Archive for : Repair in the News

Connected Through Service

Stephen Donshik’s article on the Jumpstart study, “Connected to Give,” highlights several key issues and raises a number of key questions. In particular, the following are three big ideas we at The Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies (AJFCA) want to echo from the article and how we have shifted our focus to address these exact needs in the community:

We need to be reaching out and engaging young people (especially graduates of intensive Jewish experiences like birthright israel) in our institutions, educating them on our mission and organizational structure and inviting them to participate in actual decision making at a high-level.

Will this happen overnight? No. Obviously, as Donshik pointed out, we need to invest in leadership development and strengthen the role of volunteers of all ages in our Jewish institutions. AJFCA made just this investment when we partnered with Repair the World to launch our Volunteer Initiative, hiring a dedicated full time professional in February 2012 to elevate the role and impact of volunteering within AJFCA’s member agencies, manage the expansion of outreach to young adults, and increase professional development and support to network volunteer managers. We have created a Community of Practice of approximately 75 agencies throughout North America that share ideas and resources on community volunteer engagement. Our agencies report that support from AJFCA and their peers helps to enhance their strategy for engaging young people in their communities in a meaningful way.

Once we had a strong sense of how our agencies were faring in the area of young adult engagement, we decided to pilot a Young Adult Ambassador program which would provide the structure and resources to allow the Volunteer Manager of three select agencies to focus on young adult recruitment and engagement in service. Although the pilot year is not yet complete, we have already seen significant returns for the participating agencies. For example, Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit had been reluctant to create volunteer programming specifically targeting young adults since the market for such opportunities in Detroit was surprisingly saturated. The Ambassador pilot helped them work through their perceived roadblocks, allowing them to identify ways to partner with existing programs in the community as well as giving more focused direction to the talented young adults who they had already successfully engaged on their board.

As a national association, we are also very interested in how we might partner with the leaders of the intensive Jewish experiences like birthright, Avodah and the new Repair Community Fellows model to connect their alumni with meaningful opportunities in our member agencies to further their Jewish community connection following their life-altering experience.

We need to prove to young adults that Jewish organizations are not just here for the Jews.

This one is easy for AJFCA and our 125 member agencies. Jewish family service agencies are strongly rooted in Jewish tradition and values. Judaism provides the underpinning of our missions and the foundational guide to our services, but not a limit to whom those services may benefit. In fact, more than half of our member agencies serve a client base that consists of at least 50% non-Jews. Collectively, Jewish family service agencies provide a strong Jewish response to human need. Yes, in case of disasters such as Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, our agencies are there to meet the needs of the general community. But every day they are open, they are serving the needs of the general community by caring for the elderly and disabled, the unemployed and addicted Jews and non-Jews alike. There are many recent studies which back up the fact that younger Jews raise this up as a core value. We need to make them aware that the Jewish family service agencies can connect them to the service opportunities they are seeking.

We need to be open to innovation in our organizations, no matter how large or historic the agency might be.

One of the aspects of institutions that actually attracts rather than repels young adults is that the organization is doing innovative work on issues that the young person finds meaningful. The concept of inviting young adults into the board rooms of our agencies might seem innovative to some, but our hope is to make that piece of our initiative old news and focus our innovation on how volunteers are helping our agencies produce value by filling a void or improving a process. This is something we spoke to in detail in the most recent issue of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service on big ideas and bold solutions. Here again, Jewish family services are continually innovating, and we need to publicize widely this opportunity for young people to engage with a Jewish organization in a way that works for them.

We whole-heartedly agree with the points made by Stephen Donshik in his recent piece. We invite Jewish organizations to partner with us in spreading the word to our future Jewish leaders of the many meaningful and relevant opportunities they can find to engage in the Jewish community through their local Jewish family service agency.

Jennie Gates Beckman is Manager of Civic Engagement and Repair the World Programming of the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies (AJFCA), Lisa K. Budlow is the Director of Programs of AJFCA and Lee I. Sherman is the President/CEO of AJFCA.

– See more at:

Jewish Women International’s “Women to Watch”

Lisa Eisen

Working for Systemic Change in Jewish Life


Lisa Eisen knew she would spend her life “working for the Jewish people” as a teenager in 1979 when she spent the summer in Israel. “It was the pivot point in my life, to experience Jews from all over the world building their homeland and forging a strong Jewish future,” she says.

