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Archive for : Supporters

Shanna Sabio of GrowHouseNYC: “We envision a world where Black people and their allies are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and experiences to think globally and act locally to build equitable societies.”


(Shanna pictured left with her son Warner pictured right)

We’re so grateful to work with such a dedicated leader, Shanna Sabio of GrowHouse NYC

 

By Shanna Sabio Co-Founder & Executive Director of GrowHouse NYC

GrowHouse International, Inc. (“GrowHouse” or GrowHouse NYC) was created to preserve and grow Black wealth. We define wealth as a multifaceted term that includes abundance of many kinds: talent, intellect, politics, culture, economics, built environment, and natural environment/land.  

We envision a world where Black people and their allies are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and experiences to think globally and act locally to build equitable societies. We support and promote emerging artists and techies of color through travel opportunities, artist residencies, exhibitions, arts-focused events, and very soon, collective ownership of real estate and businesses, building sustainable networks to help retain Black creatives in New York City. 

The idea for GrowHouse began when Warner Sabio, Jr. and roughly a dozen of his friends took over an unfinished duplex in his family’s Bedford Stuyvesant brownstone.  They spent months creating, sharing, and producing music, art, and video.  The space became a hub for young, underground visual artists, musicians, producers and dancers.  It became apparent that most, if not all, of these young men and women of color were in a state of transition − either in between homes, schools, or jobs.  Brimming with creativity, they needed a space that was private and felt like home where they could congregate and create. The brownstone presented a safe, no-judgment zone where they could gather, dream and experiment with art and technology. This space was the first GrowHouse.

Warner and the youth enlisted the help of his mother, Shanna Sabio, to create a more permanent framework for these activities that would allow them to raise funds to support both the physical space and the activities within. Shanna had worked in fashion as a project manager and producer for over a decade, with a focus on education. Illustrating how powerful intergenerational community can be, they began working together to envision GrowHouses that could be created in other rapidly gentrifying communities where people of African descent reside.

GrowHouse NYC has been active for four years, with steady and ongoing expansion. Since 2017, GrowHouse has produced 6 community art exhibits, crafted educational walking tours, and led travel programs to Cuba and Ghana engaging hundreds of Brooklynites each year.  Most recently, we’ve spearheaded the transition of the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition to intentional Black leadership, laying the foundation for community engagement and the formation of a community land trust.

We are located in Brooklyn with relationships throughout the borough and city, as well as throughout the African Diaspora including Cuba, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Panama, and Colombia. Our vision for 2022 – 2023 is to empower Black and their allies to become developers of themselves and their communities through collective ownership and governance of key assets such as real estate, land, essential businesses, and cultural institutions. By the end of 2023, we want to have collective ownership of land/property in Black Brooklyn (Crown Heights, Bed Stuy, Weeksville, Brownsville, and Ocean Hill, Flatbush) to retain Black creatives in Brooklyn.

Donations to support BrowHouse NYC’s work can be made here: https://www.growhousenyc.org/contribute

Check out their IG: @growhousebk

 

This #BlackHistoryMonth Repair the World is highlighting Black-led orgs, service partners who are advancing and centering Diversity Equity and Inclusion work and prioritizing BIPOC leadership in their orgs, and Black Community Leaders that we serve with across our communities. Our impact would not be possible without them. Our Jewish values of solidarity, achdoot, and strengthening each other, hitchazkut, remind us that nothing is possible without meaningful relationships. Our partners and colleagues are critical to our ability to understand and act thoughtfully. When we lift up, celebrate, and appreciate others, we ultimately work towards a stronger outcome.

The Need for Dialogue

Alexandra is a mentor with PeerCorps Pittsburgh and will be facilitating a dialogue on religion-based hate crimes at Repair the World Pittsburgh on December 1st. 

I think I heard gunshots.

