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Archive for : Corps Members

Mental health during Covid: Be of service and get a ‘helper’s high’

Social distancing is as bizarre a term as it is a phenomenon, and, unfortunately, it has barreled into our lives with a depressing velocity. Since the pandemic began, many of us (myself included) have lost loved ones, jobs, housing and, at times, a sense of purpose, because it is hard to operate within society when society is unavailable to you.

Not unrelated to this, no one is a stranger to mental health issues right now. A November 2020 report in the Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health magazine told us there has been as much as an 842 percent increase in text messages to local suicide hotlines, and a Kaiser Family Foundation report from February 2021 noted a 40 percent uptick in anxiety and depression in adults.

That illustrates how intense the stress of social isolation can be.

So many people have required services during this time of such need, but many are restrained from offering help. That is a shame, as acts of service are often what make people feel useful, and provide a sense of community.

It is impossible to think about service surrounding Covid-19 without addressing the importance of tikkun olam. Repairing the world is a central tenet of Jewish values, but Covid’s scourge has prohibited people from observing this commandment through in-person service work. At the same time, by staying inside and trying to help stop the spread, or by getting vaccinated, many are doing acts of tikkun olam, as these public safety measures are what make the world better. They just come as a conceptual challenge.

I know that for me, personally, having been in so many situations during the pandemic where I both wanted to give and receive aid, I struggled when I read articles about shelters closing and lines at food banks growing.

It made me worried, and compelled me to act, though I was often unable to do so because it could pose a public safety hazard.

It was for this reason that I felt lucky to be given an opportunity to give back to my community during this tough time. Through the Service Corps — a program of Repair the World, in partnership with the Jewish Service Alliance — I was prescreened and able to partner with Hamilton Families, a nonprofit that for decades has provided resources to families in the Bay Area experiencing homelessness.

Having the opportunity to help create curriculum for some of the children in their care, and ensure that their electronics worked well enough for students to study remotely, not only returned me to the community that I love, but it also helped my state of mind. I was finally able to give of my time in a way that I believed to be meaningful, and connect with many individuals I admire and respect.

Psychology tells us that volunteers sometimes experience a “helper’s high” that leads to prolonged feeling of calm, reduced stress and a greater sense of self-worth.

To anyone who has the capacity to engage in this type of service: I encourage you to do so. There has never been a better (read: worse) time.

Zoe Stricker is receiving her MFA at Bennington College. She lives in San Francisco with her dog, Fizz. This article originally appeared in The Jewish News of Northern California on May 21st 2021. 

Seizing the Moment to Serve

Image shows a white woman with brown hair taking a selfie in front of wild bushes.In early 2020, Jasmin had just begun her service with the Peace Corps in Ecuador. Everything changed in March when the pandemic hit and she and her group were evacuated from the region. “It was disappointing and a bit shocking, I didn’t get a chance to serve abroad because we were evacuated at the end of our training,” recalls Jasmin. News of the pandemic was still surfacing and nobody could really know what the future would hold. Jasmin had initially joined the Peace Corps because of her belief in the power of service. She was hoping to build relationships as part of her service abroad and make a real difference in the region. 

It was a surprise to come home to Boston, after saying goodbye to friends and family, and after expecting to be away from home for two years. But when Jasmin got home, she knew she had to find ways to continue her commitment to service and begin to volunteer in her local community. 

In the summer of 2020, after being home and witnessing the ravaging effects the pandemic had across the country and particularly in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Jasmin felt a deep calling to support her neighbors. “I was shocked by how negatively Chelsea was affected by the pandemic,” said Jasmin. “Knowing that there was something I could do to support the community meant a lot to me. The community was already facing great challenges before the pandemic, and the inequities were just exacerbated by COVID-19. I began questioning why it took a global pandemic to see the issues that already existed.” That is when Jasmin signed up to be a part of the Service Corps with Repair the World Boston.