Today, Eisen helps make it possible for thousands of people to “see themselves as part of a dynamic, vibrant Jewish community” as the national director of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Since 2001, she has spearheaded numerous projects for the 25-year-old, multimillion-dollar philanthropic network, which has become one of the leading proponents worldwide of innovative programs for young Jewish adults. Responsible for overseeing the foundation’s support of Hillel, BBYO, Moishe House and other prominent global Jewish organizations, Eisen has also jump-started additional new ventures, including the Israel on Campus Coalition, the Israel Institute, the national service organization Repair the World, and the iCenter, a cutting-edge initiative devoted to Israel education, for which she currently serves as board chair.

“I see myself as working for systemic change in Jewish life,” says the 49-year-old Washington, D.C.-based Jewish activist and innovator. “It’s a privilege to help the Schusterman family realize their philanthropic vision, and I feel an enormous responsibility to get it right.”

With a passion for entrepreneurialism and fulfilling the philanthropic vision of the foundation, Eisen spends her days developing grant-making strategies, helping organizations grow, evaluating the impact of current investments and launching new ventures. “I’ll serve as HR director or fundraiser or PR person until we get the organization staffed up. I’m willing to work hard in any way that’s needed,” she says, and credits the foundation’s co-chairs, Lynn Schusterman and her daughter Stacy, for serving as “inspiring role models. They have shown me that leadership comes down to being authentic and having a strong, clear voice.”

Raised in Louisville, Ky., Eisen also found role models in her parents, who tirelessly volunteered for Israeli and Jewish causes and taught her to fight anti-Semitism. When a boy at her high school called her a “kike, I gave him a piece of my mind and told him he should never use that word again,” she recalls.

Eisen developed her leadership skills through her involvement with the youth groups BBYO and USY, where she served as her local chapter’s president. As a history major at Yale University, she became a Jewish and Israel activist, working for Hillel and writing her thesis on U.S. foreign policy during the Yom Kippur War. “I was accused by my professor of being biased toward Israel, and that experience gave me a real passion for making sure that college students can study Israel in a positive, unbiased and multidisciplinary manner,” she says.

During college, Eisen interned for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and later received her master’s degree in Israel and Middle East studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At 28, she became the executive director of Project Interchange, an institute of the American Jewish Committee that organizes seminars in Israel for global leaders. There she became experienced in the dynamics of the Jewish nonprofit world. Always, “I have been grounded in hope, opportunity and optimism for the Jewish future,” she says.

The mother of Ariella, 20, Tamar, 18, and Jonah, 14, Eisen does her best “to carve out sacred space” for her children and husband Mitch. “There’s no such thing as balance,” she admits. “But I want my daughters and other young women to know they can be professionals and leaders and still have a family life. It is important to me to be a role model to them.”

– See more at:—women-to-watch—aspire—jwm?#sthash.jn0Cxl2V.dpuf


— Grants to support Alternative Break programs that help rebuilding efforts  —

NEW YORK, JUNE 3, 2013 — Repair the World, the country’s leading national nonprofit organization mobilizing Jewish volunteers, is offering micro-grants to support alternative break programs that focus on relief efforts in the aftermath of the tornado that recently tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, Oklahoma. The grants are being offered to inspire nonprofit groups to organize alternative break programs to help the battered region recover from the horrific natural disaster that left 24 people dead, destroyed more than 1,200 homes and businesses, and damaged another 10,000.

Alternative breaks are volunteer programs that offer young adults hands-on service-learning opportunities and give them the chance to experience how the integration of service, education and reflection can create a meaningful and positive personal change that can positively affect the communities they serve.

The micro-grants, which will range from $1,000 to $5,000, are being offered to cover costs involved with running alternative break programs such as travel, supplies, staff time and local housing. In addition,

Repair the World will provide participating organizations with service-learning curricula tailored to disaster relief.

To be eligible for the grants, programs:

  • Must be fully committed to engaging young Jewish adults (ages 13-35) in disaster response efforts
  • Commit to at least 200 hours of service (e.g. 20 participants at 10 hours each or some other combination)
  • Should utilize the disaster response service-learning curriculum developed by Repair the World
  • Must be operating under 501(c)3 status or connected with an organization that does

For applications, visit or contact Mordy Walfish at 646-695-2700 x 23 or [email protected].

“When people are enduring the worst of devastations, others must use the best in themselves to help them heal. These grants will enable additional people in the Jewish community to pitch in and help those affected by the tornado during school breaks. We salute everyone putting energy and resources into supporting our fellow citizens in Oklahoma,” said David Eisner, CEO of Repair the World.