When I texted this to my mom, my first thought was that a robbery had gone badly. Or maybe a drug deal. A robbery seemed more plausible, but neither scenario made sense in my quiet, tree-lined Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

Then I heard the sirens. The wailing got louder and louder as ambulances, SWAT vehicles, and patrol cars careened down my street as I watched from my window. My friend texted me that there had been a shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue at the end of my block. I am Jewish. I know people there. My friend lives across the street. I searched the Internet for confirmation. A lone British website was the first to report that, yes, there had been a shooting there—many shots fired, not just one. I soon learned that a man armed with several guns had gone into the Synagogue to kill as many Jews as he could, people who were gathered there for services.

I was in shock. How could this be happening in a country built on the principles of religious freedom and the right to peaceful assembly? How could it be happening in my city, Pittsburgh, ranked as one of America’s most livable? How could it be happening in my neighborhood, one of the most vibrant, diverse, and welcoming Jewish communities in the United States? I am young, but not so naïve as to believe that history has no contradictions or ironies. It is a pattern of zigzags, of forwards and backwards. But this—in 2018, at the end of my street—did not seem possible.

The truth is that this incident was a kind of robbery—a robbery of life, of 11 good people’s identities, of their dignity and potential for doing good, of their right to gather in their synagogue and study scripture. It was a robbery of humanity committed by one man whose ideological and political views were rooted in hatred and prejudice. At first, I felt sick and stunned. Then I felt sad. And then … angry. And then back to sad for all the police officers who got hurt. Then I felt horrified by the faces on TV–family members, friends, and neighbors of the victims whose lives were all torn apart by one man with an assault rifle.

But then as the hours went by, I felt emboldened. Several candlelight vigils were held in Squirrel Hill that first night; I went to the first and witnessed incredible support from all of Pittsburgh’s communities and religious denominations. I did not go to the second vigil; instead, I went to hear the powerfully positive speech of Magda Brown, a Holocaust survivor, sponsored by the Chatham University Women’s Institute and the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh. Her message was clear: we will survive in the face of any type of hatred. She had survived the worst of it.

This past week, I have had far more questions than answers in my head. Did Robert Bowers ever know any Jews personally? Had he ever had a conversation with a Jewish person? Where had he learned his hate? Who were his teachers? Did the Internet play a role? What was he so afraid of that he would feel called to violently destroy so many lives, including his own? And what’s going on across our whole country these days as people separate themselves into camps of Left and Right, “us” and “them?” Can political extremists ever reach a middle ground?

In 2017, at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Anaheim, California, I was introduced to the power of dialogue in a safe space as a bridge to understanding, a means of connecting people across race, culture, religion, identity, and socioeconomic divides. There, selected high school students and faculty engaged in free and open discussions about politically divisive topics. Assumptions were challenged; opinions were evolving. Inspired, I applied to the Seeds of Peace Camp.

I was the first person from Pittsburgh to be accepted this program. I was required to recruit local educators to attend with me; one of the educators I recruited was Rachel Libros of Repair the World. I spent three weeks in Maine in daily dialogue with other participants, talking about our cultural identities and learning to share and listen in equal measure. The goal of the dialogues was not to convert anyone to a different position or angle on any issue, but simply to listen and understand different points of view. The goal was to give each of us the opportunity to hear other kids’ personal stories and experiences, and then reevaluate our own viewpoints. I realized that only by being exposed to another person’s story can we begin to truly understand our own. By learning the reasons for others’ differences and opinions, we begin to make sense of them and even respect them.

I have created a dialogue program for the Pittsburgh community in partnership with Repair the World. We are experiencing an increasingly divided nation and tragic events based on hatred that are taxing our politics and national identity. I am designing and leading dialogue sessions open to all faiths, identities, and backgrounds at Repair the World based on dialogue as a productive and peaceful tool to bring communities and narratives together over social, political, and economic divides that can breed hateful activity.

My experience in dialogue has cemented my view that dialogue is essential to solving the misunderstanding and fear that underlie so many of our conflicts. Robert Bowers was on a social media platform called Gab, where white supremacists talk to each other in their own sealed echo chamber, never engaging in dialogue with people “outside” or hearing other people’s stories and experiences. Seeds of hate are sown on that site. I’m reminded of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s powerful TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” The danger of talking or listening only to those who agree with you was shockingly apparent in the shooting in Squirrel Hill on Saturday. Bowers had cocooned himself in an airless space of ignorance, fear, and confusion. He brought death and destruction into the Tree of Life—and all for nothing.

