breast cancer and educating the Penn community about the resources available for affected women and their families, Mayer said.

To increase awareness in the Penn community, Mayer plans to distribute “fact and figure” sheets around Hillel, sell pink-colored challah — a traditional braided bread commonly eaten during Jewish holidays — on Locust Walk and invite a breast cancer survivor to share her story.

Mayer added that for Ashkenazi Jews, the genetic descendants of particular medieval Jewish communities in Germany and who make up a large percentage of the Jewish individuals on campus, the likelihood of contracting breast cancer is “nearly 70 percent more likely.”

“We want students and community members also to be aware of their genetic history,” she said.

Another student fellow, College sophomore Shayna Golkow, has launched a high school mentoring initiative called ATID. The program’s goal is to establish one-on-one relationships with juniors at University City High School. Volunteers will provide standardized test preparation and assist students with applying and selecting colleges and future careers, Golkow said.

“Hopefully these students who don’t always have someone helping them out anywhere else will benefit from having mentors on their side,” she added.

Currently, ATID has ten pairings, and ten more are in the process of being matched.

Other initiatives such as a family cooking workshop in West Philadelphia and a program that sends volunteers to a local emergency daycare and to a group home for pregnant teenage girls are still in their developmental stages.

“Ideally, all initiatives are ongoing,” said Greta Deerson, Penn’s Repair coordinator. The early start-up stage of Hillel’s relationship with Repair should serve as “an incubator for new ideas,” she said.

Penn Hillel is one of only seven campus partnerships with Repair. The organization also established partnerships at university Hillel communities at Tufts and Cornell Universities, the Universities of Maryland and Washington and the Universities of California Berkeley and Los Angeles.

PRESS RELEASE: Repair the World Named One of North America’s Most Innovative Jewish Nonprofits

Seventh Annual “Slingshot” Guidebook Names 50 Most Innovative Jewish Nonprofits in America

Repair the World, a national organization dedicated to making service a defining part of American Jewish life, has been named one of the nation’s 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits in Slingshot ’11-‘12, a resource guide for Jewish innovation. To be listed in Slingshot, organizations are selected from among hundreds of nominees. Finalists are chosen based on their strength in four areas: innovation, impact, leadership, and organizational efficiency.

Slingshot is used by philanthropists, volunteers, not-for-profit executives, and program participants to identify path-finding and trailblazing organizations grappling with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, and tradition. Repair the World was chosen by a panel of 36 foundation professionals from across North America.

“Repair the World works to mobilize Jews of all ages and backgrounds to serve with integrity and to help ensure that we leave the world a better place,” explained Jon Rosenberg, Repair’s Chief Executive Officer. ““We’re focused not just on bringing more people into service, but also on making the service more meaningful with long-lasting results,” he said.

Since it was established in 2009, Repair the World has enabled nearly 5,000 young Jewish adults to participate in an immersive service program and nearly 1,000 young people to participate in service programs in Israel. Repair has also mobilized more than 26,000 volunteers to work for a total of 93,000 days in their communities; launched campus-based service projects at colleges and universities across the country; created college-based service-learning courses; worked with Jewish educators; and conducted landmark research into attitudes and behaviors about service among Jewish young adults, among other significant achievements.

“We’re thrilled to be listed among the extraordinary organizations selected for the Slingshot Guidebook. Not only does it affirm the value of our work, it exposes us to a vibrant community of potential partners and initiative to take our programming to the next level,” said Rosenberg.

According to Will Schneider, Executive Director of Slingshot, “Slingshot celebrates the relative peace and prosperity that Jews enjoy in the United States and Canada while highlighting those organizations that work to ensure that Jewish life isn’t left behind as the world moves forward. Slingshot ’11-’12 is an inspirational look at a Jewish community that is adapting to changing needs in Jewish life. We had more applications than ever this year, with a wider variety of missions. In order to be selected by our evaluators, innovations and their impact had to resonate more than ever.”

Inspired five years ago by Slingshot, a group of next-generation philanthropists launched the Slingshot Fund, a collective giving mechanism to support innovative Jewish life. In just five cycles, 55 members of the Slingshot Fund have contributed more than $1.8 million to innovative Jewish not-for-profits.

Jonathan Raiffe, the Chairman of Slingshot, shared, “The Slingshot guide makes a statement to the Jewish community and beyond that next gen funders embrace change, innovation, and evaluation when meeting the needs of our community. Slingshot promotes organizations that hold themselves accountable to all their stakeholders and up to the same scrutiny as for-profit organizations, while pushing the boundaries of how to solve the most pressing issues. Slingshot is about making a statement as to what we believe are the greatest needs and what organizations are doing the best job to fulfill those needs. Organizations that receive grants from Slingshot clearly identify an unmet need and offer proven models and solutions that can have a far-reaching impact.”

Slingshot ’11/’12 was released on October 18, 2011. The community will meet on March 14 in New York City at the annual Slingshot Day, where over 250 not-for-profit leaders, foundation professionals, and funders of all ages will engage in candid conversations about philanthropy and innovation.


