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Jewish Nonprofits Launch Nationwide Volunteer Drive to Respond to Pandemic, Social-Justice Needs

This originally appeared in The Chronicle of Philanthropy on July 6, 2020. 

Serve the Moment plans to develop a directory of volunteering opportunities across the country.

Key focus areas include tutoring low-income children, conducting welfare assessments of older adults, providing food to the hungry, and mobilizing volunteers whose skills can help nonprofits responding to the pandemic, economic downturn, and social-justice protests.

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Make an Impact. Repair the World.

Skills for Impact: Why Skilled Volunteering Matters:

If you have a drive to use your time and talent to help others, you are in the right place!  Skilled volunteering is a critical tool in a non-profit’s toolbox, it allows them to build their capacity and grow their impact. “Organizations that fundamentally leverage volunteers and their skills towards their mission are significantly more adaptable, sustainable and capable of going to scale.”  A good skilled volunteer uses their expertise to lift the burden from nonprofit staff who may not have pre-existing training or experience needed for a given project.

Getting in the Volunteer Mindset:

Approaching a new organization and a new project is a skill in itself, so we thought that we would give you somewhere to get started.  Here are some tips inspired by one of our favorite Jewish quotes from the Jewish wisdom book, Pirkei Avot2:

Who is one that is wise? One who learns from every person, as it is said: “From all my teachers have I gained understanding.” (Psalm 119:99)

Hold a learning posture.  You might know tips, tricks, and best practices for a given project, but make sure that you are also listening deeply to the needs of the non-profit and their community.  Then you can mesh the two together to create the most helpful outcomes.

Who is mighty? One who conquers their impulse to evil, as it is written, “One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one who rules over their spirit than one who conquers a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)

Be patient.  The non-profit that you are matched to might not have experience working with a consultant, and helping them share their needs and the most useful information to you might not always feel ‘efficient’ to you.

Who is rich? One who is happy with their portion, as it says (Psalms, 128:2), “If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you”; “fortunate are you” in this world, “and good is to you” in the World to Come.

Be content. Sometimes the most important work is the least ‘sexy.’  Sticking with this opportunity will create short-term and long-term benefits for everyone involved.
_______________________________

1  “Partnering with Funders to Unleash the Power of Volunteers” | Leighty Foundation
2 Pirkei Avot 4:1 [AJWS translation]

Who is honored? One who honors the creations, as it says, “Those who honor Me I will honor, but those who scorn Me will be despised” (I Samuel 2:30) 

Be respectful.  If you extend respect, you will be respected, and that positive relationship will make for the best experience and the best work!

Learning about the work: 

You have the opportunity to volunteer with organizations with a wide variety of missions.  Those that we are bringing onto the platform focus on addressing poverty and its reverberations on local, national, and global scales.  There is way more to say about these topics than we could fit into a few paragraphs, but we’ve collected some resources for you to check out to learn more about why these issue areas are so important.

As you read, watch, and listen, consider what surprises you, what do you want to know more about and how might what you are learning influence your approach to volunteering.

Read

Watch

Listen:

  • 1619 Project Podcast from the New York Times Magazine “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
  • NPR’s Codeswitch Podcast discusses race “from politics and pop culture to history, sports and everything in between,” on a local, national, and international level.
  • Jews, Justice, and Global Giving” podcast episode from OLAM’s Global Torah interviewing Ruth Messinger and Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, discussing how we prioritize our giving.
  • Weekly Economics Podcast from the New Economics Foundation explores topics of economic justice and poverty.

Reflection: 

As you sign up to volunteer through repairtheworld.catchafire.org/volunteer-now and find an organization to contribute your talents to, consider what it would look and feel like to embody a volunteer mindset.

In Jewish tradition, kavannah, or intention, comes from the same root as the word for “direction,” meaning that building up and constantly honing our intentions will help us stay on the path towards a more just world.

To get you started, find inspiration for intention setting and reflection, here are a few resources that we love to return to:

We can’t wait to hear about your experience! Email us at [email protected] with questions, thoughts and insight on your experience.