When Bowers was admitted to the ER at Allegheny General Hospital for his own gunshot wounds, he shouted “I want to kill all the Jews.” He was being treated by a Jewish doctor and nurse.

I don’t believe that any one person has single-handedly caused this rise in hate speech. I do believe that failure to call out hate speech in our current political climate for what it is—a fomenter of extremism—has encouraged white supremacists and anti-Semites to be more vocal. When the President came to Tree of Life, I stood on my friend’s front lawn in front of the synagogue and held up a sign asking for hatred to stop. He saw me and my sign. I hope he got the message.

I will always wonder if safe and rational dialogue at home, at school, at a house of worship, or at a workplace might have saved Robert Bowers and his 11 victims from their tragic fate. We will never know. What I do know is that it couldn’t have hurt and might have helped.

 

A Life’s Journey Filled with Service

This article originally appeared on The Times of Israel on August 22, 2018.

By Liz Jaffe

I remember it vividly, stuffing those envelopes side-by-side with my parents for an event. I knew we were doing it for a charitable cause. And I was only 5 years old.

That same age I “worked” at the bazaar with my parents for Hadassah. And by 14, I was a candy striper.

When I think back on my life journey, now at the age of 74, I cannot think of a moment when hands-on volunteering was not an integral part of who I was, how I spent my time, and what shaped my beliefs regarding what led to a purposeful existence. Even when working full time and raising three children, volunteering was still an important part of my life.

In my family, in the Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn where I grew up, volunteering and Jewish community were linked. My volunteer service was a part of my Jewish identity and life in the same way that a regular Shabbat meal might be for others. Yet, I understood that the value of this service was inherently autonomous from my Jewishness. Caring for others, for example, needs no Jewish connection to be deemed to have value. I understood, and do to this day, that other religions can frame volunteer service just as importantly as Judaism can.

At the same time, much of what we as a family did with our community and friends — a Jewish bubble of sorts — revolved around our volunteer endeavors. Later, as I came into adulthood, I began to more deeply understand why service brought meaning to my life and what others expected of me. During my interview to be accepted into college, the admissions officer asked me pointedly, “what do you do when you’re not spending money?” It is a powerful question to ask a 16 year old, old enough to digest what is being implied; perhaps not yet old enough to have crystallized the answer — or at least an answer that she is entirely comfortable articulating.

It is a question, I believe, we all should ponder, including the youngest among us. For many, this moment in time is one of political awakenings. Existing organizations, new organizations, grassroots groups, and others, are working to advance or block policies as they see fit. The work can be passionate and polarizing. Undoubtedly those involved find their efforts meaningful, particularly when they achieve a policy victory. But such work — although issue-based and time-sensitive — is not a substitute for hands-on service as an ongoing part of one’s life. Authentic service work such as that offered by Repair provides concrete benefits to the individual to the community where they serve and to the partner organizations that help to offer the service experience.

So, how do we get more people of all ages to see the value of service — not just for others, but for themselves. Often, it starts as mine did, at home. The family influence is critical in introducing service as part of one’s life. Peer engagement also can bring someone into a service experience. And being able to learn through the experience with peers and with mentors is what in particular makes the experience meaningful and influential in one’s own life.

Ten years ago, I helped found Repair the World in an effort to elevate the place of service in American Jewish life. We established Repair using the nonprofit status of the Jewish Coalition for Service, of which I was a chair and which several colleagues and I worked to make independent from the Jewish Federations of North America a few years earlier. The transition to Repair was personally difficult, since a number of changes were necessary, including the creation of a new board. But, even with those challenges, I can step back and see that the new organization has played and continues to play a growing role in many lives, particularly millennials and young adults. Repair examined the national landscape and selected the right communities to work with on the ground to build relationships and to offer service infused with Jewish values. These service experiences are premised on one thing—the service itself being authentic. Repair ensures that these service opportunities reflect Jewish values not only because they are are attractive to young Jewish adults and include Jewish experiential education — but, because they are first and foremost opportunities to create positive change and to serve with others. This work, in other words, is not about uplifting the Jewish people, but about learning how the Jewish people can uplift others.

