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Archive for : Partners

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.”

From Sharing an Office to a Lasting Partnership

Last year, Marissa Fogal embarked on a journey to work within spaces that were aligned with her Jewish values. “As a Jewish person, the value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, was presented to me as my purpose in life. It’s a value that is both so personal but also a value of the community,” said Marissa. Wanting to fulfill her passion for growing food and dedicate her work towards strengthening her Jewish values, Marissa found what she was longing for at 412 Food Rescue in Pittsburgh. Now, the Vice President of Food Rescue Operations at 412 Food Rescue, Marissa has been a key connection to Repair the World’s partnership with the organization.

412 Food Rescue has been a service partner of Repair the World Pittsburgh for 7 years. They work with food retailers to prevent surplus food from going to waste. A relationship that grew out from sharing office spaces several years ago, Repair the World Pittsburgh and 412 Food Rescue were a perfect match. With a shared mission to provide vital resources to community members in the Pittsburgh area, this partnership has continued to evolve. 412 Food Rescue has provided a space for Repair the World fellows to grow and learn about food insecurity in Pittsburgh and ways to combat it. Repair the World continues to provide a thriving volunteer network to amplify the work 412 Food Rescue is doing in the community.

“Fellows are dedicating their time to serving their community with Repair the World and are also choosing to serve with and alongside countless service organizations that are directly providing resources to community members,” said Marissa. “Something I believe makes the fellowship unlike any other is the entrepreneurial spirit that is incorporated into serving. I’ve witnessed our Repair the World fellows really grow and learn key professional skills at 412 while engaging in Jewish learning, connecting with volunteers, and providing vital resources to the people of Pittsburgh.”

This past year was a time when many service organizations were forced to adapt and find new ways to reach their communities while making their services accessible. “Because of the pandemic we have had to shift and make changes to many of our programs in some hard but really cool ways. While stricter COVID-19 restrictions were in place, our fellows were unable to cook meals to be distributed throughout the community. Instead they created TikTok videos and other cool social media content about food waste reduction and cooking education which had a lasting impact on moving this work forward,” said Marissa. 

One year into working at 412 Marissa sees her values in action everyday. “Seeing my values lived out is centered around my being surrounded by people who have deeply committed themselves to serving others. I saw my values as I witnessed the fellows this past year use their skills to strengthen our work and I see them lived out with every volunteer I interact with.”

Interview with UVA Campus Corps Member

This video originally appeared on the Brody Jewish Center – Hillel at UVA Facebook page on February 2nd, 2021.

This year the Brody Center was fortune to be selected as a Serve the Moment campus with Repair the World! Meet Jackie, our Campus Corps Member. This semester she’ll be designing service opportunities for her peers and helping connect Jewish UVA students with needs in our local Charlottesville community!

“The way that I’m connected most to Judaism is through different service opportunities, so I think it’s a really nice way to bring the community together and that’s how I feel the strongest connection to the values and texts in Judaism.

I also really like community service because it brings groups of people together from diverse backgrounds who wouldn’t necessarily come together if it weren’t for these service opportunities.”

Watch Here

Repair Interview: Leah Lizarondo of 412 Food Rescue

From the vegetables that rot in our crisper drawers before we cook them, to the uneaten sandwiches that get tossed at a coffee shop at the end of the day, Americans waste a lot of food – nearly 40 percent of the total food supply. Meanwhile 1 in 6 people do not know where their next meal is coming from. Those numbers did not add up to Leah Lizarondo and Gisele Fetterman, so they decided to do something about it in their home city of Pittsburgh.

Their organization, 412 Food Rescue, works to recover un-sellable but perfectly good food from retailers, restaurants, caterers, and universities (among other places) and deliver it to organizations that help to feed people in need. Meanwhile, they empower nearly 1,000 volunteers to make a real difference in the lives of their neighbors.