For Jasmin, growing up, she saw her Jewishness and service as two separate aspects of her life. “As I started serving when I became older and especially through the Service Corps, it became clear to me that tikkun olam, repairing the world, was a vital part of being Jewish. Serving is now part of both my personal and Jewish values. Caring for others is why service is so important to me now,” said Jasmin.  

Jasmin spends most of her time serving with the Food Pantry at St. Lukes in Chelsea, Massachusetts. She has been inspired by the meaningful collaborations created during her meetings with local food pantries, food banks, schools, and other organizations like Healthy Chelsea and The Greater Boston Food Bank who are fighting for food access equity in the greater Boston area. “It’s amazing to see a group of non-profits from all over Boston come together and share resources that will not only uplift the organizations but allow for greater access to food for the members of the Boston community,” said Jasmin.

Jasmin spends her Fridays stocking the shelves of the food pantry and is in constant awe of how quickly food and supplies leave the pantry, highlighting the immense needs of the families for whom the pantry is so valuable. 

“How I viewed service as a part of my life was reaffirmed in the moments after the pandemic. I knew I was following the right path,” said Jasmin. “Arriving back home last year was when I realized I could actually do service in my community, and that volunteering would become a core part of my life’s journey.” 

Jasmin Bach (she/her) graduated from the University of New Hampshire in May 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Anthropology. She is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who was recently evacuated from Ecuador due to the pandemic. She has a passion to do good and is excited to do so close to home. During her service with Serve the Moment she served with The Neighborhood Developers to build community and support St. Luke’s Food Pantry to provide food for individuals experiencing food insecurity. Jasmin will be spending 10 months working with The Neighborhood Developers as an Americorps volunteer.

Investing in Community through Service

“Working with my service site, About Fresh, has been incredibly impactful. It’s been a powerful experience witnessing community members gain access to fresh food using food access programs like SNAP and knowing I play an important role in making that happen,” said Repair the World Boston Corps Member, Brianna when reflecting on her time of service.

“Parents are willing to stand in line for over an hour to ensure that their families are able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.” For Brianna, it is more than a moment for her, it is a reflection on her past. Brianna grew up living on mostly canned goods and often did not have access to fresh produce unless provided through the kindness of strangers at local churches. “It was years before I was able to introduce fresh and healthy food to my daily nutrition because of my upbringing,” said Brianna. “I think all of the volunteers feel the impact of our work, but it’s different for me because I understand how big of a difference organizations like About Fresh make. Because of our presence in the community, these children will now have a more positive relationship with food.”

Brianna often reflects on the narrative that blames parents living in poverty for not giving their children the best food, when the issue truly lies within equitable access to proper nutrition. “The shift comes when we meet these families where they’re at, ensuring they have access to important resources.”

Curiosity and asking meaningful questions are values that have been central to Brianna’s relationship with Judaism. She spent four years converting to Judaism and during that time learned how important it was to never stop asking questions. “It was refreshing to dig deeper in a way I hadn’t before,” said Brianna. As a Corps Member, she’s been able to expand her curiosity in meaningful ways. “Our weekly cohort meeting is not only a time to reflect but to also challenge what we experience and to explore the reasons why we serve. Being a part of a program where we have the space to challenge others as well as ourselves makes the experience that much richer. This experience has become a ‘coming home’ moment in some ways. I’m surrounded by other people who also push themselves and don’t accept things for what they are.”

While serving with Repair the World Boston Brianna witnessed real relationships being built while serving others, creating a volunteering experience that was not fleeting or a temporary bandage to society’s issues. “It’s so much more powerful to think longer term when serving. I know that I can still sign up to volunteer with my local community beyond Serve the Moment and that is so important to me. Like donors who make recurring donations to organizations, I see volunteering as an investment in my community and it’s members. It’s the consistency of the support and building relationships beyond a singular service moment that makes a real difference.”