What are the experts saying? “Volunteering + Values” Testimonials

Read what the leading figures in the secular and Jewish service world are saying about “Volunteering + Values: A Repair the World report on Jewish Young Adults”:

  • “Through my work as a public servant and community leader, I know my service has strengthened my personal commitment to tikkun olam — repairing the world. It gives me great pride to know that Jewish young adults of all backgrounds are so motivated to serve others in ways they find deeply meaningful and impactful.” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), U.S. Representative for Florida’s 20th Congressional District
  • “Repairing the World – tikkun olam – is an abiding Jewish value, and I am grateful not only for this report that proves that our young adults are dedicated to this value, but also for an organization like Repair the World that works at so many levels to help Jews make a real difference in their cities and communities – and around the world.” — Susan K. Stern, Appointee for Chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Chair of the New York State Commission on National and Community Service
  • “Repair the World’s strategies are not unlike Teach for America’s: through a term of service, inculcate a life-long commitment to positive social change. Recent research about TFA’s REALITY program for Jewish corps members demonstrated that connecting personal religious values and identity to one’s service not only strengthens connection to that identity; it also strengthens one’s commitment to serve in very powerful ways. I applaud Repair for its contributions to our understanding of this demographic and for its commitment to high-quality service as a shared goal.” — Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder of Teach For America
  • “‘Volunteering + Values’ represents an extraordinary contribution to the field of Jewish service learning and to the Jewish community as a whole. It lets us know more about Jewish young adults’ motivations to serve and it charts a path forward for our work as a community to make service an integral part of Jewish life and identity. We must take up the challenge that Jewish young adults don’t know about volunteer opportunities in the Jewish community, and we must ensure that the powerful values that inspire Jewish service are leveraged into a commitment to service in support of justice for all people everywhere. We at American Jewish World Service are thrilled to partner with Repair the World in support of this critical work.” — Ruth W. Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service
  • “It is thrilling to know that a significant majority of young Jews participate in volunteer activities. These young people have absorbed the best lessons of citizenship. They are dedicated to giving back to their community, to ensuring opportunity for everyone, and to creating a more just world. But as a Jewish community, we have failed to instill in many of these young people the knowledge that Judaism has much to say about what a just world might look like, and about how to go about creating such a world. We are the proud inheritors of thousands of years of tradition about giving tzedakah, eliminating inequality, and addressing difficult societal issues. As rabbis, educators, communal professionals, and lay leaders, we have a responsibility to help the next generation to access this wisdom, to feel pride in this rich heritage, and to look to Judaism to guide our involvement in the world.” — Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
  • “This is a wonderful study. It shatters the stereotypic image that describes young men and women as an overly self involved generation who as a result of over use of social media are increasingly lacking social skills. It crystallizes most of the assumptions that are beginning to emerge i.e., young adults volunteer and desire to make a difference. They are their parents’ children most of whom were and are more attracted to secular and humanitarian causes and are less likely to be synagogue engaged. It stands to reason that children of an intermarriage, who up until recently have not been welcomed into the synagogue community, are less inclined to volunteering in the Jewish community. Most importantly, this study recognizes that men are less engaged and new strategies are called for to correct this volunteer imbalance.” — Rabbi Charles Simon, Author of Building a Successful Volunteer Culture, Director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs
  • “This is a fascinating and important report, as it begins to peel back the layers of what it means to be engaged in the community, and specifically of what this means for Jewish young adults. I applaud Repair the World for an insightful examination of the challenges and opportunities facing the Jewish service movement. They have set the stage for important work that must be done by all of us if we are to help young adults become more fully engaged to truly make a difference in our local and global communities.” — Dan W. Butin, Dean of the School of Education at Merrimack College and author of the award-winning book Service-Learning in Theory and Practice: The Future of Community Engagement in Higher Education
  • “‘Volunteering + Values’ is a careful and insightful study of young Jewish Americans’ volunteering and service. For Jewish groups and leaders, it offers important practical guidance. The future of their organizations and communities depends on a generation whose members expect to serve but who define service in universalistic (not explicitly Jewish) terms and whose concern for domestic American poverty and social inequality far outweighs their interest in Jewish or Israeli issues. ‘Among the vast majority of Jewish young adults who say it does not matter if they volunteer with a Jewish or non-Jewish organization, the reasons they give for choosing any volunteer option center on whether the activity involves a cause or issue that is personally meaningful to them.’ Anyone who hopes to sustain organized Judaism in the United States needs to tap their idealism and their habits of service in ways that strengthen Jewish organizations and communities. Meanwhile, this portrait of young Jewish-Americans reinforces generalizations about American civil society, overall. A century ago, civic participation mostly meant fulfilling one’s duties to the groups to which one belonged by birth. Individuals were taught that they owed personal support to the religious denomination, town, political party, newspaper, ethnic group, state, and country of their parents. Congregations, schools, and universities often explicitly exhorted young people to honor the duties conferred on them by their inherited identities. Good citizens viewed their own contributions as part of grand narratives and ideologies. Beginning in the Progressive Era, however, critics emphasized freedom of personal choice and the responsibility to act in accordance with information and conscience for the public good. These critics won a whole series of concrete reforms, from the secularization of universities to the secret ballot. Today’s prevailing ideal is citizenship as informed choice, not inherited duty. The disadvantage arises when citizenship becomes episodic, superficial, and designed more to satisfy the one who serves than to address underlying injustice. “Volunteering + Values” provides some encouraging evidence of young Jewish Americans’ idealism and service, but also troubling indications that many are volunteering in ways that satisfy their preferences more than the demands of social justice. — Peter Levine, Director of Research and Director of CIRCLE (Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement) at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University
  • The new Repair the World study provides an important new window into the world of young Jewish adults and their commitments. At a time when, alas, academic institutions – both secondary and higher education – are increasingly arid expanses devoid of passion and commitment, volunteer opportunities may well be those places where young adults try on a mode of living that is noble and ennobling, a way of life that is idealistic and aspirational rather than cynical and materialistic. What we learn from this study is that most young adults are already finding their way to volunteering opportunities — but that much more can and should be done. It is refreshing, although not exactly surprising, to learn that young Jewish adults engage in volunteer work or other forms of civic activity at such high rates (78%). The challenge, then, is how to develop what is often a set of one-off acts of volunteering or a donation of money into a sustained and purposeful life of service, a life of service that is understood to be the enactment of the highest values of the Jewish tradition. The study also helps us to see that the mission and purpose of Repair the World is an important one, but a complicated one. Some may believe that Jewish service is the “next new thing,” i.e., that service is the antidote or silver bullet that will ensure ongoing Jewish involvement for those who are unaffiliated religiously and who have not participated in Jewish education in schools or camps. But this study raises questions about that simple “next new thing” conclusion, indicating that Jewish educational experience leads to volunteering under Jewish auspices but the absence of Jewish education does not. In fact, the population with less Jewish education tends not to associate the values of compassion and social justice with the Jewish tradition! Of course, this is not a reason to abandon efforts to provide meaningful Jewish service opportunities to the unaffiliated, those young adults who are not interested in or who have not had serious exposure to Jewish education. But it does highlight the challenge – first and foremost, an educational challenge – and it should warn us away from any simplistic conclusions about employing service as a mechanism for Jewish involvement of the currently unaffiliated.” — Jon A. Levisohn, Assistant Professor of Jewish Education and Assistant Academic Director of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University