Repair the World’s Pittsburgh Fellows have partnered closely with 412 Food Rescue since its founding. Now, we are excited to share their work with you. Here, co-founder Leah Lizarondo (pictured at right, with Repair the World Fellows Max and Lydia) talks about creating the “Uber for food rescue,” why ugly vegetables are the next frontier of closing the food gap, and the role that faith communities can play in advancing food justice.

What was the inspiration behind 412 Food Rescue?
We started in direct response to the disconnect that we as a society waste 40 percent of the food supply while 1/6 people go hungry. We work on the retail end of the supply chain, where surplus happens on a daily basis. In aggregate, the food wasted by grocery stores, restaurants, universities, coffee shops, and other retail locations represents the largest source of surplus food aside from our own homes. We partner with the retail locations to pick up their surplus and match the food available to non-profits that serve people who are food insecure.

Right now in Pittsburgh we partner with 150 retailers and 200 non-profits, and have 900 volunteers signed up. In our second year of operation this year, we will rescue 1 million pounds of food.

How do you coordinate the food rescues to make sure they are getting to the right place?
We work dynamically to match every food recovery to the right place and make sure the food is useful to the populations the organization serves. We don’t just drop off food without finding out from our partners if its an appropriate delivery. For example, if we recover 2 dozen bagels from a bagel shop, we are not going to drop those off at a housing facility that serves 200 people. Instead, we might drop them off at a shelter that serves 12 people. We are working on creating an intelligent algorithm that will do this matching for us. And in a couple of weeks, we will be releasing an app that coordinates our volunteers by sending them notifications of food rescue opportunities near them.

Tell me about the Ugly CSA.
The Ugly CSA is another one of our programs that tries to tackle food waste at the farm level. About 20% of food waste happens at the farm and manufacturing level. As a society we have these cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables that aren’t realistic, and lot of the produce that is grown at farms is discarded because it doesn’t match those standards. We created a new market for farmers to sell their “ugly” produce at a discount through CSA shares. We launched this past summer with a local farm alliance and sold 40 shares, and plan to scale it up this year.

What are different ways that volunteers get involved in your work?
95% of our volunteer force is dedicated to food recovery. People can sign up to be a “food rescue hero,” which means they pick up surplus food and deliver it to one of our non-profit partners. They are basically like an Uber for food rescue. We have a partnership with Zipcar, which allows volunteers to get a car for an hour for free if they’re doing a food rescue.

Another way volunteers get involved is through our Hidden Harvest program, which just launched this fall. Volunteers help to glean unpicked fruit from private and city trees around Pittsburgh. This fall, volunteers harvested 1,500 pounds of fruit that otherwise would have gone to waste.

Can you share a story of 412 Food Rescue’s impact?
Because we are a nontraditional organization, we can partner with non profits that might not specifically be hunger organizations, but that serve populations that are food insecure. One of those organizations is the Housing Authority of Pittsburgh. We are the first providers to bring food directly to their residencies. Because of the work we’re doing, their residents know where their next meal is coming from – they know they can expect food at a scheduled drop off.

Can you describe your partnership with Repair the World?
I met Zack Block, who runs the Repair the World community in Pittsburgh a few years ago when we were working out of the same co-working space. At the time I was writing for an online magazine, and I wrote about Repair the World when they launched here three years ago. At the time 412 Food Rescue was in its germination stage, and I knew they’d be an instrumental partner in getting our organization off the ground. When we were about to launch, I got in touch with Zack and asked for the fellows’ help in recruiting our first volunteers. Repair the World’s fellows played a big role in getting us started, and continue to make a significant difference in our work of recruiting and retaining volunteers.

What role should religious organizations and faith communities play in food justice work?
I think a lot. As we have demonstrated with Repair the World, outreach to faith based organizations is instrumental to what we do. The common thread between all religions – whether you belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque – is a base message to do good. We offer an easy way to plug in and do that.