Dara Lehon/ Repair the World/646.695.2700 x18/[email protected]

Jacob Berkman /DKC / 212.981.5187/ [email protected]


Repair the World is a national nonprofit organization that mobilizes Jewish Americans to address the world’s most pressing issues through volunteering. Headquartered in New York City, we connect individuals with meaningful service opportunities to help their local, national and global communities, and enable individuals and organizations to run effective programs rooted in Jewish values. For more information, visit Follow us on Twitter @RepairtheWorld.


Community of Service in Boulder County

Bonai ShalomWhat do people serving in the US military, the homeless community, and cats in Longmont have in common? They were all recipients of acts of Chesed (loving kindness) during Boulder’s Community of Service.

This school year, Jewish supplementary schools from around the county are participating in a Community of Service – simultaneous Tikkun Olam projects under the unifying themes of Chesed (loving kindness) and Gevurah (boundary setting and self-care).

One of the core principals of the community of service is that “participants engage in meaningful, authentic service that addresses genuine and unmet community needs”. This ensures that the service outcomes are valued by those being served. Har HaShem’s fifth grade class, made care packages for soldiers living away from their families, followed this principle by inviting a soldier to their class to find out what a soldier would want in a care package.

B’nai mitzvah students from Nevei Kodesh and fifth graders from Bonai Shalom worked with Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow (BOHO) to identify needs and ways they can help. The students at Nevei Kodesh took the lesson even deeper by discussing the difference between helping someone with a donation and examining the root causes of a problem to work toward a long term solution.

There were so many exciting projects happening this year. The cats residing at the Longmont Humane Society received an unexpectedLongmont1gift of catnip toys lovingly made by the students at the Longmont Hebrew School. The students at the BJCC preschool learned about pe’ah, leaving the corners of your fields available for people in need, while they tended their yearly garden. Teens from Hebrew High are volunteering at the Boulder Homeless Shelter after having attended the Panim El Panim Conference in Washington DC where they meet with members of congress on the issue of homelessness. Students in Beth Ami’s Jewish Cultural School worked with Jewish Family Service to provide hand-tied blankets to seniors and donated food to the Weinberg Pantry after learning about the specific needs in those communities.

Mitzvah Dubi, a stuffed bear, learned about mitzvot alongside the kindergarden and first grade Bonai Shalom2students at Bonai Shalom getting to help with chores, take care of family pets, and making food for those who are sick.

Children who are placed in emergency foster care received a decorated shoebox creatively crafted by Bonai Shalom’s second grade class. The third and fourth grade class at Bonai Shalom learned about Pirke Avot when they collected food for the Community Food Share.

All of the projects will be featured at the Boulder Jewish Festival on June 9th. Festival goers can learn more about these projects from displays housed at each organization’s booth and during a brief presentation on the festival stage just before noon.

The students and their teachers utilized principles from Repair The World, “the leading authority on volunteering and service in and by the American Jewish community”, to organize their projects and optimize the service learning components.

According to Rabbi Will Berkowitz, Senior Vice President for Repair the World, Boulder is one of the first cities to implement a Community of Service using their materials and resources. Berkowitz visited Boulder for the 2012 Chidush Teacher Workshop.


In 2012 Repair the World, the leading national nonprofit organization mobilizing Jewish volunteers in the U.S., released a research study, entitled “Serving a Complex Israel: A Report on Israel-based Immersive Jewish Service-Learning,” which highlighted the potential of Israel-based immersive Jewish Service-learning programs (IJSL) to serve as “a core strategy for Israel engagement, demonstrating significant positive gains in connection to Israel and an enhanced sense of connection to other Jews.” This year, Skilled Volunteers for Israel and theConservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem are partnering with Repair to transform the Volunteer and Study program into an immersive Jewish Service-learning program (IJSL). Volunteer & Study was launched in 2012 to enable participants to “live and learn Israel.”

Volunteer & Study (V&S) offers the opportunity to spend 3-6 weeks in the summer in Jerusalem learning at the Conservative Yeshiva and volunteering in a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization. Participants, who range in age from 18 through pensioners, divide their time between formal learning focused on Hebrew language, Jewish text and values, and customized volunteer experiences. The 2013 program has added courses associated with service in the Jewish tradition and strengthened the connections between the program’s service and learning components.

“Serving a Complex Israel” suggests that respondents’ reasons for volunteering often resonated more strongly with universal values (such as “working to make the world a better place is my responsibility as a human being”) than they did with particularistic Jewish values or ideology (such as “I consider working to make the world a better place to be a Jewish act”).