Brianna sees service and Judaism as intertwined, both offering ways to strengthen and uplift their communities. “What I love about Judaism is that the community finds ways to make others feel welcomed and not alone. Service is such a beautiful expression of that. For me, service has strengthened my connection to Judaism by allowing me to be a part of a group of people who truly care about their community. There is a distinct sense of belonging and love that makes a person feel like they really matter.”

Brianna Elise Goodlin (she/her) has worked as a consultant and her work has been driven by a passion for helping people navigate seemingly intractable problems and find solutions in unexpected places. This also animates her personal life, where she spends time doing work for various causes including combating food insecurity, alleviating poverty, and increasing access to education. As a Corps Member, Brianna served at Beantown Jewish Gardens helping expand their reach through marketing and engagement, and with AboutFresh, distributing fresh food to underserved communities in Boston.

Strengthening Communities and Jewish Values

At the start of the pandemic, Rafael found himself thinking intensely about how to get his neighbors and community through an incredibly difficult reality. “It’s pretty easy to be wrapped up in your own life, but something I truly value is realizing that your time should also be dedicated to helping others. That can take shape in many different ways,” said Rafael. For Rafael, who lives in Denver,  joining the Service Corps was a way to support his community in significant ways and be connected to the Jewish community in a way he hadn’t been in a long time. 

There were several moments of being a Corps Member that solidified Rafael’s Jewish value of strengthening members of his community but most recently, Rafael was placed to serve at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic which was launched to more equitably disseminate the vaccine to marginalized populations. “Communities at higher risk or with an increased level of skepticism were able to come and get vaccinated in a setting that was more comfortable for them,” said Rafael. “Many of the patients were Spanish speaking or didn’t speak much English and I served as their interpreter and helped them book appointments for the second dose of the vaccine.”  

While serving at the vaccine site, Rafael met a 63 year old man who had never been vaccinated before. Like Rafael, he was born in Mexico and they immediately connected through their common nationality. He shared with Rafael that this was his first time getting vaccinated and he was motivated to get the shot because he had lost someone close to him to COVID-19. “I could see the struggle and the pain he was in and I believe having someone there he felt comfortable sharing his story with made a huge difference.” Rafael worked with several people at the site who were nervous or scared for many reasons, including being reported for being undocumented or general fear and misunderstanding surrounding the vaccine. “My job was to also reassure them. We needed to make sure they came back for their second shot.” One woman he scheduled broke down in tears. “She expressed to me how relieved she was because now she would be able to see her family for the first time in over a year.”

Since volunteering at the vaccine site, Rafael has dedicated his time as a Corps Member towards pursuing food justice in Colorado through his placement with Denver Urban Gardens (DUG). “I’ve seen the positive impact of people addressing food insecurity by building their own urban gardens and ensuring that nutritious food gets to the hands of those who need it the most,” said Rafael.  

Rafael continues to strengthen his connection to the Jewish community and his values through the Service Corps. “My work as a Corps Member has opened my eyes to many things that define what a community is. I’ve not only become closer to my community members but I’ve also learned how powerful service is in making a positive impact in the lives of everyone here in Denver.”

Rafael Levy is originally from Mexico City and moved to the U.S. seven years ago. He is currently a student at CU Denver and manages a coffee shop. He is passionate about serving his community and is eager to use his time to learn and uplift those around him.

Serving the Moment in Chicago

I’ve always felt the most Jewish when I’m fighting for a more just world. A feminist research program with a local Chicago Jewish organization first taught me the word “intersectionality” and brought me back to a religion and culture that had felt so alienating and foreign in Hebrew school. When I marched in climate strikes, with Never Again Action, or for racial justice, I would usually bring a sign scrawled with some of my favorite Jewish quotes: “If not now, when?” or “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” I usually brought my shofar, too. And when I started learning more about my identity as a Bukharian Jew, one of my extended family members, knowing my political views, sent along a link for a Facebook group called “Progressive Bukharians” (it’s small but mighty). I am fiercely Jewish, and it is through this lens that I have been able to find my way to practice and exist.

