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My thoughts are with Baltimore.

I received an email today from Alli Lesovoy, a Repair the World Site Development Fellow in New York who was a Fellow in Baltimore last year.  In addition to sharing that she’s heartbroken about what’s happening in Baltimore, she said that her feelings and her loyalties are mixed: “There are very few things that I know how to feel about.”  Her heart, she says is with Freddie Gray, the peaceful protesters, the people who are fed up with the system and the students who are just trying to get home safely. She is as concerned about “the students that I saw every day last year, who are stuck in the middle of a situation they were born into and have no choice but to live in” as she is about “the victims of the chaos – the people who have been hurt, the people who have had their living looted, the people who are afraid to step outside their front door.”

Alli is torn about whether this unrest is necessary and productive.  “‎Black Lives Matter‬ and I don’t understand why anyone would think otherwise.  But, will our institutions ever change and finally realize that? I don’t know. Honestly, probably not.”  Why not? Alli worries that the entire story will “all be broken down into the riots and the violence that has happened.”

She exhorted me to make sure I was not just reading about the fires, the vandalism and the violence. “Make sure you’re reading about the peaceful protests, the people who are stopping – even preventing – the violence, and the people who are cleaning up.”

“I’ve also really been thinking about how we as Jews have this narrative of being oppressed and how that plays out in modern times” Alli said. “I was taught from a young age that I am a minority, I am a different from others, I am oppressed. I’ve been trying to reconcile that narrative with the fact that I’ve grown up very privileged simply because I’m Jewish and my family and cultural values align with the current mainstream white cultural values. How can we, as a people, use that history of oppression as a tool to become an ally to those who are facing real oppression today? This is the part where I feel both extremely compelled to act in solidarity with Baltimore and the #blacklivesmatter movement as well as torn/conflicted on how to be an ally.”

She recalls from her year of service in Baltimore that whenever she told people that she lived there, the response was almost always, “Have you seen The Wire?” or, “That’s dangerous,” especially when she shared that she didn’t live in the “white” parts.  But, she says, “Baltimore is so much more than that. Baltimore is full of good, hard-working people of all colors and backgrounds. In Baltimore, I met so many people who just wanted to take care of me and guide me, way more of those than people I was afraid of.  Baltimoreans are kindhearted and it’s their city that is burning and they’re the ones that are cleaning it up.”

“Volunteering alongside the community members is the reason I feel the way I do about Baltimore. The students I mentored last year are some of the most incredible, resilient people I’ve ever met. I think one of the biggest reasons I feel a strong connection to Baltimore is because of those students. I think about them and how they’re doing every day, especially recently. I’m still in touch with one of them and have been emailing her about what her experience during the past week has been like.”

She is particularly struggling with the texts she’s recently receiving from her parents and others, saying, “I’m so glad you don’t live in Baltimore anymore.”  Yes, she’s safe in New York City, “but a place that I feel is my home is burning. Emotionally, I’m torn. So many times today, I’ve thought about just hopping on a train/bus to Baltimore. I feel like I need to be there. I need to help.”

Alli’s headed to Baltimore this weekend.  She considered turning these ideas into a blog post, but demurred.  “If you want to talk, I’m here. But we should probably talk over the phone, because this issue is complicated, and I’m a better talker than I am a writer.”

I’m not so sure, Alli.  Your email moved me.

Look Beyond the Nostalgia to Confront Current Race Issues

This Op-Ed by Rabbi Seth Goren first appeared in The Jewish Exponent on January 13th.

Of the many memorializations of the civil rights movement, among the most familiar to Jews is a photograph of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching in 1965 in Selma, Ala. In addition to its own innate power, it is referenced as evidence of our community’s support for black rights and the strength of African-American/Jewish relationships.
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A Day in The D with Peercorps!

A few of our Detroit fellows work very closely with Peercorps on a regular basis. Peercorps is an organization that pairs B’nai mitzvah aged students with high school aged mentors to participate in meaningful service work across six sites in the city of Detroit. Peercorps is family to Repair: Detroit and we love being a part of the logistical and programmatic planning on a regular basis. Part of the programming includes training sessions with the mentors around different themes. I reflected on our Elu V’Elu that took place last month based around the theme of communication. I was involved in the planning with one of the Peercorps coordinators and two of the second year mentors.