Repair Interview: Naomi Friedman Rabkin on Food Justice at the Leichtag Foundation

Here at Repair the World we’re celebrating National Volunteer Month and the change makers and thought leaders who make the world a better place. Recently we caught up with Naomi Friedman Rabkin, who is the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Leichtag Foundation in Southern California. (That’s her in the photo hanging out with Jewish Food Justice Fellowship Director, Rabbi Andy Kastner.)

She launched Leichtag’s wonderful new Jewish Food Justice Fellowship, is helping to create a vibrant working ranch (complete with a farm, an edible forest, and a vineyard!) for the foundation, and is meanwhile building strong, socially-active Jewish community in her community. She also is a lifelong service learning-junkie, and proud of it! Learn more of her story here:

What inspired you to get into the service and social change field?
I was raised in a family where people’s professions focused on helping others – as educators, activists, and social workers. My grandmother was one of my biggest inspirations. She was a proud socialist and a teachers union organizer. Some of my earliest memories are of her taking me to Pete Seeger concerts and anti-nuclear marches. That really oriented me to believe that people’s work was very much tied to doing good in the world.

In college in Washington DC, I got involved with service learning. All of my coursework had some service component. For example, if I was taking a women studies class and learning about violence against women, I volunteered at a battered women’s shelter. It captivated me, and from then on I got hooked into that approach to learning and experiencing the world. I ended up going to Israel and participating in Project Otzma where we did very intense service work. That spring boarded me towards focusing on Jewish service learning right as that concept was first coming into its own. Now Jewish service learning is fairly common, but back then it was new and all of these amazing programs like Avodah and AjWS were just beginning.

How has the field of service learning changed in the Jewish world over the last decade?
I think the focus is shifting, or at least the terminology is changing. There hasn’t been a departure from teaching teens and young adults about doing good, but it has become more focused. Instead of service learning broadly defined, you’re seeing programs focus on specific things like immigration, the environment, or organizing against homelessness.

What drew you to join the Leichtag Foundation?
The path started while I was in Atlanta volunteering with Hazon. Since being a participant in Otzma, I hadn’t really thought about how Jewish communal life could enhance my life. But with Hazon I was helping to develop a CSA and organize people in the Jewish community around food issues. During that time I developed a loving and unified community in Atlanta, and I started to expand beyond the CSA to create larger scale environmental and food events.

When my family moved to San Diego I had the opportunity to meet with the executive vice president at Leichtag, Charlene Seidle, and found out that Leichtag was planning to purchase a piece of land to develop food and environmental programs. I hadn’t worked for a foundation before, but I was excited about their mission and they were excited about my background and experience in the Jewish food world. It’s really a dream come true to work at a foundation that has the vision of creating a vibrant community and a farm.

Tell me more about Leichtag’s Jewish Food Justice Fellowship?
We are in our first cohort now – they started last September and will stay with us for 15 months. We wanted to invest in people in their early to mid-20s who had already gotten their feet wet in the worlds of environmentalism and agriculture and help them grow while contributing to the community. They work for food justice-related organizations for 25 hours a week doing everything from leading the North County Food Policy Council to working in an afro-ecology center. Additionally, they consult with local Jewish schools, synagogues, and senior care facilities to help build gardens or do other agriculture-related programs. And they spend 10 hours a week at the ranch developing programs, working on our composting system, planning an edible forest, and helping conceive of and lead conversations around the farm planning process.

The Leichtag Foundations Jewish Food Justice Fellows with Mark Bittman

The Leichtag Foundations Jewish Food Justice Fellows with Mark Bittman

How can people get involved?
They should check out our website and the fellows also have their own website. And if people are in the area, they should absolutely come see the ranch. We do public tours a few times a month. There is so much going on there, and it is a fantastic place to visit.

Repair Interview: Sonni Bendetson on Moishe House and Repair the World’s Partnership

Since 2011, Repair the World and Moishe House have worked together to create a culture of service and combine Moishe House’s communal living model with social action. At the helm of this exciting partnership is Sonni Bendetson, the Director of Repair the World Programming and Alumni Engagement for Moishe House.

