Welcome to our ongoing series that brings you behind the scenes at Repair the World, and introduces you to the passionate and creative team that makes up our organization.
You’ve met Jon, Mordy, Robert and Talya – now, meet Daniel Low. Until last week, Danny was Repair the World’s Executive Assistant to the Partnerships Department in the Seattle office. He left to begin medical school at the University of Washington (classes start in two weeks). In the meantime, he chatted with Repair the World about his parents’ “teach by example” commitment to service, his passion for public health and what he did at the office all day.
So Danny, tell us about your service journey.
Service was always a part of my family life. My dad worked at the Jewish Family Service, and my mom was part of the mitzvah core at synagogue. We also volunteered at a food bank as a family, so from an early age I was exposed to the idea that that’s just what you did – you served others. I didn’t necessarily think about my service as specifically “Jewish,” but my parents had a “show by example” approach, and I learned from that.
Starting in high school, I began volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club, and co-founded a service club for the teens there. We worked at a teen shelter in downtown Seattle, tutored kids academically, and led sports events. In college at Pomona, I volunteered at a hospital medical center and was involved with a variety of social justice and social action clubs.
What about after college?
I’ve become interested in health care and the global health of East Africa. I went on a program through an organization called Support for International Change and worked for an HIV education program in Tanzania. I also volunteered doing tuberculosis research in Kenya, then returned to Tanzania to help expand the HIV program and did work with an HIV program in Malawi.
Last summer I was in Honduras doing public health work, helping connect an ostracized orphan organization with the larger community via health education. My friend and I did this together, and we basically helped link the organization up with high schools and community centers and teach health education classes. That way the kids got to interact with the rest of the community. We also got a bunch of artists involved and had them portray what health means to them as part of a mural. We tried to act as coordinators and facilitators, and unify the community leaders together to maximize the potential the community already had.
How did you get so interested in public health?
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago. She’s a survivor, but through the course of her chemotherapy and radiation, I became reflective about illness. The vast majority of people in the world in the same situation as her wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get treatment, heal and move on. I realized that so many of our structures are unfair to others and began to see health care and human rights as intrinsically tied. I feel like health care and public health is a way that I can give other people the opportunity to accomplish what they want.
How did you find Repair the World, and what drew you to work there?
I was supposed to be in Malawi for the whole past year, but political instability forced me home to Seattle in February. I learned about Repair the World’s work through a good family friend, Talya Gillman. Repair the World’s mission to make service a defining element of American Jewish life resonated with me, and I thought that the organization could be a great medium for me to embody those values.
What role did you play, and what did you do all day?
I was the executive assistant to the partnerships department. So on the one hand, my work was logistical, I also had some opportunity to do content-based work. I worked alongside Talya to develop Repair the World’s Service That Matters document, which provides a framework for individuals to plan and implement thoughtful Jewish service-learning. I also got to make power point presentations for Rabbi Will [Berkovitz], work on a few upcoming programs, and write grant proposals with the development office. It was a great opportunity to think about what it means to shape the next generation of American Jewish service leaders.
Did the experience change your perspective on the connection between Jewish life and service?
In some ways. When I’m personally engaged in service I still don’t necessarily think “Oh, I’m doing this because Jewish texts say to engage in service.” But I have come to realize the importance of the Jewish community recognizing service as a Jewish value. Ultimately service is a core value that I want to be perpetuated from generation to generation. And while I think it also has potential as a universal value, when you look at Judaism – and also other religions – service has always been at the core. Religion has ethical staying power where social and political structures can be fickle.
So, where’s your next journey taking you?
I start in medical school in two weeks at the University of Washington. My plan is to take an extra year and get a masters in public health while I’m there. I think that the MD is about looking at health on the micro scale and the MPH is about looking at it from a macro scale. To be an effective physician you need both, and ultimately I want to work in a public health context. Doctors have the capacity to change individuals’ lives. But if you’re working in a limited system, you are limited in scope – you can only see so many patients in a day. Public health lets you have positive influence over a great number of people and hopefully change the system from within.
Which Repair the World staff member should we interview next? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting @repairtheworld.