Today, my most meaningful service work comes from working with seniors who have dementia. I interact with people who were incredibly successful in life and now they are dependent on someone else — a spouse, a friend, others. The work is fun. I see the joy these people still get out of life. And every once in a while they say something that makes me realize who they once were before this disease changed them.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: I get as much out of the volunteering as they do. My experiences of service throughout my entire life drive me to want to continue to elevate the place of service in American Jewish life and in broader society. I want youth to come of age where volunteering is viewed as a regular, expected occurrence; where the opportunities for this service are vast and meaningful. We are not at the point yet where this reality exists on any type of national scale, but we are inching closer. The service movement has more knowledge about how to build authentic and meaningful experiences than we ever had before. We also know that young adults, particularly in the Jewish community, find this work fulfilling and an opportunity to create change on the ground, addressing urgent social inequities and challenges. We need to keep charging forward. Let’s see how far we can get in the NEXT 10 years.

Liz Jaffe was a founding member of Repair the World and continues to spend her time doing hands-on service work with a variety of organizations.

A Mexico City Night Different From All Others

The Shabbat candles flickered, and chicken soup umami wafted from the kitchen.

After a week of preparation, I peered down the makeshift dining table at my roommate Diana and my twelve guests. None were local to Mexico City. We were all transients, strangers in a strange land. We were a mix of Jews, Christians, Catholics, and atheists. A mix of Americans, Mexicans, and an Argentinean. A mix of East and West Coasters, Midwesterners, and Southerners. A mix of black, brown, and white.

All twenty- and thirty-somethings, our colors and backgrounds blended like the ingredients in the charoset, each one highlighting the other, making for a sweet combination more than the sum of its parts.

Diana and I—the Jewish contingent—introduced ourselves, explaining that seder is a storytelling process followed by a festive dinner. That we would lead the way but we hoped everyone would participate. That we wanted people to question, and if we couldn’t answer, Google surely could.

We began with a round robin sharing our placecards. In addition to our names, each held factoids about a Jewish community around the world.

“I’m Macarena,” my Argentinian friend announced when her turn arrived.

“Hiiiiiiiii Macarena,” we all responded in chorus.

“What do Hungarian Jews place on the Seder table to represent the precious gifts given to the Israelites as they departed Egypt?”

We all looked around dumbfounded, until, in Spanish, she gave us a clue. “Sería un buen regalo para mujeres. Seguro que todas las mujeres aquí tiene… (It would be a good gift for women. All the women here definitely have some…),” she added, winking my direction.

“Chocolate!” we shouted. “Wine!”

“Noooo…. Joyas!” She shared gleefully. Jewelry.

After we made the rounds, Diana and I shared a bit of the history of the Jewish community in Mexico. We explained that we hoped tonight would be an opportunity to share diverse stories of struggle and liberation. That we would learn together from the story of Exodus, and explore its relevance today. “We are not merely telling a story here. We are being called to a radical act of empathy,” I read from Jonathan Safran Foer’s New American Haggadah.

We embarked, popcorn-style, around the table, trading off reading mostly from a racial justice Haggadah that quoted Fannie Lou Hamer, Carl Sagan, Harriet Tubman, and Bryan Stevenson, along with the Torah. Diana’s grandparents looked down at us from their crystal frame on our TV console, and my grandparents’ loaned Maxwell house Haggadahs peered up from the table, stained and bent from decades of use.

When we arrived at the first handwashing, we read from a feminist Haggadah about the role of women, and water, in the Exodus story. We invited our guests to wash the hands of the person to their right, but not without first asking for consent. They eagerly complied, each one looking into his or her neighbor’s eyes—some for the first time—speaking in hushed tones, then gently pouring water over their neighbors’ hands.

We moved from the handwashing (urhatz), to eating a green vegetable dipped in saltwater (karpas), to breaking the middle matzah (yahatz).