As an awesome Repair the World partner, Sonni spends much of her days supporting all 50 Moishe House locations in dreaming up, creating and delivering inspiring, impactful service programs for house members and their wider communities. Recently, Sonni took a few moments to share with us where her own passion for service comes from, how she helps Moishe Houses do their work, and why she thinks Jewish tradition and a commitment to the world go hand-in-hand.

Tell me more about your background with service.
Service was a big part of my college experience, and it played a role in dictating what kind of career choices I made after. I was involved with a lot of education-focused activities including an after-school tutoring program I started for a child with special needs who was not getting the support he needed in school. I was also involved with a writing fellowship at Tufts, helping students with their writing.

Through that fellowship, I got involved with the Clemente Course in the Humanities at Bard College, which is a program that enables low-income adults to take classes in literature, art history, philosophy and other humanities courses taught by amazing professors. I worked with students on their writing and did tutoring and small group work. I noticed that lots of the students wanted to write about their own stories – and many of them had these amazing life stories to share. So I started a special course for women that taught essential writing skills through creative memoir writing. I created a curriculum based around short stories by different women authors who had similar backgrounds to the students. At the end of the course, we put together an anthology of their writing – it was a powerful and wonderful collection.

Where does your interest in education and working with people with disabilities stem from?
They have both always been passions of mine. Education was strongly valued in my family. I think a lot of that comes from Jewish culture’s focus on the importance of education. And I have a brother with a disability – he is hard of hearing – so that likely brought those issues to my attention as a kid.

How did you start working for Moishe House and Repair the World, and what drew you to their missions?
After graduating in 2009, I worked for a Jewish organization in Boston called Gateways that focuses on increasing access to Jewish education for children with special needs. I worked there on both the programming and communication sides. When I moved to San Francisco this past summer, I wanted to keep working in the Jewish community, and the position with Repair the World and Moishe House seemed like a great fit. I had had such wonderful experiences with service personally, and I loved the idea of opening other people’s eyes to service and how rewarding it can be.

What is your specific role?
I have a two-pronged job. I’m the director of alumni engagement for Moishe House – it’s a brand new program, and I’m excited to be able to help build it as we grow. I’m also Moishe House’s director of Repair the World programming, which means I support all of our houses in creating service programming. We are working to develop a strong culture of service across Moishe House. So I help all 50 Moishe House locations identify issues they are collectively passionate about, offer guidance to help them create effective service programs, and connect them to one another so they can inspire and help each other.

Additionally, two Moishe House locations – in Chicago and Detroit – are specific Repair the World Moishe Houses. They are just like regular houses except instead of doing one Repair the World service program every three months, they put on 5-6 service programs each month. Those two locations serve as centers of service for young adults, and the residents all have incredible service backgrounds.

What are some examples of service programs Moishe Houses have done?
Our house in Portland recently hosted a three-part program for Sukkot. It started with a build the sukkah event where a bunch of people came over to the house to build, then held a discussion about hunger, homelessness, and food justice. The second event invited people to sleep outside as a way of furthering the conversation about homelessness. Then they partnered with a local organization to put together care packages for people experiencing homelessness in their community. The three-part approach was designed to build on itself, draw connections between Sukkot and these themes, and make the end service action more meaningful.

At the Chicago House, which just opened in September, they have already piloted two ongoing direct service programs. They partner with Lydia Home, an organization for children in the foster care system. They also partner with a homeless shelter where they prepare a meal for 40 people and then sit and eat the meal with them. That way it is not just about dropping off food or serving it, it builds real relationships. We definitely encourage houses to do ongoing service programs, so they can make a sustained impact in their community.

How do you personally connect Jewish tradition and values with service?
For me service and giving back to your community are among the most central themes of Judaism. Everything in Judaism, from the teachings and the customs, to the different traditions, have such an underlying theme of respecting and caring for other people. Being informed, aware, and responsive to the world around me is a big part of my Jewish identity.

 

FINDING A HOUSE OF OUR OWN

Everyone has that one place where they feel happiest and most comfortable.