Spring Into Solidarity

Jewish tradition is inspired by rabinnical sages, who would open their doors when they ate meals and said, “Whoever is in need, let that person come and eat.” [Ta’anit 20b]

During these unprecedented times of need, Repair the World’s commitment to support our nonprofit service partners in feeding people who are food insecure is unwavering. To express that support, Repair launched Spring Into Solidarity, a fundraising race to mobilize Jews and their communities to show up for our partner organizations on the front lines of COVID-19 relief efforts. 

The Great Big Jewish Food Fest is collaborating with Repair the World to support 15 partner organizations raising at least $1,000 each. All funds raised will go directly to each organization to help meet their immediate and rising needs resulting from the COVID-19 crisis

If you would like to give generally to the Spring Into Solidarity fund, donate here. If you’re looking to donate to a specific organization across Repair’s nine communities, use the partner guide below to learn more and donate. Thank you for your support! 

REPAIR THE WORLD’S FOOD JUSTICE PARTNERS:

ATLANTA

  • Concrete Jungle
    Concrete Jungle transforms overlooked and underutilized fruit trees and land into a year-round food source for food banks, shelters and people in need. Donate here.
  • SWEEAC
    Southwest Ecumenical Emergency Assistance Center (SWEEAC) provides food, clothing, household items, and resources to those with emergency needs to support self- sufficiency, prevent hunger, and address homelessness. Donate here.

BALTIMORE

  • Baltimore Hunger Project
    Baltimore Hunger Project is dedicated to eliminating the growing problem of weekend childhood hunger by consistently providing weekend food packages to food insecure children in a compassionate and dignified manner. Donate here.

BROOKLYN

CHICAGO

  • The Night Ministry
    The Night Ministry works to provide meals, housing, health care and human connection to those struggling with poverty or homelessness. Donate here.

DETROIT

  • Gleaners Food Bank 
    Gleaners Community Food Bank exists to provide households with access to sufficient, nutritious food, and related resources. Donate here.

HARLEM

MIAMI

  • Health in the Hood
    Health in the Hood connects low-income families to healthy, free, local food by transforming vacant land into vibrant vegetable gardens and teaching wellness workshops. Donate here.

PHILADELPHIA

  • Broad Street Ministry
    Broad Street Ministry transforms Philadelphia’s city and institutions by embracing the individual needs of our most vulnerable sisters & brothers. Donate here.
  • Jewish Relief Agency
    ​Jewish Relief Agency serves diverse low-income individuals by relieving hunger, improving lives, and strengthening the Philadelphia community. Donate here.

PITTSBURGH

  • Just Harvest
    Just Harvest educates, empowers and mobilizes people to eliminate hunger, poverty, and economic injustice by influencing public policy, engaging in advocacy, and connecting people to public benefits. Donate here.
  • Jewish Association on Aging
    The mission of the Jewish Association on Aging is to honor and enhance the lives of older adults by providing a continuum of individualized, quality care consistent with Jewish values and tradition. Donate here.

I’m Dying to Be Able to See People

This originally appeared in The New York Jewish Week on April 29, 2020. 

“Several other Jewish groups have expanded their work with seniors since the coronavirus crisis began…Volunteers from Repair the World, the Jewish service organization, deliver food packages to isolated Holocaust survivors in South Brooklyn and keep in touch as pen pals, said Rachel Figurasmith, executive director of Repair the World NYC.”

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Repair the World with Mutual Aid

Repair the World with Mutual Aid!

Mutual Aid initiatives are responding to meet the heightened needs of people across communities. These networks have gained momentum in order to provide necessary relief from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Repair the World staff and Fellows are directly involved in mutual aid efforts. Check out our #MutualAid campaign below where you can learn more about what it is and how to get involved to support your neighbors!

EDIT: Mutual aid is an important way to support and be supported by the community. It has been a tool for grass-roots community care and support long before the pandemic shut down businesses across the country.  Due to the combined public health threats of COVID-19 and police brutality, both compounded by, the work of mutual aid very crucial right now. We are highlighting ways that you can get involved in local mutual aid initiatives and anti-racist actions that support our local communities.

