This article originally appeared on JewishMiami.org on July 8, 2019.
Join Greater Miami Jewish Federation and Repair the World Miami for service at Camillus House.
This article originally appeared on JewishMiami.org on July 8, 2019.
Join Greater Miami Jewish Federation and Repair the World Miami for service at Camillus House.
The original text of this article appeared today in The Forward. Mordy Walfish is Vice President for Programs at Repair the World. Learn more about Repair the World’s campaign for racial justice here.
I spent Yom Kippur this year dipping pork chops in olive oil, preparing lunch for the clients of St. John’s Bread and Life, an amazing anti-poverty organization in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
It marked a significant transformation from my upbringing: growing up in one of the few religious households in a Conservative synagogue in Hamilton, Ontario, my family held a certain disdain for “three-times-a-year Jews” – people who only showed up at synagogue on the High Holidays. My family, along with a few dozen other devoted people, would come to synagogue week-in-week-out, sometimes struggling to get a minyan. Each year as the fall rolled around, I would watch in amazement as the synagogue maintenance staff opened up the social hall of Beth Jacob Synagogue to provide overflow capacity to the 600 people who appeared on Yom Kippur. “Where were these people all year?” I wondered. “And why were they coming out of the woodwork today?”
As my relationship to Judaism changed and evolved over the years, I began to find more meaning outside the walls of the synagogue, in particular through the pursuit of social justice. And in recent years I have found myself as one of those three-times-a-year Jews. As I sat in synagogue two Yom Kippurs ago, I wondered what I was doing there. Shouldn’t I be spending this punctuating moment in a way that is more consistent with who I am in the world?
Last year I decided to grab a few friends to spend the day volunteering with me at St. John’s Bread and Life. It was a different kind of Yom Kippur service. And as we did last year, this year we prepared and served breakfast and lunch to hundreds of clients and spent a good deal of time just chatting – with the volunteers, staff and clients of SJBL. The experience felt meaningful, and a good use of our time and Yom Kippur day. But spending my day with real people, enduring poverty and other forms of oppression, served as an important reminder to me: The poor and hungry of this city do not exist for me to have a meaningful Jewish experience. The wealth and poverty gaps in this country are a stain on all of us – and a call to action that we cannot in good conscience ignore.
And with the words of Isaiah from the Yom Kippur haftorah ringing in my ear (“Is this not the fast I will choose….to share your bread with the hungry… “), I reflected on my own life and service over the past year. I am no hero for spending my Yom Kippur volunteering, and I know enough to know that this experience has little effect unless I keep coming back.
Though I spend my days working behind the scenes to foster a deep culture of meaningful service in the Jewish community with Repair the World, in many ways I am a “three times a year” volunteer; over the past year I’ve volunteered fewer than a dozen times. Each time I have volunteered at SJBL, I have been humbled by the daily “minyan”-goers – the staff and volunteers who are there day-in-day-out, no matter the weather, no matter the holiday. And I wonder why I haven’t done better. And how I can do better. How much more useful I will be when I understand the kitchen at SJBL as well as I understand my own. This Yom Kippur service is only useful if it’s a wake-up call, to do better, to be better.
Most of the clients at SJBL are people of color, as are most of the staff and volunteers. The boundaries between them are often porous – many of the staff and volunteers are former clients. It’s hard to volunteer and not ask how and why our broken food systems disproportionately affect people of color (for example, of the 50 million food insecure people in the US, 10.6% are white). I’ve been thinking a lot about service in the context of racial justice and the work that I do with Repair the World. I am painfully aware that service is not going to solve racism. Structural racism is deeply embedded into every system that makes this country function. But I do think that service has a role to play.
Though so many of us good-intentioned white folk consume and post all the right media, sign all the right petitions, and show up at all the right rallies – trying not to take up too much space – all too often we don’t actually have real relationships with those who experience the consequences of interpersonal and structural racism on a daily basis. Some of us have never had a conversation with someone who fears for their life if they run a red light and is pulled over by the cops; some of us have never talked about the Mets with someone whose unarmed father was shot by the police. We’ve never broken bread with someone whose mere presence – by virtue of the color of their skin – seems to evoke the fear of so many others.
