Playdates with a Purpose: A Space for Kids to Learn the Joys of Volunteering

This originally appeared in The Jewish Times on February 27, 2020. 

Playdates with a Purpose is a program created by PJ Library of Metropolitan Detroit and Repair The World Detroit to allow children to do social service projects related to Jewish books they’re reading.

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Celebrating Black Leaders in the Community – Repair the World Partners

This Black History month we highlighted the extraordinary Black leaders behind our partner organizations that are doing amazing work in their communities. Because of these partnerships, we have been able to reach and serve more community members. Here are just a few of the amazing Black leaders building their communities and helping them thrive. 

The Southwest Ecumenical Emergency Assistance Center (SWEEAC) serves more than 48,000 families & distributes over 1,000,000 pounds of food to families in the communities of Atlanta. Executive Director, Ernesta B. Ingram, has been leading SWEEAC since 2005 and introducing new and exciting food programs to Atlantans. Repair the World Atlanta has been able to reach and serve more community members in Atlanta because of organizations like Southwest Ecumenical Emergency Assistance Center, Inc. Visit their website to learn more about their work!

The Safe Alternative Foundation for Education was founded by Van Brooks, a community leader who inspires students every day. Repair The World Baltimore was honored to feature the SAFE Alternative’s work when Van Brooks served on the educational equity panel during last month’s MLK Day program. SAFE Alternative believes that all students should have access to quality education and the resources and opportunities that will assist them in achieving their goals. SAFE Alternative provides after school, weekend, and summer learning educational opportunities in West Baltimore and hosts one of Repair the World Baltimore’s VolunTeams, a group of volunteers who visit the center once a month to do career workshops. Visit their website to learn more about their work!

The African Healing Garden in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is truly a place to restore wholeness to mind, body, and spirit. The plot of land owned by Betty Lane, the community’s 80-year-old matriarch, includes fruit trees, herbs, flowers, water, and a restful atmosphere. Betty grew up in the Hill District. She moved to Larimer in 1970 to raise her kids. She still lives in the same house within sight of the healing garden. The garden is a place where solace and peace of mind can bring about wholeness to those who enter its gates. It is being designed to provide an outdoor classroom for children’s activities. Repair the World Pittsburgh has spent many service days tending the garden and planting new plants throughout this partnership. Visit their website to learn more about their work! 

Black History Month: How Jewish Judges Played Role In Miami’s Civil Rights Movement

This originally appeared on CBS Miami on February 14, 2020.

Recently, Repair the World Miami hosted Shabbat at the Historic Black Police Precinct and Museum. CBS Miami was there while attendees learned about Jewish support during the civil rights movement.

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Jewish Leaders Travel to Rwanda to Engage in International Development

This originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on February 13, 2020. 

“In February, a group of 16 Jewish leaders from Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom traveled to Rwanda as part of the InterACT Global study trip. Participants were heads of organizations such as Shalom Corps, UJIA, the Schusterman Foundation Israel, Repair the World and more. InterACT Global was initiated by the Office of the President of Israel and is led by OLAM, a platform of Jewish and Israeli international development organizations, in partnership with SID Israel, Gesher Leadership Institute, and Shalom Corps.”

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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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

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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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.