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Archive for : Brooklyn

Finding a Place in the Jewish Community – a Fellowship Alumna’s Story

As a Jew of Color, Riki (she/her) has experienced the dualities of being Asian American and Jewish. During college, she was heavily involved in community organizing and service and felt a strong obligation to advocate for direct services to historically under-represented and under-resourced communities. During college Riki felt a longing to strengthen her connection to the Jewish community but struggled to find her place in the Jewish community due to how she was othered and marginalized. After Riki graduated in 2018, she applied to become a Repair the World Fellow. “I felt pushed out from the Jewish community in college for being different. It was exciting to me to see that Repair the World had a model for engaging with service and organizing using a Jewish lens, while having an inclusive and expansive way of thinking about Judaism. This opened my eyes to the possibilities of working with Jewish organizations who align with my values,” said Riki. “I was also drawn to living in the communities you serve and connecting with local service organizations in a meaningful way.”

Soon after becoming a fellow, Riki started feeling the gap between her and the Jewish community shorten as she began witnessing Jewish values played out through the service she and volunteers were providing to community members. As a food justice fellow serving with The Campaign Against Hunger (TCAH) in New York City, Riki engaged with countless individuals who used the support of TCAH to access vital resources. She expected that basic needs would be met but it was eye-opening for Riki to see each person served being treated with preciousness, respect, and dignity. “The sheer amount of people from different backgrounds who came through the food pantry  everyday and were able to access quality food and supplies, not leftovers or foods that were nearly expired, really struck me” said Riki when reflecting on her time serving with TCAH. “It meant so much to me to serve alongside people who were providing the highest quality care to each community member with a level of dignity that left them feeling seen as people.”

Riki also engaged in extensive learnings throughout the fellowship that continue to shape how she views the world and engages with Judaism. “Which is better? Someone who learns or someone who acts?” As part of Jewish teachings, this is a common question. “One Jewish perspective is that it is best for someone to learn in order to inform their actions. That is something that I thought about deeply while at Repair,” said Riki. “As fellows we learned so much from each other as we came from different experiences. We also had the opportunity to dig deep into learning about the communities we were serving. We were quite aware that we were continuing the work that had already begun and that we were honoring that by serving.”

Riki is now the Program Director at the Jews of Color Initiative’s New York Hub. “I was introduced to the Jews of Color Initiative after their Executive Director, Ilana Kaufman gave a presentation at Repair while I was a fellow.” Riki felt more confident and equipped to continue serving her community in a deeper capacity and through a Jewish lens after her time as a fellow. Riki reflects that her time serving her community as a fellow not only impacted those she served by also changed how she viewed fulfilling her passions while working with Jewish organizations. “I’m now combining my experiences of providing meaningful service as a fellow and my passion for advocacy to ensure Jews of Color in New York have access to necessary resources. I didn’t think I could do this type of work until my fellowship at Repair. Because of it, transitioning into my new role was relatively smooth. I had a better understanding of the Jewish community and a stronger connection to Judaism. This was something I was missing in college but have since gained throughout my time at Repair.”

Riki is the Program Director of the Jews of Color Initiative’s New York Hub. Prior to joining the Initiative, she was a Food Justice Fellow with Repair the World in Brooklyn where she learned about urban farming, food pantries, and SNAP benefits along with a Jewish lens to community engagement. She also has a background working in Asian American Pacific Islander organizations as well as immigration justice groups. Riki is rooted in the theory and praxis of Ethnic Studies that research should be generated by and for community relevance. She received her B.A. in Asian American Studies and Sociology from Pitzer College.

 

Giving Jewishly?

“Believe it or not,” my friend said, “2020 was our organization’s greatest year for giving in our entire history.” As the Executive Director of Repair the World NYC,  I spend a lot of time talking about fundraising. This was the fourth time in a week that I had heard some variation of this sentence. Across the country, donors have stepped up again and again since the start of the pandemic. In this time of immeasurable loss, this time in which the needs have been so great from every single angle, people have felt more compelled to give than ever before. 

When I began the Hadar Jewish Wisdom Fellowship’s Executive Cohort on Power and Money this summer, these realities were top of mind for me. What exactly is behind this momentum, this commitment, this communal response that we are seeing right now? How are people choosing where they give, why, and how much? And, perhaps the biggest question, when are they choosing to give, and when will they choose to stop?