I first joined Repair the World this summer as a Chicago Corps member working with Raise Your Hand, an education equity parent nonprofit organization. I loved it so much that I decided to continue through the fall semester, as well. Serve the Moment is everything that, to me, Judaism is. We sing Jewish music, meet Jewish people, learn about Jewish rituals, all while learning about the oppressive structure of capitalism and housing crises and immigration and injustice through a Jewish lens. Tikkun Olam is the framework through which I believe I have always lived my life, but I am now even more fiercely committed to that ideal: leaving the world better than how I entered.

Being able to work with Raise Your Hand was an absolutely incredible and personally meaningful experience (shoutout to Jianan and the whole team). I learned an immeasurable amount about education injustice in Chicago and beyond. I gained an inside look into community organizing and what goes into successfully pushing for certain policies to be implemented and building people power. Raise Your Hands is also on the frontlines of pandemic-specific advocacy regarding the reopening of schools, protections for teachers, and parent advocacy. Being able to take part in service is important and meaningful. But being able to do so this year, as part of larger COVID-19 responses, was even more so.

But what’s so great about the Service Corps is that that work was complemented by a Jewish-specific analysis of that injustice with my Chicago cohort and the larger group. I could approach secular issues as my fully Jewish self, and use my Judaism as an asset in my service and organizing. Moving forward, I plan to continue organizing and service in general as a whole person committed to Tikkun Olam, my Judaism, and also injustice in the world at large. I credit Serve the Moment with helping me understand that the two are not in conflict with one another.

The world is a really scary and horrible place, but I receive my hope and energy to continue fighting from programs like the Service Corps. I’m really thankful that it exists and that there are so many people around the country who are interested in this kind of work: its impact should not be minimized. 

Madison Hahamy is currently on a gap year from Yale University, where she is reporting for the New Haven Independent, interning for Lilith Magazine, and writing for the Yale Daily News. She is a proud Bukharian Jew and lover of her brother’s service dog, Viego. Madison served as one of 34 Service Corps Members who have served in Chicago since summer 2020.

Serving The Moment at Shemesh Farms

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles blog on December 18, 2020.

Neelam Lal, one of our many outstanding Service Corps participants, shares her experience as a volunteer with our partners at Shemesh Farms.

Upon returning home from graduating college, I was looking for opportunities to give back and reenter my community of Los Angeles. A friend from Detroit recommended looking into Repair the World’s Service Corps, and the way the program so urgently aims to give back to the community during these trying times is what appealed to me. After going through the national training, I was placed at Shemesh Farms where I volunteered in person and virtually for 10 hours a week.

Shemesh Farms is a branch of the Shalom Institute, which is based in Malibu, California. Starting with just a couple of different vegetables, the farm supervisor Michelle and farmer Davis cultivated a half –acre’s worth of at least a hundred various fruits, vegetables, and spices. They created Shemesh Farms as a place where individuals with mental health issues and disabilities can gain work experience on the farm and maintain employment as farm fellows. Prior to the Woolsey fire in 2018, the team of fellows expanded from 5 to 60, each accompanied by his or her own coach, and Shemesh Farms was bustling with helpers all year round to create the salt blends and honey that is still sold today. The fire unfortunately destroyed most of the property, which led to the relocation of operations to the Malibu Jewish Center where Shemesh Farms continues to grow spices through hydroponic water towers.

At the start of quarantine, the fellows were no longer permitted to work on the farm, so Michelle gathered her friends to help grow, clean, and curate the salt blends. The fellows continue to stay in touch through Zoom calls during which they have business meetings and experience classes. It is through these virtual interactions that they continue to create names for new salt blends or learn how to bake sourdough bread.

I have had the wonderful chance to participate in these Zoom calls and have gotten to know the incredibly talented fellows while also helping at the Malibu Jewish Center through every step of the process to create the salt blends.