Service across communities can open this door, even as it also, and importantly, reinforces the experiential gap that whites and people of color face daily in this country. It forces us to listen to each other’s stories, no matter how painful, no matter how much we may want to repress them.
And while the fight for dismantling racism is happening – and needs to happen – at every level – people are hungry and we need to work tirelessly to get them the food they need to not only survive but also thrive.
As Yom Kippur ends and the gates of heaven close, and with the pork marinade still stuck to my shoes, I pledge to do better in the year ahead.
A table reserved at a nearby Chinese restaurant (or takeout on its way to your place): check. Tickets to the blockbuster movie at your local cineplex (or a full Netflix queue): check. With all due respect to the traditional Jewish Christmas celebration, why not bring your celebration to the next level – by volunteering? From lending a hand at a soup kitchen and wrapping presents for those in need, to visiting with seniors and engaging in political activism, there are plenty of ways to pitch in on the annual Jewish “day off.” Here are a few ideas to get you started.
New York City New York Cares is an amazing site that offers fantastic volunteer opportunities throughout the year, including the Christmas season. Check out their website to plug in, or donate a gently worn winter coat for someone in need as part of their annual coat drive.
Pittsburgh Join Repair the World’s Pittsburgh-based fellows, and a bunch of other wonderful folks, for the Jewish Federation Mitzvah Day on Dec 24 and 25. Each of the volunteer opportunities are based off of a traditional Jewish value like committing acts of loving kindness (g’milut chasadim) and caring for the sick (bikur cholim).
Los Angeles Join members of IKAR, a social justice-minded synagogue community in LA for a morning spent preparing and serving breakfast for women and children living in transitional housing.
Baltimore Spend Christmas Eve and Day being a part of the 10th annual Mitzvah Day hosted by Jewish Volunteer Connection.
Washington DC Every year, the DCJCC organizes an epic day of service on December 25. There are tons of ways to get involved this year at D25 – find one that works for you.
Chicago Want to make a difference by organizing at a food pantry? Sorting inventory at Random Acts of Flowers, which recycles and repurposes flowers to be delivered to patients in healthcare facilities? Volunteer at a holiday party for seniors? Find out how at JUF’s Mitzvah Mania page.
London Live across the pond (from Repair the World’s NYC offices, anyway) in London? Join Light up a Life, a 10 day volunteer-a-thon with more than 1,000 activities to choose from. From Dec 23-Jan 1, plug in and make a difference.
Know of other great volunteer opportunities this holiday season? Let us know in the comments or by tweeting @RepairtheWorld.
Do you remember the last time you read something that truly inspired you? In today’s Internet onslaught of cute penguins, “top 10 reasons you’re…” lists, and click bait celebrity gossip, it can be difficult to dig up truly meaningful media. That is why we at Repair the World find ourselves turning so often to Co.Exist – a spinoff site of Fast Company that focuses solely on impactful, well-reported stories about the environment, health care, transportation, and other critical tikkun olam-related issues.
Recently, we chatted with Co.Exist’s senior editor, Ariel Schwartz, to get an inside look at what makes Co.Exist tick, and get her take on the role that the media and journalism can, should (and shouldn’t!) play in social change.
When did Fast Company launch Co.Exist and what was the inspiration behind creating it?
We launched Co.Exist two and a half years ago and are one of a few spinoff sites for Fast Company. (There’s also Co.Design, Co.Create, and Co.Labs.) The original impetus was to expand the coverage of sustainability reporting we were already doing online and make the mission much broader. In addition to sustainability, we also cover health care, transportation, cities and urban issues, and food-related issues. Having our own site gave us the opportunity to focus more on stories that may have not been within the purview of Fast Company.
What are some favorite stories you have personally worked on?
One story that felt pretty impactful was around the news that Intel is phasing out the use of conflict minerals in their microprocessors. I was able to interview the CEO for the post, and found it to be really inspiring. It is a story with a much broader impact – not just on consumers, but on workers around the world. Whenever a tech company makes an announcement like that it’s a big deal, but this was a particularly significant commitment that has larger ramifications.