In Deuteronomy 15:4, we read that if there is a “needy person” among us we are to “open [our] hand and lend [that which is] sufficient for whatever they need.” On first reading, this seems right. We should respond when people need help, and we should give differently according to the needs of the person in front of us.  Equity and equality are not the same.  To end food  insecurity – which is defined as lacking access to enough healthy and culturally appropriate food – it is not enough to simply give someone food; we must ensure that it is food that will sustain them and that they are able to eat. Not easy, but a simple enough concept.

During our cohort time, though, we were presented with texts that complicate that concept, and wrestled with the much larger questions: when has one given enough, and who gets to decide that?  In Bavli Ketubot 67b, the rabbis argue about whether it is sufficient to simply support someone enough that they can survive, whether they must be supported enough that they live as they were used to, or whether they must support someone enough to make them wealthy. We discussed this for some time, and many are of the belief that it is never one’s responsibility to give so much that a person in need has “even a horse upon which to ride and a servant to run in front of them.”  We went on to read about the ills that befall someone who asks for what can be considered excessive: wine, fatty meat, etc., which might lead one to believe that this assessment is correct.

However, the text that resonated most for me was this: 

Rabbi Ḥanina knew a certain pauper and was accustomed to send to him four dinars on every Shabbat eve. One day he sent it in the hand of his wife. She came back home and said to him: The man does not need charity…. Rabbi Ḥanina said: This is what Rabbi Elazar said: Come and let us appreciate the swindlers because were it not for them, we would be sinning every day in failing to properly support the truly poor (Bavli Ketubot 67b)

A few days ago my five year old daughter and I walked past someone asking for money on the street. I gave my daughter money to share with them. I heard another parent nearby tell their child that they would not give them money because “they’ll just use it on booze.” In our family we give whenever we have the chance, no matter what we think the person in front of us might do with the money. My husband and I believe that it’s not up to us to decide what is most important in someone’s time of greatest need, so we are raising our children to give people the dignity of that choice. It is true that this means sometimes a person chooses alcohol over food, cigarettes over water, drugs over a bed. For many, those are examples of excess one may not want to support with their money. For us, this goes back to the Deuteronomy text I began with. Who gets to decide what their needs are, and what is sufficient to fulfill those needs? There is power in choices about how we give our money, and these texts offer some Jewish wisdom on how you might choose to use that power.

While we are unlikely to be giving such that we help people have horses and servants, in the United States today we make choices about how to give all the time. As I am writing this, my family is deciding how to give to people impacted by extreme loss in Haiti and Afghanistan this summer of 2021. There has been a lot written about how to choose where to give in times of crisis over the years: should we give to large organizations who we know pay their executive staff a lot of money, but are well connected on the ground? Should we give to small organizations, even without clarity that the money will even get into the places experiencing the deepest need? If we only have so many dollars, is it best to choose one issue or split the money between them? 

As we move into the fall of 2021 and continue living amidst crisis, I am eager to see how people’s giving may change or grow. Perhaps you, reader, have been one of those people who gave more than usual this last year. How did you choose to give? When will you know that it’s been enough? How might you use these texts from Deuteronomy and the Bavli Ketubot to guide you? 

Rachel Figurasmith (she/her) is the Executive Director of Repair the World NYC. 

Maximizing the Impact of Volunteering

Stephanie Wu Winter spent many years working in the financial services sector but she always had a longing to use her skills and talents to make a meaningful difference in the lives of her community members. “Growing up, my family greatly valued serving, uplifting, and engaging with their community. I volunteered often as a kid and it’s something that has always been a significant part of my life,” said Stephanie. Wanting to commit to her value of strengthening her community and fulfilling her passion of ensuring that families and children are without basic needs, Stephanie began working at Hunger Free America (HFA) as the Director of Strategic Volunteer Initiatives four years ago. 

Hunger Free America is a service partner of Repair the World Brooklyn where Repair the World fellows and volunteers have helped to uplift programs needed to end domestic hunger and ensure that all Americans have sufficient access to nutritious food by serving and advocating for them. “Every child in America deserves proper nutrition and now I’ve dedicated myself to making sure that happens. I also want to help volunteers recognize the magnitude of the impact their service makes in the lives of their neighbors.”

