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Reflections from MLK Day in Atlanta

This originally appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times on January 31, 2020.

For 1,300 volunteers on MLK Day, what comes next?

On the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, we have a lot to be proud of. A coalition of 23 Jewish organizations and 26 service partners, coordinated by Repair the World, mobilized 1,300 volunteers to address urgent local needs.

We packed 2,850 kits for people experiencing homelessness and sorted 168 boxes of books. We cooked 380 meals for people in shelters and delivered over 100 more to families facing food insecurity. We packed 400 dental supply kits and swabbed 40 potential new bone marrow donors. We planted trees and sustainably stewarded green spaces. We modeled love and care for our seniors and volunteered with our children. We didn’t let the scale of need paralyze us; we took action and we tried to meet it.

One week later, I’m still proud of our service together. And, I know that 200 people will line up at SWEEAC [Southwest Ecumenical Emergency Assistance Center] to get groceries today. I know that 90 percent of these food pantry clients are currently employed, but don’t earn enough to feed their families. I know that those 200 people standing in line represent 600-plus family members who don’t have enough to eat, most of whom are children. And I know that they will be back next week.

Working at Repair the World means that I get to see firsthand the ongoing commitment to service from many individuals and institutions in the Atlanta Jewish community. I get to fight back against the overwhelm every day and see the impact of small acts of kindness. For example, hearing about the moving experience of providing nail care to men at the Gateway Center, how unusual to connect on a deeply human level with individuals who we more often fear, demonize and hustle past. Service is an opportunity for us to reconnect with our own humanity and compassion.

Dyonna Ginsberg teaches about the difference between chesed (kindness), tzedakah (philanthropy) and tzedek (justice). A few days after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I find myself thinking about the times that I have been forced to rely on the kindness of strangers. A random act of kindness or charity is a beautiful thing, prized in our tradition, but I wouldn’t want to count on it for adequate nutrition, shelter or safety.

We have accomplished a lot by honoring Dr. King with acts of service. But let’s not be too proud, or too complacent, to ask ourselves why acts of kindness and philanthropy are still necessary in the wealthiest nation on earth, in a thriving city. We can also honor Dr. King with frankness and honesty: 52 years after his murder, massive health and wealth disparities based on race persist in this country and in this city. Between now and next MLK Day, let’s ask ourselves what enduring structural changes are necessary to ensure that the basic needs of every person are non-negotiable, that their rights are iron-clad, their dignity a foregone conclusion. The legislative session is upon us. There are people and organizations doing the work of long-term change. Between now and our next service day, let’s join them.

Lily Brent, Executive Director, Repair the World Atlanta

Repairing The World On MLK Day

This originally appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times on January 24, 2020.

“A total of 23 Jewish organizations and 1,300 volunteers were involved in this year’s MLK Day of Service Jan. 20 coordinated by Repair the World, which creates opportunities for tikkun olam, the Hebrew of its name.”

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Repair the World’s Racial and Economic Justice Shabbat Dinner

This originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on January 20, 2020.

“The importance of this event was to understand the systemic roots of racial and economic injustices that have permeated our city,” said Savannah Parson, a senior fellow for Repair the World Pittsburgh. “We are proud to highlight the work that Open Hand Ministries, Circles Greater Pittsburgh and Cocoapreneur PGH are doing every day to eradicate these injustices.”

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Turn the Tables on Jews, Allyship, and Civil Rights

“Throughout MLK Weekend, Repair the World is offering service and learning opportunities to support local organizations across Detroit. This guide, used at our Detroit Shabbat Dinner on January 17, 2020, serves as a starting point, framing the service we will do and asking us to reflect on the role of Jews in the struggle for racial justice. Before we begin the work of tikkun olam, we must sit down, together, and reckon with these questions.”