The changes to V&S attempt to offer participants an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between their Jewish values and service. Four V&S courses – Torah in Action, Jewish Theology of Human Rights, Creating Inclusive Communities, and Engaging with Israel – together with reflection activities and a “Torah in Action” themed Shabbat are structured to deepen participants’ understanding of the Jewish tradition and values of service and Tikkun Olam.

V&S’s parallel emphasis on study and service will provide an experience that reinforces the relevance and centrality of service in Jewish tradition while providing the opportunity for participants to engage in service that speaks to their universalistic desire to contribute.

Skilled Volunteers for Israel’s process to identify real community needs for volunteer placements reflects Repair the World’s standards for authentic service. For the service portion of the program, V&S places participants in volunteer positions within Jerusalem-based organizations, and invites leaders from the non-profit sector to present to the Conservative Yeshiva community. Skilled Volunteers for Israel develops the volunteer positions through its network of relationships with Israeli non-profits and its expertise in developing customized volunteer engagements that match the interests and skills of the participants with the needs of the receiving organizations.

Examples of volunteer service done by the 2012 V&S cohort include working with refugee children in a summer kindergarten, facilitating strategic planning for an organization that specializes in inclusionary programming for children with special needs, contributing to the annual report for a social justice organization focused on monitoring fair employment practices, and abstracting interviews for an oral history archive dealing with World War II and holocaust survivors.

The program’s volunteer experience and contact with nonprofit leaders exposes participants to the complex issues and challenges of Israeli society. The “Serving a Complex Israel” study looked at the potential impact of such exposure to Israel’s challenges and problems and found that “in the context of service, such exposure did not weaken participants’ commitment to or interest in the country. On the contrary, connection to the country and its people seems to have been consistently intensified by exposure V&S 2012 participant Gabriella Meltzer, a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate interested in the African refugee issue in Israel volunteered at the Reform Movement’s Beit Shmuel preschool which cares for the children of foreign workers and African asylum seekers. Gabriella’s experience echoes this finding, saying that her “eyes were opened to the issues that children of refugees and their families face while in Israel.”

“Serving a Complex Israel” highlights a few key elements: The importance of Israel experiences within the array of immersive Jewish service-learning opportunities as having the potential to deepen participants’ understanding of and connection to Israel. IJSL programs can be “a significant Jewish experience” for participants, particularly those who come to the programs with less active engagement in Jewish life. It also describes the influence of Israel-based IJSL programs on participants’ service, Israel, and Jewish identities. The findings are most clear on the impact of these programs on participants’ service and Israel identities. Less consistent is the impact on participants’ Jewish practice and attitudes.

The V&S program is designed to maximize impact on participants’ Israel, service and Jewish identities leverages the diverse expertise of the three program partners. The Conservative Yeshiva is an inclusive and egalitarian Jewish learning environment with experience in teaching Jewish text. Skilled Volunteers for Israel specializes in authentic service through customized volunteer placements. Repair the World is an expert in Jewish Service-learning.

Volunteer & Study provides a rich, substantive experience for participants and just as important, a fun and meaningful experience in Israel.

For more information write [email protected] or visit

Marla Gamoran is the Founder and Director of Skilled Volunteers for Israel.

Can Service be a Tool to Engage Next Gen Jews?

Young Jews today have been raised on too much of the “what” of Judaism and not enough of the “why”, contends Rabbi Sid Schwarz in his ELI Talks: Finding the Chosen People in Haiti. This conversation explored this statement as well as many other questions to deepen the conversation about service and Judaism.

Streamed live on Apr 24, 2013

Watch this rich conversation of the potential of service in engaging Generation Y, and if service work is imperative to living a Jewish life. Participants included:
Rabbi Sid Schwarz (Clal)
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz (Uri L’Tzedek)
Rabbi Will Berkowitz (Repair the World)
Abby Levine (Jewish Social Justice Roundtable)

Former Head of Federal Volunteer Agency to Lead Small Religious Charity

David Eisner was a senior executive at the high-flying Internet company AOL in the late 1990s and early 2000s before he was tapped by then-President George W. Bush to run the $1-billion Corporation for National and Community Service.

He left that post in 2008 to make room for the next appointee and moved into the top spot at the National Constitution Center, a federally established museum in Philadelphia with a budget of less than $20-million.

Now, Mr. Eisner has taken the helm of a small religious nonprofit with just over $6-million to spend this year. He is the new chief executive of Repair the World, a New York organization aimed at mobilizing Jewish volunteers across the country.

His career path, he says, reflects a growing trend among people in their 50s and 60s.

“They are moving from success to significance,” says Mr. Eisner, 52, “shifting the size of their portfolio to focus on intensity and outcome.”