Why does the Haggadah urge us to feed the hungry at this point in the seder, when it’s already more or less too late, we asked ourselves, with the help of Safran Foer. “Could it be teaching us that this night, in one crucial way, is just like all other nights? On all other nights we eat to satisfaction without a thought for the hungry stranger. Tonight, we speak of hunger, but do nothing to alleviate it.”

We reflected silently, asking ourselves why that is so, and what we should do differently.

Then there were bowls of matzah ball soup with cilantro and jalapeño—a nod to our host-country. A cucumber, tomato, avocado and serrano chile salad. Fish with mole-inspired rub. My mom’s sweet and sour brisket. Flourless chocolate cake. Lemon bars. Matzah toffee rocky road bites.

And then, the great hunt for the afikoman commenced, Vanessa emerging triumphant from beneath the table. We followed a rich meal with those final dry bites, and we read:

“[The afikoman] embodies the faith that there is always a way, concealed though it might be, to make the transition from the suffering that we know, to the future that we dream…. We sit together with our great diversities of worldviews, for we are celebrants of freedom and will brook no tyranny of thought. But we all eat the afikoman together, gesturing toward a sense of the world that sustains us in our hope.”

We stood up and opened the door for Elijah, arms slung around each other. Diana and I began to sing Eliyahu hanavi, surprised when the voices of our guests, high and low, joined in the Hebrew on the second round.

As our celebration of our freedom came to a close, I silently prayed that those voices would continue to echo through our minds, sustaining us in our many fights for freedom, at least until next year.


Ryan Cohen is a Fulbright-García Robles conducting research about how to advance social mobility in Mexico City. She previously worked for the Obama White House, ACLU of Michigan, Department of Justice, and Mayor of Los Angeles. Her writing has been featured in the Huffington PostReformaUniversity of Pennsylvania Journal of Law & Social Change, and Kennedy School Review, and can be found on her website ryanashleycohen.com.

Food Justice in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine’s and Repair the World Pittsburgh Advisory Committee Member Hal B. Klein, dives into his history with food, food justice, and Repair the World.

I was working as an actor in theater and film, and around 2008 I decided I wanted to try something new. I always had been interested in food, and I found this program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh offering a new Master’s Program in Food Studies. It sounded like a pretty cool multi-disciplinary program looking at food systems, so I decided to give it a shot.

I knew I wanted to do something communications related, so I took a food writing class in my program the summer between my first and second year. The professor told our class that the local alternative weekly magazine was looking for someone to write about alcohol. So I pitched the editor there and got the job. Later I became friends with the new restaurant critic for the Post-Gazette. One time she couldn’t do a story and gave it to me. That led to an ongoing freelance gig with them, and then I got my full time job with Pittsburgh Magazine where I am Restaurant Critic and Associate Editor.

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have organizations like Repair the World. Change happens when people talk to others from different backgrounds and with different challenges, and together they try to overcome them.

I know Repair brings people together to start talking initially, and then to have that conversation lead to action, to volunteering. Going to dinner and hearing from a diverse assortment of people, really having a forum for challenging discussions, will lead to systemic change driven by younger generations who are looking to volunteer.

Nationally, food justice is a very serious issue and it manifests itself in ways a lot of us cannot even fathom. I’ve met people who don’t have refrigerators. Organizations and leaders are doing great work. But these are very tough issues—it’s hard to change systems; hard to equalize the playing field; and hard to engage people.

I try to focus on people or issues so my stories are more than just lists about food. One story I did recently focused on international restaurants; I focused on the people running the restaurants so it really became a story about immigrants. I’m now working on a story about people who were incarcerated and are now working in restaurants, which presents both great opportunities but certainly some challenges too.

 

A Call for Young Jews To Do National Service

This post originally appeared in The Jewish Week on October 18, 2017

By E. Robert Goodkind

The concept of “dreams” is a recurring one in Jewish history — whether ancient or modern. Jacob had a dream about angels climbing a ladder to heaven. Herzl left us with the indelible message: “If you will it, it is no dream.”