Click Here to View the Guide

Press Release: #ActNow and Serve with Others in Chicago Over MLK Weekend

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jason Edelstein, 510-239-1102

Local organizations partner to offer service and learning experiences throughout Chicagoland

Chicago, IL – Upcoming opportunities abound in Chicago for those looking to connect with and engage in service in celebration of MLK Weekend. In partnership with Silverstein Base Hillel, Mishkan Chicago, OneTable, Jewish United Fund (JUF), and many other partners, Repair the World Chicago is offering an array of experiences to address and highlight pressing local needs—including civic Shabbat dinners, expert talks on racial and economic justice, and volunteer opportunities—as part of its national #ActNow campaign.

“We’ve been on the ground in Chicago for about six-months building relationships with the people and organizations who best know this community and its needs,” says Melissa Schwarz, Program Coordinator for Repair the World Chicago. “We want to support and amplify our partners’ ongoing efforts to address local needs, and the dinners, talks, and service this MLK weekend show how important it is to develop these types of local relationships.”

On Friday, January 17, OneTable, JUF, and numerous other partners will kick off MLK weekend across Chicagoland with 10 simultaneous civic Shabbat dinners, bringing service and Jewish values to the Shabbat dinner table. These Shabbat dinners will foster conversation among young adults seeking meaningful dialogue about contemporary civil rights and social justice issues. Framing the conversation with Jewish values, the dinners will be grassroots-driven, intimate dining experiences that will inspire action. 

On MLK Day, Monday, January 20th, people can join Chicago Repair, Mishkan ChicagoJCUAAvodah, and Silverstein Base Hillel: Lincoln Park for the fourth annual MLK dinner and discussion. Tonika Lewis Johnson, a visual artist/ photographer from Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, will discuss urban segregation and the nuance and richness of the black community. In addition, volunteers can play games and engage in activities for children at the Northwestern Settlement on the morning of MLK Day, organized by JUF’s Young Leadership Division.

“We want people to be inspired to act and to create change,” adds Schwarz. “We honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring legacy and lifelong commitment to equity, by learning about the needs of and serving in solidarity with our neighbors.” 

Repair the World’s resources and facilitation guides related to Martin Luther King, Jr. and racial justice are available at go.werepair.org/mlk-day, as are listings of additional service opportunities nationally. 

Repair the World’s peer-to-peer model of engagement through service grounded in Jewish values is on the ground in nine different communities today. Repair works closely with local nonprofits to address urgent community needs, including food justice, education justice, criminal justice reform, housing needs, racial equity, and more. 

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U.S. Immigration Policy Sparks Action in Michigan

This originally appeared in The Jewish News on January 16, 2020. 

Sarah Allyn, executive director of Repair the World Detroit, a Jewish organization that encourages volunteer service, explains how Repair tries to help people who directly experience the effects of anti-immigrant policies. “At Repair the World, we work closely with communities experiencing the immediate and terrifying impact of our current climate,” she says. “While there are many ways to take action as a Jewish community, Repair believes meaningful service, combined with learning and self-reflection, promotes action and change. “By serving alongside impacted communities, we listen, learn and build relationships to truly understand what people need and how we might best support them.”

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Repair the World Leads MLK Day of Service

This originally appeared in Atlanta Jewish Times on January 15, 2020.

“A national organization that mobilizes Jews to volunteer is coordinating the Atlanta Jewish community’s Day of Service Jan. 20 on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

This year’s MLK Day of Service in honor of the civil rights leader is being coordinated by Repair the World, which launched its eighth community site in Atlanta in 2018.”

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South Florida’s Jewish Community to Celebrate MLK’s Legacy

This originally appeared in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on January 10, 2020.

“Janu Mendel, Repair the World Miami’s executive director, said regarding these service opportunities, “For me, me it’s really building on the legacy of the relationship that exists and has existed between the Jewish community and black community since the days of Martin Luther King.”

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Op-Ed | Service and Religion, or Service as Religion?