For me, it is an old car factory on Holden Street, which is now used as the city of Detroit’s recycling center, Recycle Here! I stand there every Saturday morning welcoming recyclers, answering questions and collecting zip codes.

But it was in front of my favorite space that I found the perfect place to live.

I spent three months this summer scouring Detroit’s real estate listings with three soon-to-be housemates. We were looking for a place to call home for not just ourselves, but the new Repair the World-Moishe House, where for the next year we will work to build a community for young Jews by creating a home-base for service and volunteerism — and of course socializing.

Finding a house is never easy. This is the ninth time I’ve tried, and it had unique challenges. For one, none of us were living in the same city when we found out we had been selected to live in the Repair the World-Moishe House. (Over the course of our search, I believe the four of us were in the same country at the same time for a total of four days.) And in our separate corners, each was incredibly busy on our own with jobs that let us do a little good in this world.

I run Green Living Science, a nonprofit that works to help mobilize action and education around environmental issues in Detroit.

Besides trying to communicate over different time zones, we found out that it isn’t that easy to find a house to rent in Detroit with four bedrooms, plenty of space for Shabbat dinners, and a surrounding community with the infrastructure ready to tap into for planning volunteer and service projects.

Thankfully, a little serendipity stepped in.

Green Living Science works with the nonprofit Recycle Here!, the city of Detroit and Detroit Public School’s Office of Science to bring recycling services to some 20 local schools for the first time as well as in-class and after school lessons that teach students about recycling and environmentally sound waste disposal.

That means that I have a close association with about 2,000 students, teachers and community leaders — and the great advantage of talking to more than 500 different Detroit residents every Saturday.

It was on one of these Saturdays in front of Recycle Here! that I started telling a recycler named Tony about the same thing I talked to everyone about at the time: my search for the perfect house.

It turned out that Tony was looking to rent the other side of his duplex in Woodbridge, a historic district full of beautiful mansions and large front porches perfect for meeting neighbors.

It was the first neighborhood I lived in when I first moved to Detroit in 2007 and nostalgia set in as I started thinking about all the things I loved about the neighborhood, including the diversity, the character of the houses, the library next to Scripps Park, the backyard gardens, the history and the neighborhood pancake breakfast.

But nostalgia gave way to practical thought as my mind started racing about all the different organizations in and near Woodbridge with which we could partner, and about all of community projects in which we could be a part.

Without even seeing it, I knew the perfect house had found us.

By the time you read this, I and my three new friends and housemates (I believe you met Devon on this page last month) will have lived in the house for a little more than a month.

The first couple of weeks spent setting up the house have been a little less magical than the story that brought us to its door. We’re working out logistics, scheduling, deciding who does what chore, who cleans which room and trying to figure out who gets to share what food.

(I’ve been named de-facto house treasurer, responsible for bills and rent.)

By the time you read this next dispatch, we’ll have more fun stories to report, as now we’re also in the midst of planning our first few volunteer projects and social engagements.

So far, our welcome to Woodbridge has been amazing. A number of organizations have already offered to host Shabbat dinner in our home.

We’ll start saying yes as soon as we work out the details — and are actively creating our October calendar of events now.

In October, our real work will begin. We’ll start to partner with local nonprofits on volunteer projects. The first will be with Arts and Scraps, an organization that assembles learning kits for kids. So check our website soon for more details.

In the meantime, we’re going to find time between our day/evening/weekend jobs scavenging to find enough furniture to fill the house, brainstorming volunteer projects, and sometimes even finding time to enjoy the massive garden and koi pond in the backyard of our perfect service house.

Rachel Klegon runs Green Living Science and is a resident of the new Repair the World-Moishe House in the Woodbridge area in Detroit.

The Soul of Service: The new Repair the World-Moishe House in Detroit aims to build a community of volunteerism

Devon RubensteinI should be long gone from Michigan by now. Like most New Yorkers who move here to attend school in Ann Arbor, I had no intention of staying.