It was a jam packed Sunday, communication fun day for the Peercorps mentors! Ellery, Noah, and Aj led the way; Beginning with a snackluck. We gathered at the Repair the World workshop in Southwest Detroit, catching up with each other and noshing.

The program opened up with a team challenge activity: carpet squares! Can 14 teenagers fit on one carpet square? Only with excellent care and communication!

The game was followed by a gallery walk: mentors and staff wrote their thoughts under different questions and statements posted on the whiteboard. The statements varied from “I feel most heard when..” to “In our region of Metro Detroit, where do the biggest gaps in our communication exist?”

Next, the mentors paired off to discuss the gallery walk and the prompts. We came back together and shared our ideas:

Active listening is the root of good communication #respect #bagels #pineapplejews #pineapples

Being willing to listen to the other person is as important as being heard #communicationtakeswork

Clarity is key. @adamxphillips x @constantarnopol tweet collab #TheSequel #Zedd #art #UMF #CabbageControl #PersonalBrand

We transitioned into the next activity where we took personality tests, shared out what type of personality category the test chose for us, and discussed the importance of being able to work with different types of personalities.

We then took a bit of time to have short one on one conversations positioned in two lines facing each other with prompts about different communication experiences we’ve had in Peercorps. Discussion partners rotated every couple minutes to hear from different perspectives.

The final component of the program involved mapping our different identities (race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion)  on a graph spectrum ranging from what we feel is visible to invisible and comfortable to uncomfortable. This was followed up with a discussion of what the graph means to us in relation to the way we identify ourselves.

This past Sunday was the first of our elu v’elu programming – ongoing mentor learning throughout the year that’s led by Second Year Mentors. There were positive vibes throughout the workshop and an openness to talk about things that may otherwise be harder to talk about, creating fruitful and engaging communication within exercises exploring our communication. All that was discussed and explored can be used as a tool in understanding our communication skills, to ensure the highest quality of relationships within our Peercorps family, between mentors and mentees, Nora, Aj, Blair, the fellows, service partners, and all the folks we interact with!

 

Rachel Fine is a Repair the World Fellow in Detroit, MI Learn More >>

Building Projects Build Neighborhood Connections

Upon moving into Highlandtown, the fellows began to explore different parts of our new neighborhood. We met store owners, leaders of important local organizations, and some across-the-street neighbors. With every person I met came a deeper feeling of belonging and connection to where we live and work. Still I wondered, as I walked past row home after row home on my way to our workshop, who lives behind these doors?

A few months ago, the Repair the World: Baltimore fellows got word of a tree box build happening just two streets over from our Highlandtown home. The greening committee of our community association had been awarded a grant to fund the building of wooden tree boxes for the newly-planted street trees on Highland Ave. I was eager to meet more neighbors, so I bundled up bright and early and headed out to build.

My work with Baltimore Orchard Project, an organization that plants and harvests fruit and nut trees in Baltimore city, has grown my interest in trees and taught me a lot about the benefits of trees in the urban environment. I went into this tree box build knowing that trees not only serve as beautification and a little extra shade, but also provide stormwater management, increased resident satisfaction, increased home value, and much more. I even knew that street tree boxes and fences reduce street trash dumping and litter and increase the tree’s life expectancy. This project was a win-win for the trees and the neighborhood!

Little did I know, it was a win-win-win…win!

Upon arriving, I was greeted by a handful of friendly residents wanting to know all about me and how I ended up living in Highlandtown. Naturally, I wanted to know the same about them. These conversations became sharing of life stories. I learned about my neighbors’ decisions to move into our non-gentrified area, the jobs that brought them to Baltimore city, and the spouses with which they have started this next chapter of homeownership.

Before we knew it, we were tackling more than just the issues of concrete where wooden posts are supposed to be and drills running out of battery – we were tackling the problems of our neighborhood not only through action but through conversation.

By the end of the day, we had built five beautiful tree boxes and new relationships. Repair the World was suddenly open to many possibilities for future partnership with the community association, with a local church, and with people who truly care about their community.

tree2 tree1

This neighborhood gathering was a pooling of resources that resulted in many benefits for the neighborhood, the baby trees, the community association, and me! I left feeling quite accomplished and very much connected. I now imagine the homes I walk by every day filled with people I know, not strangers I may never meet. Instead of assuming fellow pedestrians are strangers, I look up to search their faces for familiarity.

