Welcome to our annual series of interviews featuring a handful of the nearly 10,000 inspiring teens who are involved with Repair the World partner, J-Serve – the International Day of Jewish Youth Service coming up on April 28, 2013. These teens are going above and beyond to make their communities great, and bring together their love of service and their Jewish identities through J-Serve. This week: Benji Fages, a high school senior from Thornhill, Ontario shares his story.
What is your background with service and volunteering?
My commitment to service, philanthropy, and advocacy started with my 6th birthday party. Instead of the typical candy and toys that people give out at birthday parties, my parents and I brainstormed ways to put that money towards a good cause. We had heard about the Therapeutic Clown program at the Sick Kids hospital in Toronto. Starting with that birthday, and ever since then, I donate a portion of my present money to that cause, then visit the hospital to see the inspirational and amazing work that these clowns do as they brighten up the days and lives of children at the hospital.
In addition, I periodically ride on Ve’ahavata’s mobile Jewish response to the homeless van. I join other volunteers in driving around downtown Toronto distributing clothes and warm meals to homeless individuals, and hearing about their lives. Having the opportunity to chat with them and understand their stories beyond the superficial level has always been quite special.
Tell me about your involvement with service through BBYO.
I currently serve as BBYO’s International Vice President of Judaic, Community Service, and Social Action Programming. I have participated in and have led service experiences like the BBYO Day of Service and Advocacy, a day which brought nearly 2000 Jewish teens to the streets of DC participating in a range of meaningful activities. I also co-chair Stand UP Week, where thousands of Jewish teens join with their BBYO chapters to perform acts of service, philanthropy, and advocacy. The chapters and non-BBYO teens can display their service activities and share resources, knowledge and project ideas on the Stand Up website.
How did you learn about J-serve and what inspired you to get involved?
During lunch at school last year, I passed by a booth of volunteers who were encouraging students to sign up and volunteer for the upcoming J-Serve. Later that week while scrolling through Facebook, I was invited to an open call that BBYO was holding to advertise J-Serve. I joined the call, heard about the exciting service opportunities, and was particularly intrigued by the international element of J-Serve’s day of service.
How are you involved with J-serve this year?
I am working with my co-vice president, Andie Djamal, to ensure the success and presence of J-Serve in as many communities as possible. We have selected a small committee of BBYO teens to gather momentum and support for J-Serve across the globe. Our goal is to target BBYO and non-BBYO community leaders to create their own J-Serve projects in their hometowns, or help the planning of an already existent one. By providing grants, planning resources, and open calls, we are working to enable anyone to plan a local J-Serve. The main focus and motivation is to create the largest, most enthusiastic, and most meaningful J-Serve.
Why is J-serve important to you? Why do you choose to be a part of it?
I think that J-Serve helps to spark a passion for community service amongst teens. People get to join together with friends while making a difference. It’s a fun day that helps make future service alluring to most people who attend. J-Serve is important to me because few other events have the power to affect more Jewish teens throughout the globe in such an essential endeavor of chesed. The potential impact I can have by participating in and helping to organize J-Serve is great. I want to guide the Jewish future in a direction where we value our roots, community, and helping others.
Do you personally connect service/volunteering with your sense of Jewish identity?
Social responsibility derived from the classic Jewish value of Tikkun Olam has been ingrained in my identity since day one. Since elementary school, I have attended Jewish day school and Zionistic summer camps. They have taught me that promoting Jewish morals and creating a strong, unified community is essential to the health of Jewish society. I am a firm believer in maintaining our awareness and continually caring for the world and people around us.