Still, after graduating last December, I couldn’t bring myself to leave. First, I chalked it up to not wanting my college experience to end and not wanting to leave my friends, my house and, of course, Michigan athletics. But as I watched most of my friends and classmates pick up and move, I realized it was more than that. Michigan had become a part of me.

That’s why I’ll spend the next year of my life immersed in helping the heart of Michigan — Detroit — and joining one of the Jewish world’s most innovative new ventures: a residence dedicated to building a community of volunteerism.
This past week, I moved, along with three other 20-somethings, into a Repair the World-Moishe House in the Woodbridge area in Detroit. We didn’t know each other much beforehand, but we share a common desire to make a difference in the world.

The idea is simple, really: We want to build a center for volunteerism for other young Jews like ourselves. That’s why we will be inviting anyone we know — and anyone they might know — to join us for both social and service-related events and activities.

The House is an amazing chance for us to put into practice our ideas about helping others and activism, and to build something concrete around what for many our age may seem like a nice — but abstract — idea.

Devon in front of Repair the World-Moishe HouseI got to understand the power of volunteerism when I was 16. I met Rodney, an 8-year-old boy who had recently lost both of his parents, and I had the honor of mentoring him through the Salvation Army Daycare in Hempstead, N.Y.

Since then, volunteerism has been a constant for me, whether it’s working with preschoolers at Head Start in Ann Arbor or setting up window displays at the Ten Thousand Villages in Austin, Texas.

In college, I learned about Detroit from textbooks and the news. Academically, I understood the city’s ups and downs. But it wasn’t until I took the last elective I needed for my public policy degree that I really embraced Detroit for all these ups and downs and started to connect my past volunteerism with a new passion. I realized that I wanted to help Detroit.

As I learned about incredible service opportunities here, for the first time I saw a career in helping others. I realized that if I really want to follow my heart and actually make a difference, this is the place to be.

This Repair the World-Moishe House project is designed for people like me.
My new friends and I, the residents of the Repair-Moishe House, will each have full-time day jobs. And in our spare time, we’ll work to encourage others our age to volunteer to help Detroit.

I’ll be working with underprivileged communities through AmeriCorps VISTA; Brad Snider will continue his urban development work in Mexicantown; Rachel Klegon will continue to run the nonprofit Green Living Science; and Josh Kantor will work with NEXTGen engagement at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

(In the coming months, they’ll each share with you in these pages more about their initiatives, thoughts and experiences. And, of course, we’ll give you updates about how the house is progressing.)

We spent most of the summer searching for a four-bedroom house in a neighborhood that is both accessible to young people and that would provide a solid home base for service projects.

After weeks of dead ends, we found the perfect house in the perfect location at 4446 Commonwealth St. in Woodbridge.  I can count the number of times I’ve been to Woodbridge on one hand. But it’s exactly what we wanted — a diverse and dynamic community anchored by organizations like the Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corporation and Woodbridge Community Youth Center (WCYC), with which we will work closely.

We’re not sure exactly what all of our service projects will look like down the road, or what projects, programs and partnerships will fill our Repair-Moishe House.But we are starting close to home with our first volunteer event: Painting the batting-cage room in the WCYC to make it resemble a baseball stadium.
From there, we hope to create sustainable partnerships with other groups both in Woodbridge and broader Detroit to make a positive difference here.

I’m excited, and I embrace our House’s mission to mobilize Jewish young adults toward service in Detroit. Because, while I may still have a slight New York accent, and I’ll probably always say “soda” instead of “pop,” there is something about this place — its rich history and tremendous potential — that makes me proud to now call it home.

Devon Rubenstein works with underprivileged communities through AmeriCorps VISTA and is a resident of the new Repair the World- Moishe House in the Woodbridge area in Detroit.

A Story in the Tapestry: Revamping the Concept of Repairing the World

This post was written by Analucia Lopezvoredo, and originally published in the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation blog on July 26th, 2012.