Now every time I ride or walk down Highland Ave., I am sure to point out to any and every person with me that I had a hand in making those beautiful tree boxes. My pride and sense of ownership in those moments reminds me of how people can really change neighborhoods, one building project or conversation at a time. This project showed me how building something with another person creates a certain bond that is upheld within that structure itself. It stands as a physical reminder of all we can do together, which is why I jumped at the chance to help build a fence at the Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School this month, too!

And the connections continue…

fence1

Lauren Fine is a Repair the World Fellow in Baltimore, MD. Learn more >>

On Justice and the Eric Garner Decision

Dear Friends,

Yesterday we heard the news that the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner was not indicted. Shortly afterwards I listened, as protesters peaceful but fervent passed through the streets of midtown. From Union Square to Times Square “I can’t breathe” echoed in steady succession. Voices of anger, sorrow, desperation and determination resounding throughout the city.

I thought of the prophetic lines from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “…what is it America has failed to hear? …It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

The structural injustices and racism that confronted us so starkly and so recently in Ferguson, have resurfaced once again. A different case, a different place, yet the very same grand jury decision, and the very same inequity that is a dominant factor in millions of our fellow citizens’ lives. It is clear that these cases are repetitive and symptomatic of so much that has been so wrong for so long.

This year, we mourn Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, and many others who were killed in an environment of deep-seated, systemic violence in both our communities and in our country. As the news reports on young people of color who are harassed, jailed and killed, we may feel heartbroken, angry and, at times, hopeless. For some of us, places like Staten Island, Illinois or Ferguson feel far, worlds apart. For others, they feel too close to home. During this time many of us re-excavate the basis of our own complicity in America’s racial injustice: loss of urgency in working to bring change, juxtaposed with active furtherance of the privileges that life affords our families and ourselves. For many in Jewish communities, we are left with questions: Where do we as Jews fit into struggles against racial inequality?

It’s these questions and contemplation that should catalyze our endeavor to engage the Jewish community, to serve in partnership and solidarity with people who feel these injustices every day, and to work to ensure that justice exists in every corner of our country for every person, regardless of race.

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David Eisner
President and CEO
Repair the World

At ‘Simchat Torah Across Brooklyn,’ No Politics, Just Joy

This post originally appeared on Forward on October 17, 2014

By Gabe Friedman

In the Grand Army Plaza, at the entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the circle dance threatened to close me in. I had avoided it for some time, but the energy was contagious. I gave in and danced in one of the joyful concentric circles.  This was the third year of “Simchat Torah Across Brooklyn,” an outdoor celebration spearheaded by Rabbi Andy Bachman and Cantor Joshua Breitzer of Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

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Want more #JAHM Inspiration?

As you probably know from the beginning of May, it’s the 2nd annual, official, Jewish American Heritage Month! In honor of this year’s Tikkun Olam (healing the world) theme, we’re teaming up with our friends at The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network to bring you stories from members of our respective communities, who work to “Repair the World” daily, and the Jewish Americans that inspire them to do so.

Our final installments in this series come from: Adam Soclof, ROI Community Member, Rachel Wallace, Repair the World Fellow, & Jacob Shwirtz, ROI Community Member

 

photo1 Adam Soclof, ROI Community Member

Long eminent in philanthropic, social and communal work, the Jews of America, through the increased advantages at the disposal of the Yeshiva, will be able to broaden their field for the training of scholars and religious leaders for their people. This is of importance, not only to them but to our national life as a whole.

Read more: http://www.jta.org/1927/05/03/archive/yeshiva-college-cornerstone-laying-is-witnessed-by-30000#ixzz32FyCm1GY

These remarks were conveyed by President Calvin Coolidge to mark the founding of Yeshiva University, a flagship Jewish educational institution in the Orthodox community.

Modern American Jews are keenly appreciative of the comforts afforded by their country. And yet, the concern of being deemed to particularistic, too focused on ourselves to the exclusion of others, remains a lingering concern, perhaps an evolutionary vestige of our own distant history of feeling excluded at the hands of others. Coolidge’s praise of a Jewish institution represents the fulfillment of our hope that as Jews, our pursuits will contribute to some greater good and be recognized as such.

During Jewish American Heritage Month, identifying Jewish heroes isn’t so much about celebrating one person, but <i>any</i> person seized by the spirit that characterizes the American dream; values-driven pioneering.