I had never worked within hydroponic farming before, so understanding how the water towers function and watching the growth was so educational and beautiful to watch. It has truly been a pleasure to be present in all aspects of Shemesh Farms as they continue to adapt and move forward after all of the challenges that they have faced.

Seize the Moment

This article originally appeared in Jewish Federation and Endowment Fund blog on December 18, 2020.

By Sarah Levitt, Bay Area Corps Member

The Service Corps is a program launched by Repair the World that mobilizes Jewish young adults to engage in critical racial justice work, tackle food insecurity, strengthen our education system, combat social isolation, and address the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a Service Corps member, I had the opportunity to volunteer with Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA), a nonprofit organization based in Oakland. YSA is responding to the homeless crisis by building a “Tiny House Village” to provide shelter, community, and job training for homeless youth. My city coordinator and the team at YSA employed my interest in nutrition and passion for service to curate a plant-based cookbook for the village community to provide healthy recipes for communal dinners. I ensured that my cookbook was inclusive for all dietary restrictions, including vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, ketogenic, paleo, and gluten-free. I also participated in one of the weekend builds and worked alongside other corps members and homeless youth to paint tiny homes in the village.

I first read about the Service Corps in a Washington Post article this past summer. I was in awe of the inspirational work that these Jewish young adults were engaged in, and I wanted to get involved. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened my understanding of the systemic injustice disproportionately impacting our Black and brown, disabled, and otherwise oppressed neighbors and communities. From a Jewish lens, I found myself thinking about our obligation to repair the world (tikkun olam), pursue righteousness and justice (tzedakah) and spread acts of love and kindness (g’milut hasadim), which our Jewish values tell us we are responsible to practice and uphold.

I had the chance to explore these values with 21 other Corps members placed at 11 impactful community organizations across the Bay Area.

Sonia Brin, a corps member on the Peninsula, volunteered with Faith in Action East Bay to phonebank during the election and with Berkeley CopWatch to curate a database that reports incidents of police violence. They said the Service Corps has “given me the opportunity to meet new people and get involved with the community in a time when it’s so difficult to do [so]. Also, I’m immunocompromised, so it was particularly meaningful to me to be able to safely do volunteer work in a time when there’s so much need in the community.”

Sonia Brin volunteering at Tiny House Village for Homeless Youth

Another one of my fellow corps members, Aaron Morrill, was placed at Urban Adamah, an educational farm and community center in Berkeley that is rooted in Jewish tradition, mindfulness, sustainable agriculture, and social action. Aaron recounted “working at Urban Adamah has reinvigorated my love of meeting new people and learning new skills, while also giving me the opportunity to contribute to a great mission. The Service Corps has given me a much-needed sense of community during a time that leaves everyone feeling constantly disconnected.”

Our volunteer service was complemented with Jewish educational seminars that I looked forward to each week. One session on leveraging relationships reinforced the power that a group of individuals has to make a change. This learning galvanized me to organize a canned food drive for food-insecure families affected by the pandemic. I reached out to my neighbors, community members, family, and friends to collect about 60 pounds of canned goods as well as $127 of monetary donations for a local food bank.

Sarah Levitt at the Neighborhood Canned Food Drive

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it” ~ Rabbi Tarfon

We cannot complete the task of improving the world, but neither are we free to abandon the task if we wish to leave a world worth living to future generations. This Jewish wisdom and my experiences in this program have led me to reflect: What are my community’s needs? How can I leverage my relationships to make a transformative change? What am I passionate about that I can offer with whole energy and enthusiasm? How are my actions aligned with Jewish values? The Service Corps has made me hyperaware of the social inequities and systemic injustices that individuals in my community face and provided me with countless resources to continue to combat these issues.

I have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to work, learn, and grow with such passionate, devoted, and like-minded educators, nonprofit organizations, and corps members. The Service Corps has been such a rewarding, enriching, eye-opening, and grounding experience, and I am honored to be a part of this organization and stand up during this moment.