Often, he adds, their efforts, like his, are “framed around entrepreneurship and impact.”

Repair the World itself reframed in that mode in 2009, growing out of a mostly moribund one- or two-employee trade association of Jewish volunteer organizations.

The group changed its name from the Jewish Coalition for Services, broadened its mission and programs, and attracted new foundation support. It also introduced itself to Mr. Eisner, hoping to hire him as the first CEO of the repurposed group.

Mr. Eisner demurred, but he says that Repair the World “always stayed in the back of my mind” and that when he resigned from the National Constitution Center last year at the end of his three-year contract, he took notice of the Jewish group’s “strong brand and expertise in the field.”

“I wanted to jump back into the service world,” Mr. Eisner says.

Not only does working with the group allow him to connect more deeply than ever with his Jewish identity, he says, it also gives him a foothold in the broader world of faith-inspired nonprofits.

That might help him find solutions to one of the biggest challenges he says he faced at the Corporation for National and Community Service: Trying to more powerfully link religious organizations into the national service movement.

“If we could make stronger, better, and more sustainable connections on all sides, we’ll create an explosion of capacity in the volunteer field,” he says.

Geoff Lieberthal, chairman of Repair the World’s board, writes in an e-mail that trying to recruit Mr. Eisner again for the top job was “an easy choice.”

“David is a charismatic national leader in volunteering and service, with extensive experience in nonprofit, for-profit, government, and grant-making sectors,” writes Mr. Lieberthal, a principal at Lee Equity Partners, a private equity firm in New York.

“Repair the World has spent its first three years experimenting and growing,” he adds. “Now we are entering an exciting new phase to build a broad-based Jewish service movement and we think David has the track record, depth of knowledge, and experience to take Repair the World to a whole new level.”

In the next 100 days, Mr. Eisner says he is hoping to make two sets of announcements: one about a new strategic plan and another about the group’s plans to diversify sources of revenue.

The four grant makers that gave money to establish Repair the World—the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation—still account for nearly all of its support (88 percent of last year’s budget).

Mr. Eisner sees a strong and passionate audience for Repair the World’s work, ready to be tapped. “We are moving beyond articulating our space and to getting things done,” he says.

Three Days In Motown

J-Serve teens team with BBYO and Repair the World to experience Detroit.

Albaro Aguirre, 9, of Detroit gets a ride from J-Serve volunteer Sierra Stone, 17, of West Bloomfield. (Photos by Brett Mountain)
Albaro Aguirre, 9, of Detroit gets a ride from J-Serve volunteer Sierra Stone, 17, of West Bloomfield. (Photos by Brett Mountain)

It would take three lifetimes to fully comprehend the depths and dynamics of Detroit. But three days immersed in the city provided 13 local Jewish teens, volunteering through J-Serve, the perfect opportunity to investigate and invest.

The itinerary for their service-learning trip, which was coordinated by Repair the World and BBYO, tells the story of a group of young people both serving and expanding their community:

4 p.m. Teens arrive at the Collaboratory, an historic home in southwest Detroit that is now the world headquarters of Summer in the City. Volunteers take their

Brothers Artemio Gonzales, 5, and Gavin Gonzales, 7, of Detroit with J-Serve volunteers Daniel Honet, 15, of West Bloomfield and Jacob Silberg, 15, of Northville
Brothers Artemio Gonzales, 5, and Gavin Gonzales, 7, of Detroit with J-Serve volunteers Daniel Honet, 15, of West Bloomfield and Jacob Silberg, 15, of Northville

unnecessarily large volume of luggage to the recently renovated third floor, where they will be sleeping less than they should. Then they get to work assembling materials for the Winter Games, a free two-day camp for kids in the neighborhood organized by Repair the World.

6 p.m. We dine at Gold ’n’ Greens, Wayne State’s new kosher restaurant. The group enjoys delicious vegetarian fare alongside WSU students and members of the general community who keep kosher or halal — or don’t — but love the all-you-can-eat-for-$8 dinner and self-serve soft serve.

7 p.m. Everyone walks across Wayne State’s campus to the main branch of the Detroit Public Library to explore (and Instagram) the endless rows of books, historic collections and artwork.

9 p.m. Two local community activists, Blair Nosan and Nora Feldhusen, lead a session as part of their new initiative Gesher (“Bridge”), which aims to connect Jewish young adults to Detroit through social and environmental stewardship. The program helps participants explore connections between Jewish Detroit’s past, present and future.