This spirit takes many forms in the Jewish community today: A lay leader navigates complex zoning ordinances to establish a community center. A high school student athlete instinctively recalls his EMT training and saves a competitor’s life on the field. A group of environmentally conscious friends build and scale up a farm to teach ethics through the agrarian lifestyle.

The process doesn’t always make the history pages or headlines. (The examples above did.) But all across the country and over the course of our nation’s history, we find instances of Jewish individuals whose determination to have an impact locally earns the admiration of their fellow Americans. And that is the essence of America, a land where everyone regardless of creed, origin or external appearance can exercise the right to achieve great things while preserving (or asserting) the democratic rights of others.

Rapid changes in telecommunications continue to shorten the distance between any two communities across the globe. As our consciousness of these communities continues to grow, so does the marketplace of opportunities to serve them through our activities.

This month, let us celebrate all Jewish individuals in America who have modeled good citizenship in our own communities, and apply these lessons as we incorporate more individuals around the world into our consciousness.

Think local, act global – and remember that local activity impacts the global, too.

Adam Soclof is Associate Director of Outreach and Partnerships for JTA.

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RachelWallace1 Rachel Wallace, Repair the World Fellow

I was raised by two attorneys. I had to learn to hold my own in every discussion, and my dinner table discussions were inevitably about politics, law, and the issues of our time. My parents introduced my siblings and me to an array of legal issues and legal figures, ranging from flag burning to Ralph Nader.

A champion for civil rights, a defender of the indigent, and a strong supporter of Israel, dinner conversations about Alan Dershowitz stand out in my mind.

He is a model Jewish American figure who came from humble beginnings and has never forgotten his roots. He embodies the Jewish values with which I was raised – standing up for those in need, and using one’s knowledge, education, or other resources to give back.

Dershowitz stands up for the little guy, and engages in Tikkun tikkun Olam olam (repairing the world) by fighting for rights and freedoms for all, both in the United States and abroad.

I admire Dershowitz, as he became an attorney for the right reasons and uses his training for good – to ensure that all receive a fair trial, and that every individual receives a defense.

Through his trials, he single-handedly tests the legal system, guaranteeing that no one is taken advantage of by the law, a complex system that most Americans cannot understand without training.

Dershowitz not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. He applies his values to every individual, and believes that everyone has a right to a defense, even unpopular people. Over half of his cases are pro bono, in which he helps the David against the Goliath, and provides a voice to those who may otherwise not have one in the courtroom.

Having taken more pro bono cases than any other lawyer in private practice in the U.S., Dershowitz brings key elements of social justice into the legal world, fighting for those who deserve the right to a lawyer but cannot afford one.

Dershowitz defends the little guy on a global level, as well. He fights for Israel when it receives unfair and overwhelming attacks, and when no one in the international arena defends it. Nonetheless, he holds Israel to high standards and demands civil rights across the State of Israel. He is not afraid to criticize it to ensure maximum freedoms for its citizens.

Having battled anti-Israel sentiment and actions myself, including blatant anti-Israel hostility on campus, I see Dershowitz as an inspiration for his ability to fight an uphill battle defending Israel.

I not only admire Dershowitz’s standpoints and opinions, I admire his tenacity.

When reflecting on his legal career as a civil and human rights activist, Dershowitz stated, “I’m a very tough guy, and I fight hard, and I don’t give up. And that makes me friends, and that makes me enemies, and I know that.”

Dershowitz inspires me to stand up. I hope I will make friends this way, but know that that may not always be the case.

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Headshot-Shwirtz Jacob Shwirtz, ROI Community Member

My Jewish American Heroes are my parents

Shlomo and Drora Shwirtz worked tirelessly to send my siblings and I to Jewish school and taught us by setting the best examples possible. They instilled in us a love for Israel, Judaism and entrepreneurship.

My father, working under the pen name Shlomo Shamir, spent over 40 years as the NY correspondent for Israel’s Ha’Aretz newspaper. Working from home, he was always available to help with homework when I was younger, and advice as I grew older. Even in retirement, he can’t stop writing and has transitioned into providing thought-pieces for a new generation of Israeli new media publications. As the eldest in the family, he has always taken great care to pass down the stories and lessons from his forbearers. Last year, with a lot of preparation, my father led a family “roots” trip to Poland, where we were all able to see the history of our family with our own eyes and learn more about where we come from.

In myriad different ways, my parents seem to complement each other perfectly. If my father nurtured my soul, my mother nurtured my body.