I want to focus on a dream as well; two dreams actually, which are especially intertwined at this moment. One dream is for our country and one is for the Jewish service movement. The state of affairs in our nation — from social injustice, to divisive rhetoric, to fear of the “other” — presents an outstanding opportunity for the service movement and the Jewish one specifically, to mobilize people who want to create change. Many young adults especially are craving opportunities to take action. I believe the success of the Jewish service movement in this regard has the potential to transform our nation’s culture.

Imagine if our country cultivated an environment where the most commonly asked question of a young person turning either 18 or just graduating from college was not, “Where are you going to college?” or “Where are you going to work?” but “Where are you going to serve?” And what if one-fourth of these young adults were to give a year of national service? In this paradigm, each generation would have the opportunity to be the “greatest generation,” because it would participate in a common cause greater than itself.

This would be a significant bridge-builder for our country, creating a common link bonding Americans from all backgrounds, each of whom had the opportunity to experience service to our nation — service that will make America stronger, more secure and better for all of us.

Imagine if our country cultivated an environment where a young person was not, “Where are you going to college?” or “Where are you going to work?” but “Where are you going to serve?”

Service is proven to be a relationship-builder among people who have no other commonalities other than the act they are performing at a given time. A national commitment to voluntary service would link the rights and privileges of being American with a clear sense of responsibility, engendering habits of civic engagement that last a lifetime. Our social fabric would be strengthened, broadening horizons and encouraging cross-cultural and cross-ethnic relationships and understanding. As we know from studies conducted by, among others, AmeriCorps, former service-program participants vote and volunteer more frequently than their peers, and join more civic organizations and community groups.

There are tangible benefits, too, to communities and their residents. Service programs fulfill needs that remain unmet by government, nonprofits or the private sector. In cooperation with communities, they provide valuable services that would otherwise not be available to those who receive them. In addition to these social benefits, service participation will transfer benefits to the individual servers, improving their skills, opportunities and outcomes later in life.

When this service is combined with serious learning — Jewish or other — and put into proper context, it is especially powerful. We know that learning combined with service creates deeper influence on, and meaning for, the individual performing service. She or he also is more likely to come back and serve again.

We are living in a compelling moment of service right now. Philanthropists and foundations have come out of the recession and are positioned to support service efforts. At the same time, people are spurred to action in ways not seen before among the current generation of young adults. Recent events of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, along with the raw emotions elicited in the election a year ago, have spurred some of this. However, while the power of service is under a brighter spotlight during moments of crisis, the role of service in dealing with less visible but serious problems, like educational inequality, shows the value of youth engaged in year-long service.

American Jews play a leading role in this, fulfilling our heritage’s injunction to make a more perfect world through voluntary service. But if we want more young adults to commit to national service in large numbers, the national polity must pledge to make it financially and socially feasible for them to do so. Government, foundations, businesses, educational institutions and others must all work together to provide the resources that would allow young adults from all backgrounds to share in this opportunity. If government does not commit to this, then the other spokes must step up to ensure the wheel still runs.

My dream for Repair the World and for other Jewish service organizations is to continue building a movement within the American Jewish community where service is the norm, not the exception, for those 18 to 25 years of age.

The demand for service on this scale is present. There are approximately 80,000 Jews who are age 18, and another 80,000 who have just graduated from college. Tens of thousands of them engaged in service last year because they were driven to take action. When they see how their passion to create change can be a way to engage in Jewish life and meet Jewish peers, they are compelled to do more service and to create a Jewish community of meaning for themselves. They flourish, those who serve alongside them flourish and the Jewish community will flourish as well.

E. Robert Goodkind is a member of the board of trustees of Repair the World and is a past president of the American Jewish Committee and past chairman of the board of The Jewish Museum.

Cycling for Repair the World

This guest post was contributed by Josh Friedman, an environmental educator, cycling coach, and father of three in Pittsburgh, PA. He owns ATP Race Consulting, a cycling performance company that trains cyclists of all abilities. You can find him on Twitter at @ATPRacing.

On the Monday before the Presidential Inauguration, my neighbor suggested I ride my bike to the Women’s March on Washington. He offered to bring a sleeping bag for me and let me crash with his family. How hard could it be? I can bang out a 190-mile day followed by a 140-mile day, no problem. Making the idea even more attractive, we have a beautiful, nearly car-free trail from Pittsburgh, where I live, to Washington, DC. I was in.