Prina Ortiz, 8, Detroit; Hannah Goodman, 16, West Bloomfield; Abby Cohen, 16, Farmington Hills; Luzmaria Cervantes, 8, Detroit

Prina Ortiz, 8, Detroit; Hannah Goodman, 16, West Bloomfield; Abby Cohen, 16, Farmington Hills; Luzmaria Cervantes, 8, Detroit

9 a.m. J-Serve teens partner up with students volunteering from Detroit’s Western International High School. The Western volunteers are part of buildOn, an organization that runs service-learning and empowerment programs in Detroit and cities around the country. Pairs from J-Serve and buildOn prepare themselves for a mighty challenge — captaining teams of campers for the Winter Games.

10 a.m. Game on! Campers begin flooding into the Latino Mission Society, a community center (just blocks from the Summer in the City House and Western) that has offered to host the Winter Games.

Teams of campers and volunteers create their own countries, replete with name, flag, geography and anthem.

Maldonia, led by Lauren Yellen and Lily Grier, has a tropical climate with small islands named after the campers. Maldonians enjoy surfing, speaking gibberish and reading. Lifeguards, doctors and shark watchers are the primary jobs; dolphins adorn the flag.

Noon After the group eats 18 pizzas (and almost as many carrots), they compete in fast-paced relay races for points and then sing their anthems to determine faux national supremacy.

2 p.m. The campers head home and the volunteers pair off for reflection and dialogue. The conversation’s leaping-off point: grandparents, our relationships with them, the unique role they play in our lives and the common enemies we share.

J-Serve volunteer Abby Cohen, 16, of Farmington Hills works with a group on their “country.”
J-Serve volunteer Abby Cohen, 16, of Farmington Hills works with a group on their “country.”

3 p.m. No trip to the Latino Mission Society would be complete without bowling (and manually setting the pins) on their four-lane basement alley. Irrespective of the geographic, racial and religious differences between the groups, all of the volunteers are comparably poor bowlers in the absence of bumpers.

4 p.m. Volunteers watch a screening of We Are Not Ghosts, a 2012 documentary that shares compelling but often unheard voices of Detroiters as part of a narrative of community self-determination.

 5 p.m. J-Serve heads to the Repair the World Moishe House in Woodbridge to discuss eating Jewishly with Rabbi Ariana Silverman of Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, who lives down the street, and then has dinner with the house’s four residents, who share their experiences living, working, learning and serving in Detroit.

8 p.m. On a roundtrip People Mover ride — the first ever for some — the volunteers enjoy their ironic interaction with a group of riders on their way to the 18th Annual Motor City Tattoo Expo.

 9 p.m. SchmoozeFest. Jewish young adults who live Downtown and in nearby neighborhoods join J-Serve for a party at a Broderick Tower apartment to mix, mingle and enjoy a view that includes the infield at Comerica Park.

One of the distinguished guests, Adam Milgrom, is in the final stages of developing “a super-duper co-working space” in Detroit called, appropriately, An Office in Detroit.

Midnight. A blizzard hits. Snow blankets the city. Blankets blanket the volunteers.

Tiushka Shaday Marquez Olivo, 9, with buildOn volunteer Lydia Maciel, 14, both of Detroit
Tiushka Shaday Marquez Olivo, 9, with buildOn volunteer Lydia Maciel, 14, both of Detroit

9:30 a.m. Anxiety. Will the kids brave the blizzard on their school break to come back to camp?

10 a.m. They came back! Kids shake off layers of coats and snow and don’t miss a beat. One mother shares that her boys literally dragged her out of bed to bring them. Chaos and creativity ensue as campers and volunteers craft their own wizards, with materials from Arts and Scraps, and instill them with all variety of magical powers.

4 p.m. Half of the volunteers don aprons to cook a local-sustainable Shabbat dinner at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. The rest stock up on provisions at Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe for an adventure that includes snow-silent Heidelberg Street and Belle Isle.

7 p.m. Participants Brian Dickstein, Lily Grier and Sierra Stone leap at the opportunity to lead the Kabbalat Shabbat service, which erupts into dance. Twice.

8 p.m. Congregant Ruby Robinson gives the d’var Torah, drawing a lesson for the volunteers from this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Tetzaveh: In the same way that the high priest carried the 12 tribes of Israel on his shoulders and in his heart, as symbolized by the jewels on his epaulets and breastplate, so, too, should we carry our service to and love of Detroit with us wherever we go.

8:30 p.m. We dine at the synagogue on the delicious dinner prepared by the volunteers: winter green salad, kasha with eggplant, kreplach soup with sweet potato stuffing, a trio of hummuses, beet and carrot slaw and, of course, hamantaschen.