Analucia LopezrevoredoAnalucia Lopezrevoredo is a resident of the Moishe House in Portland, Oregon. Moishe House is an international organization providing meaningful Jewish experiences to young adults in their twenties through home-based communities. Moishe House recently partnered with Repair the World to host a retreat on Jewish service-learning. Repair the World is an organization that is working to build a movement to make service a defining element of American Jewish life, learning and leadership. This post is a reflection on that retreat.

The term “tikkun olam” has become synonymous with social justice and social action. As Jews, our goal is to fulfill the idea of “repairing the world” by serving communities in need. Though this notion is far from new (dating back to classical rabbinic literature in Lurianic kabbalah), many Jews still find themselves unable to truly connect with this concept. As residents of Moishe House, our goal is to facilitate the fulfillment of “tikkun olam” on a micro and macro level for young Jewish adults in our respective communities. With the help of both Moishe House International and Repair the World, residents of various Houses came together a few weeks ago to critically discuss ways to effectively create service-learning programs.

As someone who feels strongly connected to my local and global community, I’ve never had to convince myself to do service in my free time. It has always been a priority of mine, and something that has helped define who I am. It was no surprise that the majority of people in attendance were similarly committed to the pursuit of social justice and structural change. Hailing from nine different states, retreat participants brought with them diverse experiences, which made for a dynamic weekend. It did not take long to realize, however, that we’ve all struggled to get members of our communities to engage in our service programs. Service, we realized, does not mean the same thing to everyone, and to many, our House events are primarily social or cultural. People come to our programs to meet new folks, reconnect with old friends, and celebrate cultural events and holidays. While these factors help explain why service-learning events have not been amongst our most popular programs in the past, the truth is that service is often a difficult activity in which to engage.

When asked, many people would probably agree that service is something they’d like to do more often. And yet, it calls for people to step out of their comfort zone, give up precious free time and often work with people they don’t know. For some introverts (and even some extroverts), this can be awkward and has the potential to tarnish one’s perception of their role in taking action. As Moishe House residents, we understand how important it is to connect with others. People continue to come to our events because they feel welcomed and feel as if they belong to a community. With this in mind, I realized that in order to revamp our service programs we must first revamp how they are perceived.

For the most part, our Shabbat dinner events are the most popular programs we host. This is partially because they are laid back, but also because people strive to feel and stay connected with others. Giving service-learning events a social twist might be what we need in order to attract our ever-enthusiastic communities to our “tikkun olam” events. If people start to see all of our events as opportunities for community building, then the need to constantly recruit service-minded individuals may become obsolete. We can make Sunday afternoons of service a tradition and the “learning” component of the programs can be combined with a post-service discussion over a delicious meal or drinks. Whatever we choose to do, there is only room for our service programming to grow.

The sessions at the retreat were fantastic. Presenters like Marilyn Sneiderman, the Executive Director of AVODAH, and Will Berkovitz, Senior Vice President of Repair the World, challenged us to think critically about service projects that inspired us, as well as those that turned us away. As a group we shared our fears, goals and triumphs, and most importantly built a strong support network that will continue to be a part of our organization’s success.  Our natural environment was crucial in our takeaway.

Though excruciatingly hot for most of us, our free time was largely spent exploring the grounds of the enchanting Pearlstone Retreat Center. A night hike concluded our time at the Center, and the unforgettable East Coast storm on June 29th that knocked down trees and power lines reminded us all of how small we were in the hands of the almighty. In the end, the retreat was grand in content but (sadly) short in time. We parted ways at Baltimore Harbor, but not before culminating the weekend by volunteering our time at Living Classrooms, a non-profit educational organization that “inspires young people to achieve their potential through hands-on education and job training, using urban, natural, and maritime resources as ‘living classrooms.’” Our time with Living Classrooms sealed our bond with a service-learning experience. Though it was undoubtedly difficult to say goodbye to my new friends, I smiled knowing that soon enough we would meet again with stories of success.