I immediately started planning my logistics. But the next day my neighbor told me that the trail was way too muddy in parts to get the ride done in two days. Rain had moved into the forecast for Friday too, making hypothermia likely on the 10-plus hour second day and the trail even slower. Prospects for a successful ride were looking grim.

Meanwhile, I had already told people that I was going. Doing nothing big would look weak, but trying to do the entire ride would be impossible and possibly harmful. So I altered my plan to do a big ride on Thursday in support of a local non-profit. It was supremely easy to choose an organization that is the polar opposite of the new administration. Repair the World does incredible work allying with and supporting diverse and marginalized communities around the city.

I sent out a message on Twitter that I’d be riding for Repair the World at a rate of $1 per kilometer and that everyone should join me. My wife put it out on her social media outlets too, and we got a little movement going.

On Thursday, I set out in the quiet darkness. For the first two hours I saw three people on the trail and countless rabbits. I had no idea how fast I was going since I couldn’t see my computer in the predawn murk. When the lights finally came on I saw how slowly the ride was progressing. And I really didn’t feel well. I was nearing full demoralization, but the idea of racking up dollars for Repair the World kept pushing me forward.

Somewhere around four hours and nearly 90 kilometers into the ride, my mood began to turn around – and so did I. I slammed down some substantial snacks, updated Twitter (including my account of a bald eagle that wouldn’t take a selfie with me), and started heading home. I’m not sure if it was home drawing me closer or a tailwind, but I felt like I was moving faster.

Knowing that each kilometer would help bring some good into the world (I’ve raised more than $500 so far) shined a little light on the otherwise dreary day, and on the overall dreary-feeling political forecast in the US. Hopefully we can look back sometime and say we did everything we could to make things just and equitable for everyone. That is what Repair the World does every day.

Beth Steinhorn on the Conference on Volunteering and Service

By Beth Steinhorn

For the last few years, Repair the World has convened a delegation of Jewish non-profit professionals at the annual Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service (June 27-29 this year). So much exciting work has happened in the world of service and volunteering within the Jewish world over the last decade. The delegation offers a chance for some of the leaders of this movement to get together, share ideas, and learn from one another.

As a longtime attendee of the conference, being part of Repair the World’s delegation has really enhanced the experience for me personally. I attend the conference to present workshops, network with colleagues, share the work of my clients, and, of course, to learn about new developments in the field of engagement and service.

When Repair the World created the first delegation, I was eager to be part of the community of professionals who connect with Repair’s mission and to participate in Repair’s summit the day before the conference as well. While my work as a volunteer engagement consultant connects me to many Jewish organizations – as well as secular ones – this delegation is a sign of how far the Jewish world has come in terms of recognizing the power of volunteerism and service as well as the importance of embracing best practices in engagement.

The delegation provides a great opportunity to network with colleagues from Jewish organizations, to learn about the best practices that they are developing, and, simply put, to be part of the larger community. I have had a chance to share our resources and research as well. I have been especially excited to connect with the growing network of Jewish volunteer centers. While I have been able to share tools with them, I also have learned a great deal about how they are developing new community resources to connect Jews and others to meaningful service opportunities.

Through the delegation, I have developed new partnerships and strengthened others. It was at the Points of Light conference a few years ago where I first met Sheryl Parker from UJA Federation of NY who has since gone on to lead the Service Enterprise Initiative for UJA. I have also been working with Points of Light as a trainer of Service Enterprise and the conference is a great way to connect regularly with Sheryl and other Service Enterprise leaders. They share their experiences with me and I share lessons from our cohorts with them.

Another example is my work with the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies (AJFCA). Since meeting Jennie Gates Beckman from AJFCA at the Points of Light Conference, I have presented at the AJFCA conference, regularly collaborate with Jennie on various engagement initiatives, and, this year, will be moderating a session that she and Sheryl designed. Finally, since the delegation has now been around for a few years, I have really found it valuable to see some of the same people year after year so that they can update me on their work and I can do the same.