Throughout my life I’ve witnessed my mother take charge, organize, create and build both a family and a business. A female immigrant in New York, it couldn’t have been easy for her to become an entrepreneur and start a new business.

After years of hard work, my mother eventually ran a large communications consultancy and provided both meaningful inspiration and physical help for me to pursue my own dreams. I have vivid memories of visiting her in the office, seeing her in action and marveling at her acumen.

As the son of two hard-working immigrants with non-traditional jobs, I always knew I’d do something unique with my life. From an early age they supported my passion for the Internet – way before it was a credible career path.

They are my heroes and I owe them more than I can ever repay. I am forever grateful for the examples they set and support they provided (overtly and more subtly as well).

I can’t imagine crediting anyone more than my parents for the man I am today.

It’s still #JAHM! Who is your inspiration?

As you probably know from the beginning of May, it’s the 2nd annual, official, Jewish American Heritage Month! In honor of this year’s Tikkun Olam (healing the world) theme, we’re teaming up with our friends at The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network to bring you stories from members of our respective communities, who work to “Repair the World” daily, and the Jewish Americans that inspire them to do so.

Next up we have: Emma Adelman, Repair the World Fellow & Julie Oxenhandler, REALITY participant

 

emma Emma Adelman, Repair the World Fellow

When asked to pick my “favorite Jewish American figure, hero or inspiration”, hundreds of names rushed into my head. However, three stood out: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rosalyn Yalow, and Constance Adelman.

Chances are you know who is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but ….did you know

  • that she was the first  Jewish American woman to become a Supreme Court Justice?

  • Or that earlier in her career she co-founded both the Women’s Rights Law Reporter and the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU?

Ginsburg, the 107th Justice of the United States Supreme Court, puts Judaism and Civil Rights at the forefront of her work. In a recent interview with the Jewish Women’s Archive she stated, “I am a judge, born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition.” Justice Ginsburg has fought for social justice and worked towards Tikkun Olam her entire career.

Have you ever heard of Rosalyn Yalow? Did you know ….

  • her father-in-law was an Orthodox Rabbi and Chief Rabbi of Syracuse, NY?

  • she was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Science?

  • she the first American-born Jewish Woman to win a Nobel Prize?

Her work in Radioimmunoassay (RIA), using radioactive tracers to measure pharmacological or biological substances with radioactive isotopes in humans, mammals, and other animals has proven to be a major contribution to science. Just think of anyone who has received radioactive iodine as treatment for thyroid disease or radiation for treatment for cancer, all of this wouldn’t have been possible without her.

Odds are you do not know Constance Adelman, my Great – Aunt Connie.  She grew up in a traditional orthodox family in Chicago. Despite all of the barriers Orthodox Jewish women, born in the first part of the 20th Century, faced Aunt Connie taught Spanish at Morgan Park High School.  She went on to get her Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of Illinois, and then taught at Circle Campus — University of Illinois at Chicago.

However, the most impressive thing to me, is that in her early  80’s, Aunt Connie decided that it was time for her to have her Bat Mitzvah. In her youth,  Bat Mitzvahs did not exist. Later in life, Aunt Connie claimed Judaism as her own.  Over her Rabbi’s “suggestion” that she do an abbreviated torah portion and a less rigorous Bat Mitzvah than usual,  Aunt Connie did the whole thing- parashat, speech, chanting and partying.  She wanted and got the real deal.

Ginsburg, Yalow, and Adelman are my heros and my inspiration.  These three women fought the status quo, fought for their personal advancement, fought for the advancement of their colleagues, fought for their personal dreams, and fought for future generations.  They give us inspiration and strength to strive for Tzedek, justice, and to make the world a better place.  Like the matriarchs who came before them, they have laid down a challenge for all us to live up to.

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Julie Oxenhandler Julie Oxenhandler: REALITY participant

I spent many hours of my childhood in bookstores and libraries.  Books were then and still are now one of my favorite escapes from reality.  I dreamed of eating Turkish Delight in Narnia, singing with the flowers in Wonderland, and dancing with the Wild Things.  I dreamed a lot when I read.  I loved that at any moment I could close my eyes and float into another space – oh how I longed for a Phantom Tollbooth of my own!  There are stories I know by heart and dog-eared copies of books I have owned for most of my life, read and reread time after time.  I look longingly at these books – they truly are treasures.