When reflecting on key moments of her past four years at HFA, Stephanie often goes back to the year spent working alongside Repair the World fellow, Riki Robinson, who served in 2018-2019. As a food justice fellow, Riki worked to ensure urban farms and food pantries in Brooklyn continued to thrive and provide nutritional food to local communities. “Being able to witness Riki and other fellows grow and learn in this space while meeting the vital needs of the community was incredible. When I think of the times I see people maximizing their impact in meaningful ways, I think about the fellows from Repair.” Riki is now the Program Manager at the Jews of Color Initiative’s New York Hub.

“I never underestimate the role that volunteers play in the community and also how valuable the voices of those we serve are. While in this space I’ve seen people be so candid about expressing what the true needs are and sharing their expertise based on their experiences,” said Stephanie. “It’s been truly powerful to be more intentional about the work and how we serve. As I’ve entered this space full time I see my values in action every day. Through working with fellows, volunteers, and our staff the intersections of social justice and volunteerism makes it very clear that we can’t address one community issue without addressing others.”

A Perspective on Social Justice Changed through Service

A reflection written by Jack, Repair the World NYC Teen Service Corps Member.

What is social justice? On paper, it means to enact justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. In reality, social justice is significantly more complex than that. As we all know, the growing popularity of social media has affected our lives drastically, but in my opinion, it has affected our perception of social justice the most. Due to social media, the term “social justice” and the ideas it preaches have been politicized, and the true message behind social justice: to serve one’s community, has been clouded by infographics and Twitter rants. As such, my perception of social justice before entering this program was not the most positive, since 99% of my knowledge of the topic came from social media. I saw it more as a dividing force than a uniting one. I would see people post infographics about issues ranging from racial justice, to food justice, as well as links where you could donate to those causes. As much as posting these thing were good steps towards enacting social change, I began to wonder how much impact they really had. Most infographics are simplified at best, and outright false at worst. For a long time, social justice seemed political, frustrating, and disunifying to me. 

Over the last few months in this program, this view has significantly changed. Participating in activities like volunteering at Bushwick City Farm and phone banking with Hunger Free America, I have realized that social justice is more than just posting and arguing on social media. Social Justice requires some sort of personal sacrifice. Clicking a few buttons on my phone to post an infographic was certainly not as eye opening as turning compost for two hours by myself at the farm, and although I would rather not spend my weekend turning compost, for one of the first times in my life I actually felt that I was truly helping a cause. Not just spreading information about it, but actually taking action. In my opinion, action is one of the core pillars of social justice. A phrase I’m sure many people here are familiar with is: It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” Finishing the work requires direct action, or else it will never get done. That is the lesson I’ve learned from this program. 

 

Growth on Uncertain Ground

Reflecting on my semester with the community of Repair the World Teen Service Corps, I chose to create a zine! This mini-zine, titled Growth on Uncertain Ground, focuses on how service and learning create community, even in times of distance or conflict. Throughout this semester, my perspective has evolved and expanded. I wanted to express that feeling and viewpoint through this zine. I am excited to take what I have learned and use it to continue serving my community. 

— Eliza Baron-Singer

              

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serving in Pursuit of Social Justice

Because of volunteers, our partners at the Kings Bay Y Pantry have been able to almost double the amount of people they feed each month. They went from serving 500 people a month to serving 800 people because of the power of service. Ilana Ascher was a critical part of this change through her work with Repair the World NYC. “I didn’t grow up volunteering. When I applied for the Repair the World Fellowship, my focus was on social justice. I now see how service plays a vital role in pursuing justice, which is a value I am incredibly passionate about,” said Ilana. “I quickly realized that if I was going to ‘walk the walk’ when it came to social justice, I was going to have to strengthen my connection to service.”

Now in her second year as a Repair the World fellow, Ilana works closely on the intersections of food justice and volunteering, with her service partners, Hunger Free America and Kings Bay Y Pantry. “I am amazed by the growth of not only myself, but of the organizations we work with since I started serving with them,” said Ilana as she reflected on the past year. “Working with Hunger Free America has taught me about how severe food insecurity in the city is and the importance of programs like SNAP and other food access resources,” said Ilana. “I’m connecting community members to critical information about food access programs and I train people every week on how to ensure the local community has access to these important programs through phone banking.”