Mutual Aid Slide 1: What is Mutual AidMutual Aid Slide 2: Neighbors coming together in a community-led movement to support those who face barriers to access resources and services.Mutual Aid Slide 3: Mutual Aid Is - centering the needs of those most impactedmutual aid slide 4#MutualAidMondays

Want to talk with a member of our team? Contact [email protected] to get connected or to share information about your mutual aid initiatives. Posted below are a sampling of initiatives across our communities that you can get involved with today.

  • National Listings of Mutual Aid Networks
    • Mutualaidhub.org
    • https://helpinghands.community/help
    • itsgoingdown.org/c19-mutual-aid/
    • Relief and Resources for Undocumented Immigrants
  • Detroit
    • Donate to Auntie Na’s Food Box Delivery Program through our partner organization, Detroit Jews For Justice.
    • Pass Your Bucks to redirect federal emergency stimulus dollars toward non-profit organizations supporting communities who are least likely to receive stimulus checks.
  • Pittsburgh
    • Support grocery access with Ratzon: Center for Healing and Resistance’s grocery fund! You can venmo @Ratzon-Food-Distro
    • Donate to neighbors through Open Hand Ministries for grocery/rent/mortgage support!
    • The Wellness Collective created the Community Delivery Hotline to ensure that folks with limited transportation and resources have access to their basic needs. Sign up to get resources delivered to you or volunteer to be a driver, intake coordinator, or switchboard operator.
    • Need support and/or can you provide relief to others? Get involved with the Pittsburgh Mutual Aid network!
    • Fundraise for or donate to the PGH Artists Emergency Fund to provide relief for artist/industry folks, many of whom cannot access unemployment and have lost all sources of income for the duration of the pandemic.
  • Chicago
    • Seniors, those living with disability, and folks living in food deserts are most at risk with the continual spread of the virus. Chicago Repair is working with partner: My Block, My Hood, My City to deliver groceries as well as response packages, to ensure access to hand sanitizer, health supplements, toiletries and food; to participate, email [email protected]

Mutual Aid brings together many elements which we value at Repair the World. Volunteers engage with  their communities to build and reify relationships across differences. Mutual Aid brings people together to directly address many of our major concerns, such as food insecurity, criminal justice, education justice and housing. Let’s work together to build communities we wish to live in, where all people can thrive together!

How we are Repairing The World this National Volunteer Week

In honor of National Volunteer Week (April 19-25), we are highlighting the incredible stories happening around the country during this time of global pandemic. Our Repair the World communities are acting now to fight for the most vulnerable in our societies, read more to see our impact and find ways to get involved:

ATLANTA:

In the spirit of Earth Day, Abigail Natelson, Repair the World Atlanta Fellow, helped lead our first ‘Mindfulness in the Garden Series’ (a virtual version of Farm Crew) that encourages participants to zoom in while outdoors. 

We created “signs of solidarity” in support of a campaign launched by local artists that asked residents to create and display colorful signs with positive messages for neighbors to see.

 

BALTIMORE:

Repair the World Baltimore hosted a Virtual Cocktails with a Conscience that allowed participants to do some meaning-making around the Passover holiday, think about the theme of what it means to find one’s individual purpose within a collective narrative, and discuss how to get involved locally even during a time of great uncertainty. 

 

BROOKLYN:

Caitlin Garbo, Repair the World Brooklyn Fellow, facilitated our first Virtual Art program through the Brooklyn Community Services‘ TLC program! Participants joined in creating art and writing letters to women currently living in a Brooklyn shelter. 

Caitilin reflected on the program saying, “I was inspired to begin the virtual art hour while quarantining because I missed making art and chatting with the clients each week. Whether we were interpreting poems, beading bracelets, or making snowflakes, every season and holiday we put up decorations and created art that filled the communal spaces with cheer. Now, words of encouragement and pages filled with springtime colors will be delivered to the program to try to mitigate feelings of isolation and perhaps bring some inspiration until full programming and communal gathering can return to normal within the shelter.”

If you’re interested in joining a project to send art and letters to local shelters or isolated older folks, please contact [email protected].