As a child, however, I knew very little about the authors behind the stories I relished so dearly.  Sometimes authors I thought were men were actually women and stories I thought were magical were actually religious.  As we grow older books that we loved as children either become nostalgic and irreplaceable in our hearts, or like old friends we haven’t seen in awhile, fond memories that pop into our thoughts sporadically, fleetingly passing us by.

As a little girl I can’t remember, ever, reading a story about a young girl who lived in America and was Jewish – sure I was given The Diary of Anne Frank and Number the Stars – undisputed powerful tales, but where was I in popular American literature?  As I moved from a city with a large Jewish population, to the one where I was the only Jewish student in my school – I realized how important it was for me to have this part of my identity validated.

I never did find an author who was writing stories about a girl just like me; however, I did find Judy Blume.  For those of you who have read her delicious tales, you know there is something special about each character she crafts, each twist and obstacle she imagines.  Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing was and still is one of my favorite books.  It is one that I share with my students and hope to share with my own children one day.  I didn’t know when I first discovered her work that Judy Blume was Jewish, but knowing now is truly inspirational.  She writes books that know no bounds – gender, age, class, race – it doesn’t matter.  Kids relate to her characters in a way that only a truly gifted writer can accomplish.

As an adult, who constantly is reading children’s and young adult literature I praise Judy Blume as hero among literary realms.  Maybe I will never have the opportunity to write a book – let alone get it published, but knowing that there are Jewish woman who have cemented their place as staples in the American literary scene gives me hope, and frankly courage, to tell the stories that I never got to read as a child.

Repair & Schusterman Team Up for #JAHM!

As you probably know from the beginning of May, it’s the 2nd annual, official, Jewish American Heritage Month! In honor of this year’s Tikkun Olam (healing the world) theme, we’re teaming up with our friends at The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network to bring you stories from members of our respective communities, who work to “Repair the World” daily, and the Jewish Americans that inspire them to do so.

First up: Ariane Mandell, ROI Community member, and Amalia Mark, Repair the World Fellow.

ArianePicAriane Mandell, ROI Community Member

There are countless reasons to respect and admire Elie Wiesel. His memoir Night is probably the most read personal account of the holocaust, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and he’s an accomplished academic and lecturer, to name just a few of his extraordinary accomplishments. But Wiesel has always deeply inspired me particularly because of his unflinching call to Jews and humans everywhere to remember injustice and stand up in empathy for others.

Wiesel has always passionately insisted that Jewish memory must persist. “I marvel at the resilience of the Jewish people,” he wrote. “Their best characteristic is their desire to remember. No other people has such an obsession with memory.” He went on to write, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

As an American by choice, Wiesel has been particularly expressive about how that pursuit of Justice and dignity is connected to the identity of the Jewish American. In his essay “The America I love,” he wrote, “(When I became an American citizen), I had ceased to be stateless. Until then, unprotected by any government and unwanted by any society, the Jew in me was overcome by a feeling of pride mixed with gratitude.” He added, “In America, compassion for the refugee and respect for the other still have Biblical connotations.” Indeed the historic American embrace of the immigrant and its paramount value of freedom for all people is very consistent with Jewish laws and even dreams. I’m always reminded of that unique double obligation that American Jews have to exercise our freedom to free others when I read Wiesel.

Finally, in a micro level, Wiesel inspires me to find my personal role in that very grand entreaty as a writer. “Write only if you cannot live without writing,” he said. “Write only what you alone can write.” Wiesel took it upon himself to write what only he could, and he did so unflinchingly because that is what is necessary. Wiesel reminds me that writers should always imbue their work with their unique personal experience, despite the risk and vulnerability involved.  As a Jew who became an American and did what only he could do, Wiesel serves as an example to all of us similarly connected by that special combination of cultural heritage and nationality.

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amalia Amalia Mark, Repair the World Fellow

I have a hard time picking favorites. Favorite color? Well, that changes from moment to moment. It’s yellow right now but I think it’s going to be light blue by next week. And don’t even go down the path of asking me to choose a favorite book…

It comes as no surprise then that it is immensely challenging to pinpoint my favorite Jewish American figure. How am I supposed to decide? Spoiler alert: I’m not going to. And here’s why:

I have always experienced one constant even when running the full gamut of emotions, from lost and confused to dreaming, excitement and passion. My constant has always been words. I love the beautiful combination that is born when word are set to paper or spoken in a particularly eloquent fashion. As someone who spends far too much time on the internet, I’ve noticed a disconcerting trend: women’s voices are shouted down, ignored and demeaned in so many arenas and the internet is no exception.