When thinking back on past training sessions she hosted, Ilana is proud of the reach the programs have in the community. “I didn’t know much about SNAP or other programs like it and I didn’t know how I was going to get those resources out to people who need them,” said Ilana. “The more I trained people and immersed myself in the work the easier it became. I didn’t just spend a few hours learning about SNAP, for me, making sure the information was equitably accessible was an integral piece to serving my community.”

“I’ve noticed that there are groups of volunteers that serve consistently. It’s an amazing thing to see. We’re trusted by our service partners and I believe that our volunteers sense that and as a result are more willing to come back and volunteer.”

Ilana Ascher is a senior fellow with Repair the World, where she recently completed her first year living and working in Harlem. Ilana has become a part of the Jewish community in New York City and looks forward to continuing to strengthen these relationships. Additionally, through working closely with the community and spending time at organizations such as Hunger Free America and East Harlem Tutorial Program, Ilana has learned so much more about New York City and the inequity and severity of issues such as food justice and racial justice (as well as their intersection) in the city. Through living in Harlem, Ilana has learned more about how gentrification affects neighborhoods and how her own presence has a tangible impact that can be harmful. She hopes to use this experience to continue to work responsibly in New York City, and during her additional year at Repair, she is working to fight against systemic issues such as anti-black racism that are exacerbated through gentrification.

Summer 2021 Repair the World Teen Service Corps

Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens & Long Island Cohorts
July 12- August 20

Do you know a rising 9th-12th grader in Manhattan/Brooklyn/Queens/Long Island who wants to volunteer, make new friends and learn about justice this summer? Earn up to 80 community service hours while making a difference! The Teen Service Corps is a 6 week service learning program with 25 person cohorts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. Throughout the program teens will learn about systemic injustice through a Jewish lens, hone leadership skills and volunteer in various neighborhoods to promote food and education justice, and combat social isolation. 

Volunteering will follow strict COVID safety compliance guidelines and may pivot to a virtual format. 

In-person service may include urban farming, volunteering at food pantries, canvassing for food benefits and packaging essential supplies for service partners. 

Virtual volunteering may include connecting with seniors experiencing social isolation, supporting youth in online camps & tutoring, phone banking for nutrition benefits and housing rights and supporting youth experiencing incarceration through responding to their creative writing.

July 12 – August 20

  • Tuesdays: Small group volunteering at service sites or independent virtual service (4-5 hours)
  • Wednesdays: Full group service project and learning (2-3 hours)
  • Thursdays:  Small group volunteering at service sites or independent virtual service (4-5 hours)

What Former Corps Members have to say!

“It was inspiring to be a part of a group of teens who truly seemed to care.”

“I loved that this program was educational but not in a stressful type of way like school is.”

“This program not only introduced me to the issues but it gave me an opportunity to personally make a difference.” 

“I feel a lot more proud to be a Jew right now, probably the proudest I have felt in my life.”

“When it ended, it felt kind of like camp was ending.”

Apply Here! Applications received on a rolling basis | Please email [email protected] with any questions.

I am Great Because I Serve – Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. Day

This article originally appeared in Venture Traveller on January 18th, 2021.

Being that we are still in a pandemic, I was not sure where to serve so I called a friend who is socially active. She led me to a website, werepair.com, an organization that mobilizes Jews and their communities to service.  Repair the World Communities, engages young adults in social change around education and food justice in neighborhoods in Atlanta, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Detroit, Harlem, Miami, and Pittsburgh. In most communities, a City Director supports a cohort of fellows (ages 21-26) who make a year-long service commitment to Repair the World.

This year, I volunteered for two service projects with Repair the World – one in Brownsville, Brooklyn and the other in Harlem.

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Repair the World, New York hosts service events to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This video originally appeared on NEWS12 on January 18th, 2021.

Repair the World, New York hosted a number of service events to help improve local communities to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On Friday, they held a painting and lot beautification event at the Brownsville Community Justice Center. Some volunteers used paint to beautify the vacant lot down the street from the center, while others worked on painting a mural in the center’s newly renovated space downstairs. Some of the other projects included card-making, a cleanup effort and interactive Zoom workshops with seniors in isolation.

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Repair the World’s MLK Weekend Volunteer Oportunities

This article originally appeared on NY Blueprint on January 28, 2019.

(Jan. 17-21) — Check out a plethora of events to make the world better, all of them happening right here in NYC. Click on link at right for the list of opportunities.

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