CHICAGO:

On March 27, Repair the World Chicago and One Table collaborated on a digital “A Neighborly Shabbat”. 

Together, we reviewed Repair the World’s Neighborly Letter and discussed ways to support hyperlocal neighbors and neighborhoods during this time. Participants engaged in ritual, broke bread, and built community during their Friday night Shabbat meal. 

 

DETROIT:

With all in-person volunteer programming canceled for March and April, Madeline Turner, Repair the World Detroit Fellow, helped find ways for our partners to continue their essential work under these circumstances. 

Keep Growing Detroit, a garden resource organization working to cultivate a food-sovereign Detroit, has had to get creative to maintain its two-acre farm and prepare seeds and transplants to distribute to thousands of Detroit gardeners without its usual support from hundreds of volunteers a week. With staff adjusting their hours to spend much of their time working at the farm, Madeline stepped up to the plate and found ways alongside our Detroit site, to support their work from home. She took the rest of the seeds home to Ann Arbor and with the help of her family, she was able to divide the larger bags of seeds into thousands of individual seed packets for Detroit growers to pick up at distribution and take home to their gardens.

HARLEM:

With the COVID-19 Pandemic disproportionately affecting older adults, Haley Schusterman, Repair the World Harlem Fellow, partnered with DOROT to help support their clients who may be experiencing increased social isolation and loneliness during this challenging time.

Haley participates in their Caring Calls program and forms connections by phone with an older adult—they chat weekly! Haley also creates birthday and holiday cards for older adults. Particularly now, DOROT’s clients may not have many other important social interactions. 

Haley shared, “I’ve enjoyed creating these cards so much that I’m running a virtual card making workshop this week to engage folks from around the country in supporting some of our most isolated neighbors!”

MIAMI:

Ella Fies, Repair the World Miami Fellow, engaged our community in Miami by teaching a virtual free yoga class with 40 people in attendance. The yoga class supports local organization Leap For Ladies who empowers incarcerated women. Ella mentioned, “I love teaching yoga and getting to share such an important practice with so many. It is totally a gift for me to get to do this every Sunday at 5!”

Join Ella in her efforts by heading to https://www.gofundme.com/f/leap-relief-fund

PHILADELPHIA:

On Friday, April 3rd, Repair the World Philadelphia, NextGen, and other local Jewish young professional groups brought together 102 community members to celebrate Shabbat with the uniting message of “even in isolation, we can still come together and welcome in the Sabbath.” Dani Horn, Program Director of Repair the World Philadelphia, led the Hamotzi, the blessing over the bread, and asked participants to think of those who may need nourishment at this time. As the virtual community reflected, people mentioned frontline workers, school children, and their own communities. It was important to acknowledge those in our community who may need support during this time. The program also included moments of joy and gratitude for blessings that have happened amidst the difficulty of COVID-19.

PITTSBURGH:

Maya Bornstein, Repair the World Pittsburgh Fellow, has been volunteering at the East End Cooperative Ministry’s Food Pantry, an interfaith coop which provides crucial access and services to meet the immediate needs of Pittsburghers, especially people experiencing homelessness and food insecurity.

Maya shared, “I have greatly enjoyed volunteering at the East End Cooperative Ministry’s Food Pantry the past month or so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Serving there has given me a sense of purpose and a safe reason to leave the house in order to work towards the goal of ensuring that every Pittsburgher’s human right to food access is met. The staff, other volunteers, patrons, and food donors give me comfort that even in tragic and uncertain circumstances people can come together to help each other and create meaning.”

Maya alongside Ilana Drucker (both Repair the World Pittsburgh Fellows) are also growing seedlings in the grow room above the food pantry to then plant in our nearby Sheridan Ave Orchard and Garden and to share with another community organization. The fresh produce harvested throughout the season will all go directly back to the pantry. Check out this virtual seed starting at-home program, video and directions! 

National Volunteer Week is coming to a close but it is not too late to volunteer and serve your community. If you are interested in additional ways to volunteer, virtually or in person, sign up for volunteer opportunities at werepair.org/volunteer.