Personally, I have been in Brazil for the past couple of weeks reporting on stories related to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals on poverty. One of my favorite stories from the trip is about female condom use and how education has been really important there. Brazil is one of the few countries that gives away free condoms. I got to speak with a couple of women in poor areas of Recife who are championing the movement, found them to be really inspiring.
How did you first start working at Fast Company, and what drew you to their vision?
Before I worked at Fast Company full time, I wrote freelance stories for them. I mainly focused on clean technology issues because I have always been interested in environmental issues. From there, I started expanding my beat and covering a wide range of topics and eventually I came on board. I was part of the visioning process for Co.Exist and it has been great to see how quickly the site has grown and had some impact.
What role do you think the media and journalists play in social change?
I think a big part of it is spreading information. My personal opinion is that it is also important to make sure the stories do not just go to a base of people who already agree. That can be really easy to do, especially on the internet which can be an echo chamber. We are pretty lucky because Fast Company has a diverse reader base, so we get a lot of people reading our stories who might not otherwise think about climate change’s impact on their lives, or the ramifications of not having enough public transportation. We are not an advocacy organization, so we do not really do calls to action in our stories. I think the best journalism never does that. But if the things we publish inspire people to do that, then I think that’s great.
Check out all of Ariel’s great posts on Co.Exist’s website.
Since 2005, Masbia – a soup kitchen in Brooklyn – has been providing hot, nutritious, kosher meals for Jewish families in need and the broader community. In the last year alone, they provided more than 800,000 meals, engaging hundreds of regular and one-time volunteers along the way.
Recently, Masbia got some much deserved love from NationSwell. They write: “Dignified surroundings, and healthy, comforting meals, raise Masbia above the standard, a welcome reminder that seeking help with food doesn’t have to be a gloomy affair.”
Check out their video, and meet their awesome chef, below, then read the whole article over at Nation Swell.
Each winter, everyone seems to get into the giving spirit – which is great! There are a ton of ways to make the world a better place – like making an end-of-year donation to an organization you care about, volunteering at a soup kitchen.
But maybe you’re in the mood to change things up and do something different? If so, we’ve got you covered. Here are 5 unconventional ways to give in this season of giving.
Donate Your Old Phone. MTV Act and DoSomething.org are running an awesome campaign to let you donate your own cell phone and help survivors of domestic abuse.
Donate Your Hair. Got lovely long tresses? There are lots of organizations that let you donate your locks to make wigs for cancer patients, and other people experiencing medical hair loss. Check out these organizations to get started.
Donate Your Artistic (or Volunteering) Talent. Life Beat’s Hearts & Voices program organizes artists to perform for people living with AIDS in healthcare facilities throughout New York City. Got talent to share? Volunteer to play, sing, dance, or perform. Or, volunteer to help set up and run the events – no musical skills required.
Got another untraditional way to give? Let us know in the comments or by tweeting @repairtheworld!
It’s that time again: coat drive time! According to New York Cares, 90% of homeless adults need a new, warm coat each winter because they have no place to keep one over the summer months. That means, coat drives play an important role every year in making sure everyone has equal access to warm clothing during the colder months.
So dig into your closet and find any and all gently used, unwanted coats and donate! Here are a few coat drive opportunities across the country:
New York Cares’ Coat Drive: Help this New York City-based organization collect 200,000 winter coats through February 7 to help New York City families who are living in poverty keep warm.
One Warm Coat: This national organization helps individuals and local charities organize coat drives for men, women and children in need. They’ve helped distribute close to 3 million coats since 1992. Help them do even more!
Clothes4Souls: This national clothing donation organization teamed up with outdoor retailer, The North Face, this holiday season. Through December 24, bring your gently used clothing and coats to participating North Face retail locations and help give the gift of warmth.
Do you know about a local coat drive in your neighborhood or city? Let us know by tweeting @repairtheworld.