By Matthew Kaufman, 2019-20 Repair the World Brooklyn Fellow

While studying religion at Dickinson College, I often asked myself what characteristics are shared by all of the world’s faith traditions. A belief in the supernatural, perhaps? Sacred texts and elaborate ceremonies? The so-called “Golden Rule”? 

Although those are perfectly reasonable answers, I believe each one of them comes up short. Yes, several faith traditions are grounded in beliefs that could be described as supernatural, but not Unitarian Universalism. Yes, anyone who has sat through a Sunday mass can speak of Catholicism’s love for ceremony, but Quaker worship has never struck me as overly ritualistic. As for the Golden Rule, try explaining its value to LaVeyan Satanists (one of their church’s Nine Satanic Statements is “Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates!”) 

If none of these religions have pomp, principle, or even the paranormal in common, then what do they all share? Simple: they all share a desire to address our spiritual, physical, and psychological needs. 

All of us—my tough-as-nails, New Yorker grandparents included—have these three needs. It is why Jesus speaks not only of his Heavenly Kingdom (a spiritual need) but of feeding the hungry (a physical need); it is why Lao Tzu speaks not only of loving others, but of being loved (a psychological need); and it is why Islam’s Five Pillars include alms (zakat), prayer (salat), and fasting (sawm). From the largest faith traditions to the smallest, such needs are elevated to an intertwined and sacred status, each one of them being essential to our collective wellbeing. 

Jews believe in addressing these three needs through halakha (Hebrew for Jewish law). At Repair the World, we focus specifically on addressing these three needs through service grounded in Jewish values, heritage, and tradition. 

As a national organization dedicated to elevating the place of service in American Jewish life–addressing issues such as food justice, legal justice, housing justice, and education justice (Phew!), Repair the World engages young adults to work closely with non-profits in nine cities to tackle pressing local needs.  Whether this engagement is in the form of Repair’s yearlong Fellowship or through weekly peer-to-peer volunteer opportunities, the service experiences address the spiritual, physical, and psychological needs that are vital to our neighbors and our communities. 

One non-profit and Repair partner that best exemplifies this service-based approach to needs is St. John’s Bread & Life. Located in Brooklyn, it provides thousands of New Yorkers with hot meals, social services, and pastoral counseling. Whether St. John’s clients require delicious food or film screenings with friends, their spiritual, physical, and psychological needs are all taken into account. Why? Because St. John’s staff recognizes human needs as an interconnected whole; you cannot address physical hunger without also addressing psychological hunger (e.g., desiring community) and spiritual hunger (e.g., desiring purpose). 

As a Repair Fellow who works at St. John’s several times per week, I believe its staff has, inadvertently or not, tapped into something vital: the idea that addressing our spiritual, physical, and psychological needs is not only essential to religion, but a religion unto itself. 

If our spiritual, physical, and psychological needs are at the core of every religion, then perhaps addressing them in various ways, including through service with others, should be understood as a common tenet linking many faith traditions together. After all, service work not only addresses, in part, those needs for non-profit clients; it also addresses those needs for non-profit staff and volunteers. There is spiritual satisfaction from teaching at Hebrew schools, physical satisfaction from building sheds at community gardens, and psychological satisfaction from making friends at food pantries (among other activities). 

By recruiting volunteers for non-profits such as St. John’s, by establishing Fellowships, and by hosting service events rooted in Jewish values year-round, Repair’s work harkens back to President Woodrow Wilson, who once wrote: “There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.” 

Amen, brother!

 

Matthew Kaufman is a 2019-20 Repair the World Brooklyn Fellow. Their free time is spent listening to Van “The Man” Morrison, as well as conducting interfaith work with the various mosques, temples, churches, and synagogues in Crown Heights.

 

A Successful Tutoring Model

This originally appeared in the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. 

“As a Repair Fellow, I connect the Jewish community to volunteer opportunities. An example of my own meaningful volunteer service comes from tutoring with Mind Bubble, which offers free tutoring and workshops for students across the Atlanta area.”

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