A Spaced Out Seder

By Rabbi Jessy Dressin

This year is my youngest nephew’s first seder. The first grandchild for my parents. The first of the next generation of my family. I pictured the Matzah Ballin’ bib on top of the “I found the afikomen” onesie. And then, it became clear, seder would be different this year. I began to think about how I would still host my family for seder. What would I need to create in order for my family, spanning ages 6 months to 75 years and three thousands miles, to come together virtually?

And then, the texts started to come in. From friends. From neighbors. “What are we gonna do for seder?” and “Are you creating something?” I hadn’t thought about the google doc I was working on for my family seder becoming the document that hundreds of others could use, but I soon realized the document could be a tool for others to meaningful engage with family and friends this Passover, at a time when we need it the most. This season is already difficult enough and I hated the thought that people would give up on the idea of hosting a seder virtually because they were uncertain of how to do so.

I began to adjust the google doc from a resource for my family to a more general resource with guiding tips and helpful advice. I considered the platform and I realized a long seder may not keep people engaged. I realized there was an opportunity for sharing videos and other content in an attempt to create something sensory and engaging. 

With humility, I added some loose instructions. (1) How to make sure everyone would have what they need to participate. (2) Designating someone to lead the seder, who I assume may be different than the person who typically leads the family seder – because technology – a true moment of passing the generational torch. (3) Things to think about in advance and the encouragement that trying to make seder happen this year is an act of resistance to the limitations and barriers the current circumstances place us in.

Circumstances may not be ideal. They may not result in a refined or polished celebration. We may find ourselves feeling limited and uncertain as to how we engage. Yet, the Passover story is about finding our own unique placement in a collective narrative. It is about seeing where we are at each year and how we relate to the timeless themes we are asked to consider at our tables. And, through my work with Repair the World, it is an invitation to think about the various ways that others may be experiencing these narrow and restrictive times. I am so glad to have special Passover resources from Repair to include at my seder table this year. 

Passover is the quintessential ritual that leverages memory as a motivator to act. An invitation to consider the ways that oppressive systems still inhibit people today from living to their fullest potential; to see ourselves as having a role to play in a liberation story that has not fully yet been realized because not all people are free.


Rabbi Jessy Dressin is dedicated to building Jewish connections and helping others find their connection. She worked for the JCCs of Greater Baltimore as a rabbi and director of Jewish life from 2012 until 2019. She now serves as the executive director for the Baltimore chapter of Repair the World. In 2016, Rabbi Jessy was named as one of The Forward’s Most Inspiring Rabbis.

Reflections from MLK Day in Atlanta

This originally appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times on January 31, 2020.

For 1,300 volunteers on MLK Day, what comes next?

On the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, we have a lot to be proud of. A coalition of 23 Jewish organizations and 26 service partners, coordinated by Repair the World, mobilized 1,300 volunteers to address urgent local needs.

We packed 2,850 kits for people experiencing homelessness and sorted 168 boxes of books. We cooked 380 meals for people in shelters and delivered over 100 more to families facing food insecurity. We packed 400 dental supply kits and swabbed 40 potential new bone marrow donors. We planted trees and sustainably stewarded green spaces. We modeled love and care for our seniors and volunteered with our children. We didn’t let the scale of need paralyze us; we took action and we tried to meet it.

One week later, I’m still proud of our service together. And, I know that 200 people will line up at SWEEAC [Southwest Ecumenical Emergency Assistance Center] to get groceries today. I know that 90 percent of these food pantry clients are currently employed, but don’t earn enough to feed their families. I know that those 200 people standing in line represent 600-plus family members who don’t have enough to eat, most of whom are children. And I know that they will be back next week.

Working at Repair the World means that I get to see firsthand the ongoing commitment to service from many individuals and institutions in the Atlanta Jewish community. I get to fight back against the overwhelm every day and see the impact of small acts of kindness. For example, hearing about the moving experience of providing nail care to men at the Gateway Center, how unusual to connect on a deeply human level with individuals who we more often fear, demonize and hustle past. Service is an opportunity for us to reconnect with our own humanity and compassion.