9:30 p.m. Walking past the sounds of live music at Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy, the volunteers head home, tired, wired and inspired. 

Students in grades 6-12 from around the community will gather together to volunteer at and learn about organizations making a difference in Detroit. J-Serve projects include gardening, painting, food packing, park clean-up and more.

When? Sunday, April 21, from noon-4:30 p.m. Drop off and pick up at Temple Beth El, 7400 Telegraph Road in Bloomfield Hills.

For more information and to register, visit Pre-registration is required.

Questions? Contact Danny Bittker, program associate, BBYO Michigan Region: (248) 432-5686 or [email protected]; or Jodie Gross, associate director of education and youth at Adat Shalom Synagogue: (248) 626-2153 or [email protected].


Do Alternative Breaks Have a Real Impact?

Each year, more than 2,000 college students and other young adults participate in immersive Jewish service-learning (IJSL) Alternative Break (AB) programs that are run by nearly a dozen organizations. Repair the World’s new study, “Breaking for Change: How Jewish Service-learning Influences the Alternative Break Experience,” investigated the short-term impacts of participation, and explored whether there were differential impacts based on demographic characteristics of the participants and based on elements of program design. The study is based off of 1,034 responses from participants from IJSL Alternative Break experiences during the 2009-2010, 2010-2011, and 2011-2012 academic years, and was commissioned as a follow up to one of their studies from 2010, which reported on the impact of AB’s on host communities.

Among some of the key findings, Repair the World found that:

  • Young People Want to Make a Difference and Learn about others: Most young adults tend to participate in Alternative Breaks experiences because they want to make a difference in other people’s lives, to have contact with individuals from different backgrounds and learn about their communities.
  • Alternative Breaks have a strong positive impact on the Jewish identities of respondents. 92% reported positive change related to Jewish identity as a result of their Alternative Break experience. The largest positive shift occurred for participants feeling that that there are many ways to be Jewish and that as a Jew, people have a responsibility for people from all backgrounds. Over 70% of respondents increased their ratings of these items.
  • Alternative Breaks also had a positive impact on the connections between Jewish identities and acts of service. More than 77% reported that they increased their beliefs that their Jewish values contributed to their commitment to service. Over 70% said that they increased their belief that Jewish values and the value of social justice are strongly connected.

To read the Executive Summary of the study, click here and to read the full report, click here.

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 4.41.49 PM

Beyond Birthright: Jewish students return to Israel to do some good

Growing number of post-graduates coming to Israel to dig in their heels in less-than-glamorous locations and do some good.


A new generation of young Jews are coming to Israel to prusue Jewish learning while contributing to, and interacting with, low-income populations. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Masada: check. Jerusalem’s old city: check. Tel Aviv’s nightlife: check. Bedouin tent: check. Yad Vashem Holocaust museum: check. What really is there left to do or see in Israel after a whirlwind, 10-day Birthright trip?

A lot, it turns out – starting with slowing down.

“It’s not that I did not love Birthright when I went on it,” says Samantha Sisisky, a 23-year-old from Richmond, Virginia who raced through, and “got into,” Israel during her senior year of college at the University of Virginia – thanks to the famous free trip that has brought some 320,000 young Jews to Israel in the last 13 years. “I totally drank the Kool-Aid and it was totally awesome.

“And then I was ready to return and see something more real.”

According to Avi Rubel, the North America director of MASA, the joint Jewish Agency and Israeli government umbrella organization that oversees some 200 study, volunteer, internship, adventure and other experiences for young Jewish adults in Israel – these sorts of sentiments are far from unique.

Among the fastest growing post-college programs to Israel today, says Rubel, is the genre of so-called Jewish service learning trips. This is where participants come to Israel, dig in their heels in one, usually less-than-glamorous-location, and try and do some good – while at the same time rooting their experience within the context of social change and Jewish values.

Sisisky, for example, is spending nine months in a low income, predominantly Ethiopian neighborhood in Gedera, a town of some 20,000 residents in the center of the country. She shares a small house with seven other young Americans, takes Hebrew classes – and sets out every day to be an assistant English teacher in the local school, help kids with homework, tutor adults at the community center, and hoe and weed in the community vegetable garden.

Group sessions and lectures tackle such questions as, “What constitutes community, Jewishly, and otherwise,” and “What is one’s role and responsibility to that community.”

“Boring? Sometimes,” she smiles. “But I would not trade it for the world.”

A group of volunteers sitting with members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community in Gedera.