Volunteering + Values: A Repair the World Report on Jewish Young Adults

Repair the World is pleased to present the first-ever comprehensive study of contemporary Jewish young adults and their attitudes and behaviors towards community service. Entitled “Volunteering +Values: A Repair the World Report of Jewish Young Adults,” the study was commissioned by Repair the World and conducted as a collaborative effort between the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and Gerstein-Agne Strategic Communications. Prior to this study, little was known about the full extent of Jewish young adults’ service commitments as national surveys of volunteering either did not include information about the religious identity of respondents or contained too small a sample of Jewish young adults to permit meaningful analysis.
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Repairing the World – Washington Post

This article originally appeared in The Washington Post in June 2010, written by Eboo Patel. Below is an excerpt.

Nothing is more exciting for me than seeing religious communities practice the command from their tradition to serve others. I had a chance to witness this at the early hour of 7 a.m. in New York today at a breakfast celebrating an emerging organization called Repair the World.

The prophets of our great traditions invoke calls to service – in scripture and verse, parable and hadith, service is a core value across faiths. And because it is a core part of these traditions, it ought to be a core part of both the life the community and religious identity. Repair the World was established to inspire American Jews and their communities to make service a defining part of American Jewish life – “to mobilize Jews to serve with integrity and authenticity” and to inspire and engage the Jewish community in service.

Part of what strikes me about this is the acknowledgment that service is a core part of the American Jewish identity. It suggests that service is a central responsibility of an engaged Jew – an integral part of contributing to the broader community.

I was especially impressed by the sophisticated thinking around service. Repair the World is not only seeking to create large scale service opportunities, but deep and meaningful ones. Not only are they looking at service by Jews for Jews, but they are trying to connect service across different religions (which is why I was there as part of Interfaith Youth Core, as were representatives from other interfaith organizations). They are also connecting with best-in-class civic groups (senior members of City Year were there) and the national service agenda (people from White House and Corporation for National and Community Service joined as well). In fact a member of the Leadership Council of Repair the World, Susie Stern, is also a member of the Host Committee for the National Service Conference taking place at the same time.

Other religious communities have made service central. One thinks of the hospitals and schools that Catholics have established. One thinks of how Habitat for Humanity has become status quo, especially in Evangelical congregations. I will be writing later this week on the emergence of Muslim American civic identity.

But this is the first I have heard of service being considered a sort of rite of passage for being religious. It’s an idea that resonates with my own Muslim tradition. As Repair the World builds its bridges with secular organizations, other religious organizations, and governmental organizations, I hope that those players adopt this central idea: that part of being a Muslim, Evangelical, Catholic, citizen, is serving together.

Eboo Patel is director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, a public-service program designed to bring young people of diverse religious backgrounds together in dialogue. Patel is the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. He writes “The Faith Divide” blog for The Washington Post.