As a result, I’m deeply inspired by Jewish women who keep putting forth their words regardless of response: in books, blogs, religious faith traditions, scholarly papers and day-to-day conversations. These Jewish women have voices that tell their message and their story unapologetically, powerfully and passionately. Voices that will not be silenced, that are working to change how ritual Judaism is approached and voices that are opening up painful, necessary conversations on topics from immersing in the mikvah to choices surrounding Israel.

Every day I try to read the words of Jewish women who are writing about modern day struggles that speak to them and carry resonance and relevance into my life as well. Who would I be if I didn’t have the chance to listen to these voices and rejoice in their formation? The words of women from the entirety of the Jewish spectrum create and shape my narrative and story of self. From my mother, who read to me every night as a child and instilled in me my adoration of the ABC’s in all of their wonderful forms, to Dasi Fruchter, whose words, “I Will Never Stop Asking” set me ablaze and act as my mantra on most days.

I am not be able to choose my favorite Jewish American figure, or even my favorite Jewish female author, because to me that would be the equivalent of choosing my favorite letter of the alphabet. With twenty six beautiful characters to choose from, my life would be poorer if I had to select simply one to spotlight.

Instead, I’m celebrating each and every one of the women who shape these letters into a pattern that creates, questions and celebrates Jewish life and practice.

L’Chaim!

 

 

MLK Day in Philly

By Repair the World Fellow Rachel Wallace
I grew up in a vibrant Jewish community – one that surrounded me with joy, support, education, and the ability to grow. My community members inculcated in me the values of learning, knowledge, support, helping others both in and outside of my community, and tikkun olam (repairing the world). As I grew, my fellow community members acknowledged my success, my own hard work, and my perseverance, but also helped me acknowledge my privilege – that my success came in part because they were there to lay out a path for me to succeed.
          As a result of my upbringing, community has always been a strong value of mine, and I have imbued my life with the values it has taught me. Therefore, I am grateful for the opportunity to work with Repair The World, an organization that believes in giving back, and supporting both nascent and thriving communities throughout Philadelphia the greater United States.
          This month, I had the privilege of coordinating Repair The World’s Martin Luther King Day, overseeing my fellow Repair The World Fellows in coordinating their own service projects and their recruitment of volunteers for this day. As a team of Repair The World Philadelphia Fellows, we turned MLK Day, a day off, into a day on – a day in which Philadelphians could participate in a service project to give back to their communities.
          I witnessed Philadelphians giving back to their own communities on Martin Luther King Day through the organization for which I work, West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC). In addition to coordinating the MLK Day projects in advance of MLK Day, on the day of, I participated in and helped WePAC’s Little Free Library construction. Little Free Libraries are mobile libraries that look like mini houses. They are containers out of which individuals can take books and place books in as they please. These libraries offer free books to the communities in which they are placed. The Little Free Library movement is one that has been spreading nationwide, and with the help of volunteers on MLK Day, WePAC will introduce this movement to Philly and place these libraries in spaces with no public or school libraries.
          It was amazing to see over one hundred people come out to participate in this community-oriented project – constructing the mobile libraries, assembling them, and painting them. Volunteers’ creativity was incredible. They painted the libraries with all types of designs, ranging from Clifford The Big Red Dog to the Philadelphia Eagles to themes from the United States Constitution. These designs were more than decorative. They symbolized various segments of our community coming together. Volunteers’ energy was inspiring, and was truly infectious. They reported that they had a fun time and a meaningful day of service, and look forward to participating in other Repair The World service projects.
          After many weeks of effort toward this day, it was a pleasure to watch WePAC’s MLK Day of service unfold. Its project and day itself embodied the values with which I was raised, such as community, giving back, and education. Its MLK Day brought out individuals from all over Philadelphia, allowing all of us to unite around a common cause – improving our own city of Philadelphia. Our ability to come together as a community that day enabled us to complete these Little Free Libraries that will stimulate community in other parts of Philly, allowing neighborhoods that would not otherwise have access to reading materials come together over books. Growing up in a community where books and knowledge were a vital piece of my upbringing, I am excited that WePAC can now give this gift to others.