A group of volunteers sitting with members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community in Gedera.Eliyahu Hershkovitz
“Obviously we are not Ethiopian Israelis, but I feel we do become part of the community. We walk around the streets and are invited into our neighbors’ homes. We might work with one kid, and then their older brother, and then with their mom or dad. We have host families. We have a place here.” And, she adds, as if an afterthought, “We also are doing some good.”

“I have found that there are a lot of people who crave a different connection to Israel,” says Dana Talmi, who founded the organization– called Yahel, Israel Service Learning – that Sisisky’s program is part of. Done right, Talmi says, such service-learning experiences can both help repair the world – and ignite the Jewish souls of those who serve.

There have always been many volunteer programs in Israel, Talmi and Rubel will be the first to admit. But if in the past this community work was done as a component of a broader Israel “experience” program, without much coordination with grassroots groups and without being tied into Jewish values and philosophy – the landscape now is changing.

Today, a small but growing number of volunteering programs, as exemplified by Yahel, which Rubel calls MASA’s model “boutique” service learning experience, or BINA, a popular program run by the Jewish Center for Identity and Hebrew Culture, that places North Americans in struggling Tel Aviv neighbors, where many of the African asylum seekers live, are becoming more serious – and finding a successful balance between community impact and participants’ personal development.

Talmi, an Israeli who grew up bouncing between Israel and Europe with her musician parents, returned to live in Israel five years ago, after six years in the United States. There, besides getting a degree in social work from UNC-Chapel Hill, Talmi also worked for the American Jewish World Service, a Jewish values-based international development organization. She spent several years with AJWS taking young Jews on service learning trips to Honduras – and later served as the program officer in charge of all group leading.

Back in Zichron Ya’akov with her Venezuelan-born husband and two young children, with a dream of creating a high level Israel-focused Jewish service learning program, Talmi began reaching out to local social action groups to find partners, and then, reaching out in the other direction, to MASA and organizations like New York City-based Repair the World to form alliances and get funding. The Yahel nine-month program, like almost all of MASA’s longer programs, is heavily subsidized, with participants paying in the range of just $1000 for the entire program.

“What I didn’t want to do is just take kids down to Netivot and have them paint murals on walls,” says Talmi. Working with grass roots organizations, such as, in the case of Gedera, an outfit called Friends by Nature, gave Talmi a sense of what volunteer work was needed, and where these North American youngsters, the majority of whom do not speak Hebrew and do not have much if any professional training, could do actual good.

Yahel participant Benson Ansell, 26, from Arlington, Virginia, admits he is not sure who is getting more out of the program – him or the community. If anything, he would bet it’s him. “I had never felt super connected to being Jewish, even though part of me was always interested,” says Benson, who grew up with a Jewish father and a Christian mother, and spent a year teaching in Philadelphia as part of the AmeriCorps program City Year, and a stint studying abroad in Senegal before considering a trip to Israel.

“But after being here, that has changed,” says Ansell. “I have been amazed by is the diversity of the Jewish people: the history and where they come from. I became aware of minorities and marginalized communities here and it has been a real eye opener.”

Talmi dismisses criticism that programs such as Yahel or BINA expose foreigners to the “dirty laundry” of the country, and a Jewish Agency/Repair the World report released recently shows that, in fact, such exposure to Israel’s more difficult social problems engages, rather than turns off, young people. “There is no need to present a rose-colored version of Israel,” says Dyonna Ginsburg, the Jewish Agency’s director of Jewish service learning. “In fact, the more these young men and women learn about Israel – warts and all – the stronger their connection is to the country, their heritage and their Judaism.”

What’s next for the Gedera gang? “Aliyah is not a goal for us,” says Talmi. “If they stay, great. But really, what we want is for them for have a nuanced relationship with Israel.”

“I am confused now,” admits Jessica Braverman, another Yahel participant. The 26 year old from Atlanta, Georgia with a master’s degree in social work and non-profit management from the University of Georgia, did Birthright in 2009, and felt she had put the requisite “check” in the Israel box.

“I thought I would not come back afterwards. I felt like I had “done it” and was going to move on to bigger and better places,” she says. But, looking for an opportunity to go abroad after her masters, and with one foot out to door to a teaching program in Tbilisi, Georgia, she found herself browsing the MASA website.

“The decision to come here has really changed me,” she says. “I have learned how incredibly complex Israeli society is, and I have also grown a lot Jewishly this year. And now, I flip flop between thinking I will go home after these nine months and move on with my life, and thinking I might like to stay, move to Jerusalem and study some more. I am confused.”

“Confusing them,” concludes Talmi with a laugh. “That is our goal.”