Dyonna Ginsberg teaches about the difference between chesed (kindness), tzedakah (philanthropy) and tzedek (justice). A few days after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I find myself thinking about the times that I have been forced to rely on the kindness of strangers. A random act of kindness or charity is a beautiful thing, prized in our tradition, but I wouldn’t want to count on it for adequate nutrition, shelter or safety.

We have accomplished a lot by honoring Dr. King with acts of service. But let’s not be too proud, or too complacent, to ask ourselves why acts of kindness and philanthropy are still necessary in the wealthiest nation on earth, in a thriving city. We can also honor Dr. King with frankness and honesty: 52 years after his murder, massive health and wealth disparities based on race persist in this country and in this city. Between now and next MLK Day, let’s ask ourselves what enduring structural changes are necessary to ensure that the basic needs of every person are non-negotiable, that their rights are iron-clad, their dignity a foregone conclusion. The legislative session is upon us. There are people and organizations doing the work of long-term change. Between now and our next service day, let’s join them.

Lily Brent, Executive Director, Repair the World Atlanta

412 Food Rescue, Repair The World, Circles Greater Pittsburgh Move To East Liberty

This originally appeared on CBS Pittsburgh on October 31, 2019.

The East End Cooperative Ministry (EECM) announced on Oct. 31 that nonprofits 412 Food Rescue, Repair the World and Circles Pittsburgh will join them at their East Liberty campus on 6140 Station Street.

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Strengthening Community One Year After Pittsburgh

By Zack Block

Zack Block is a lifelong Pittsburgher committed to building an equitable Pittsburgh.  Zack is also the Senior Director of Communities for Repair the World and the Executive Director of Repair the World Pittsburgh.

As a lifelong Pittsburgher, a Squirrel Hill resident, and a white Ashkenazi Jew, seeing my community in the news for a mass shooting was shocking, difficult, and hard to comprehend. On October 27, 2018, one year ago today, our community was violently attacked in one of the most horrific acts of antisemitism, white nationalism, and hatred this country has seen. I live a few blocks away from the Tree of Life building, and on the day of the shooting, I was first in disbelief, and then horrified. Then, quickly, I jumped into action. I took phone calls at the JCC from the FBI’s hotline and I spoke to the families of the victims. In the last year, I have replayed those phone calls and conversations over and over again in my head. In the last year, I witnessed the ways the Jewish community came together and the way the larger Pittsburgh community grappled with the massacre. In the last year, I have cried, mourned, grown, and learned. And in the last year, I have been pushed to understand that the outpouring of love and support my community received actively causes harm to communities of color, who do not receive similar outpourings of support when they experience their own horrific tragedies.

While the Jewish community is targeted by more hate crimes than other religious groups in the US, systems of government, society, and culture are set up to cause much more harm to communities of color than to white Jews and white Jewish communities. 

Crimes committed against communities of color do not get reported in the media with as much consistency and intensity as crimes committed against the Jewish community. Fewer eyes on the issues translates to less support for healing and recovery. No matter the community, we all deserve equal attention, love, and support during times of tragedy.

It is time for us to embody Jewish values and work alongside communities of color to create a more just and equitable society. Cross-community connections and relationships have been intentionally severed by white nationalism, which looks to pit different minority groups against each other for white nationalism’s own benefit. Showing up through service and ongoing volunteering helps to repair those crucial connections that we will lean on during times of acute and ongoing crisis.

At Repair the World Pittsburgh, we are shining a bright light on racism and antisemitism and islamophobia and xenophobia and all the hate that keeps people oppressed in the name of white nationalism. It has been one year since the horrific shooting at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh. Please join us over the next year as we have hard conversations and serve with others to help heal, to show solidarity, and to strengthen our relationships and communities. 

Over the weekend, Repair cities across the country will mark the one-year commemoration of Tree of Life in service and learning alongside local communities. And, in Pittsburgh, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, JCC of Greater of Pittsburgh, JFCS Pittsburgh, and other countless partners, we will facilitate learning at 30 service projects to serve in solidarity with our local neighbors.