Blue jeans may have originally been designed for cowboys to wear while wrangling steer at the rodeo, but today just about everyone wears denim. Including toddlers. And teachers. And even The Duchess of Cambridge. So whether you consider yourself a fashionista or fashion-clueless, chances are you have an extra pair of jeans (or 5) taking up space in your dresser drawer.
Luckily, the people at DoSomething.org have figured out a way to help you clean out your closest while doing some serious good. They’ve teamed up with Aeropostale for the seventh annual Teens for Jeans campaign – an project that enables people all across the country to donate their gently used denim to benefit teenagers who are homeless. Turns out, there are 1.7 million teenagers living without a home in America. And the number one item they request in shelters is – you guessed it – jeans.
Here’s how you can help make a difference: Now through February 10, drop off your extra blue jeans (make sure they are in good condition – clean and free of rips or holes, unless they’re styled to be that way!) to any Aeropostale store. You’ll be doing something good – and as thanks for your donation, Aeropostale will give you a coupon for 25% off a new pair of jeans for every pair you donate.
Feeling extra motivated? Organize a blue jean drive at your high school, college, synagogue or community center and encourage other students and friends to join you in donating their denim. The school or organization that collects the most pairs of jeans will win a whopping $10,000!
Are you involved with Teens for Jeans? Tell us about it in the comments below or by tweeting us at @repairtheworld.
by Devon Rubenstein and Emily Phillips
For our most recent Destination Detroit, we partnered with Davison, a Detroit elementary and middle school known for its dedicated teachers and creative curriculum. For a testament to Davison’s commitment to education, look no further than Judy Robinson, who recently retired after teaching kindergarten at Davison for 39 years, still volunteers there, and was integral to bringing Destination Detroit to her school.
Davison has attracted a large population of Detroit and Hamtramck’s recent immigrants from Bangladesh. (More on Hamtramck below.) and attracts a large population of Bengali students. The diversity of both the Davison and MSU students enriched everyone’s experience, but the day’s theme — Science Rules! — showed us we had more in common than we thought.
Room One: Ecosystem Art!
How could college volunteers and elementary school students who’d never met before create individual works of science-themed art that would then be combined to beautify the school? Enthusiastically, it turns out. Each grade tackled an ecosystem — ocean, desert, and forest — with students and volunteers decorating their own sheets using found objects like pine needles, cotton balls, paper bags, and shiny fragments from old CDs (ones we feverishly broke prior with gloves and bolt cutters). While each kid’s picture was great on its own, the truly spectacular part of the project was seeing hundreds of these pictures collaged together and mounted in the hallway.
Room Two: Science Experiments!
Pennies don’t command much respect as currency these days, but they are are great for experiments. 1. Inertia: resting pennies on an index card on a cup and trying to get pennies to drop directly into a cup while only moving the index card. (It’s harder than it sounds.) 2. Chemical Reactions: testing to see whether dish soap or hot sauce (Sriracha, in case you’re curious) would clean the tarnish off pennies. If you’re anything like our friends a Davison, you’ll be amazed by which worked.
Room Three: Food Chain!
Classes created their own ecological rock-paper-scissors with predator, prey and producer — replete with pantomime. For example, lion eats antelope, which eats grass, which survives lion. Elementary and college students faced off repeatedly, transitioning accordingly (i.e. in Lion vs. Antelope, Lion stayed Lion and Antelope became Lion) and learning about ecological balance and interdependence in the most chaotic way imaginable.
Destination Detroit blends service and Detroit experiences in a way that always manages to excite, engage and exhaust everyone. After many hugs and high fives at Davison, the MSU students ventured into the cold for a tour of the amazing work by Powerhouse Productions, including the Ride It Sculpture Park, Sound House and Power House. Then, out of the cold — and, for that matter, out of Detroit — to Hamtramck, a city surrounded by the City. At the Polish Art Center, we learned from residents (experts and authors) about the rich immigrant history that preceded the current wave of Bengalis and Yemenis who now fill many of Hamtramck’s homes and storefronts. And the trip would not have been complete without pierogi, stuffed cabbage and more from Polonia.