The Summit that Repair has convened prior to the conference is also a great chance to learn firsthand about some of Repair’s latest research. I regularly incorporate that information into the trainings and consulting I present to congregations, federations, and Jewish family and children’s agencies, among others, so I try to spread that information widely among my clients and constituents.

Ten years ago, the Jewish world was not really talking about volunteer engagement as a field and the research and tools around Jewish engagement were still in their infancy. To see so many people committed to the field and to building this growing foundation of research and best practices is inspiring. I am pleased and excited to be part of it as a contributor, learner, and member of this national community.

As President of the JFFixler Group, which helps transform organizations through innovative volunteer and member engagement, Beth Steinhorn has become one of the most inspiring and respected voices in the field of service. 

Shabbat Supper with Dr. King

By Lynn Schusterman

This weekend, in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service, more than 1,200 people from New York to Knoxville to San Francisco symbolically invited Dr. King to Shabbat dinner.

Initiated by Repair the World–a national organization that mobilizes American Jews to address global and local needs through volunteering and service–the dinners were part of the Points of Light’s Sunday Supper campaign, designed to inspire dialogue and action on key issues affecting our communities.

The MLK Shabbat Suppers focused on the theme of educational inequity, which Dr. King considered inextricably linked to the struggle for equality and justice. It is disheartening that more than half a century later, the achievement gap continues to plague our country, as an average of 7,000 students drop out of school every day and 89 percent of children growing up in low-income households read below grade level.

I believe the Jewish community can and must play a central role in addressing this critical issue. One powerful way we can do this, as the participants at the MLK Shabbat Suppers learned, is by volunteering our time as mentors and tutors. It is striking to see the magnitude of impact mentorship and tutoring can have on student performance and young lives. Consider these two facts in contrast to those above:

  • 62 percent of students with a formal mentor improve their self-esteem, which can have a significant impact on their academic success and likelihood of graduation; and
  • 40 percent of below average readers improve with an average of just 1.5 hours of tutoring per week.

For too many students, however, their needs go unmet because access to quality mentors and tutors depends on volunteers. Rather than throwing up our hands in frustration at the problem, let’s roll up our sleeves and be a part of the solution.

Many organizations, including the Harvard School of Public HealthMENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and the Corporation for National and Community Service, are working to raise awareness and match volunteers with year-round opportunities during National Mentoring Month and beyond.

Across the Jewish community, the MLK Shabbat Suppers are part of Repair the World’s multi-year effort to mobilize Jews across the nation to serve as tutors, mentors and college access coaches for public school children.

This initiative is in the spirit of the Jewish community’s legacy of leadership on social action and civil rights. Indeed, in March 1965, so many rabbis marched with Dr. King from Selma that hundreds of the freedom marchers actually wore kippot in solidarity. Foremost among the rabbis was Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched arm in arm with Dr. King.

“What we need more than anything else,” Heschel once said, “is not textbooks but text people.” We become “text people” by putting the values that form the moral and ethical foundation of Jewish life–tzedek(justice), chesed (loving-kindness) and tikkun olam (repairing the world)–at the forefront of our efforts to serve the common good.

It was another great Jewish thinker, Maimonides, who helped us understand that there is no greater gift you can give a person than the opportunity to become self-sufficient. A high school and college degree are linked to greater employment prospects, higher earning potential and the ability to contribute more to our communities. In this spirit, giving our time to help today’s youngest learners prepare to become tomorrow’s skilled workforce and engaged citizens is among the deepest manifestations of the Jewish imperative to pursue justice.

The statistics may be daunting, and the questions they raise about the social and economic fabric and future of our country overwhelming. But the Shabbat Suppers this weekend served to highlight the power we have as individuals and as a community to make a difference, even if we have not devoted our professional lives to the classroom.

Today, as we consider the role we can play in helping to foster a more equitable, caring world, we think of what Dr. King called his audacious belief that “peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

It is time for each of us to get up from the table and do our part to carry that belief forward.

Follow Lynn Schusterman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/schustermanfoun