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You, too, can help repair the world: Pirkei Avot offers inspiration for millennial do-gooders

This post originally appeared on JWeekly.com on Sept 15, 2016

By David Eisner

When lowering my shoulder, planting my feet and pushing hard to make something happen, I love to reflect on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s exhortation to act with “the fierce urgency of now.”

My feelings in those moments usually are not very MLK-like — self-righteousness, self-satisfaction and just a touch of self-pity make me feel both impatient and smug.

Over the last month, however, “the fierce urgency of now” has challenged me in a new way, as I struggle to process the violence, oppression, naked fear, hatred and cynicism that is dominating our national news and politics and spilling into our communities.

The sense of urgency and the desire to act immediately collides with two simple questions: What should I do?  What can I do?

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How to Repair The World and inspire a volunteerism culture

This post originally appeared in Vision in Sept 2016.

By Yasmine Ziadat

David Eisner, CEO and President of NPO Repair The World, explains how businesses and governments can tap into an undervalued pool of potential volunteers, to celebrate our Special ‘Power of Volunteering’ Feature, launching in October.

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How Young Adults Serve with Others and Build New Jewish Community at the Same Time

By David Eisner

This article originally appeared March 24, 2016 in E Jewish Philanthropy.

Across the country, organizations and leaders are looking for proven ways to engage the so-called “unaffiliated” Jewish young adults who don’t connect with the “organized” Jewish community. Finding these young adults is not as mysterious as you might hear: head to a multi-ethnic, urban neighborhood that’s grappling with gentrification; spend some time in a second-hand book store; or hang out at a boutique coffee shop. They’ll be there. And, just as finding these young adults requires going where they already are, engaging them requires empowering them to do what they already care about – not looking for ways to get them to care about something different.

Fortunately, what these young adults care most about – having a positive impact in their community, in communities in need, and in the world – is exactly what our Jewish community would do well to focus on. These parallel interests are a positive sign for the future of Jewish life, and the future of Jewish young adults creating that life in their vision.

We also have new data that crystalizes how we can connect with these “unaffiliated” young Jews and meet their needs and desires in life. This data is documented and analyzed in Building Jewish Community Through Service, Repair the World’s report on the independent evaluation of its flagship Communities program. Based on the first two years of programming in Baltimore, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the data constitutes compelling evidence that:

Jewish young adults, especially “unaffiliated,” find service through a Jewish lens compelling when it is authentic, pluralistic, impactful, and meets the self-articulated needs of local communities. 75% of Communities’ participants are Jewish young adults, of whom an astonishing 70% have low prior Jewish experience.
Service can achieve scale. Repair’s pilot Communities programs grew from engaging 4,000 unique participants in Year 1, to 12,000 in Year 2 (we’re on a path to exceed 17,000 in year 3) – this is in only 5 communities.
Service is “sticky” when it is meaningful and cause oriented – most participants return for more. Among the large numbers of participants who continue to deepen their engagement more than three-quarters say they come back for the impact and the community, both being with “other people who care about what I care about,” and fining opportunities to build authentic relationships with “people from backgrounds different from me.”
Well-structured service programs can effectively convey Jewish content. To deliver deepest meaning, service programs should include three elements: hands-on (direct) service, contextual Jewish and civic education, and personal reflection.  In that framework, 67% of Communities participants increased their understanding of the connection between their social change passion and Jewish values.
Peer-to-peer engagement works. Participants almost universally expressed strong appreciation for the Fellows, and three-quarters credited the Fellows for their ongoing connection to the Communities program.
The Jewish community benefits. Strong findings emerged from focus groups with Jewish community leaders that Communities’ new approach to engagement for young adults has inspired the broader Jewish community toward service, toward working more effectively with young adults and toward building stronger relationships with other communities.
Now let me back up. I joined Repair the World three years ago from the secular service world, eager to further Repair’s mission to make service a defining element of American Jewish life. I found that Repair had built, in its first four years, astonishing depths of knowledge about how to make Jewish service programming authentic and impactful, and also how to engage Jewish young adults in that work. However, no Jewish organizations were leveraging that knowledge at any scale. In fact, the number of service opportunities offered with a Jewish lens was actually shrinking as organizations closed or deprioritized programs they considered unsustainable and poorly connected to their core missions.

Together with our board and young, ridiculously smart staff, we began retooling the organization to demonstrate the power of meaningful service through a Jewish lens in our own communities, to mobilize young adults to engage in Jewish service at a larger scale than previously seen, and to equip Jewish organizations and professionals to build a service movement. Within months, in the fall of 2013, we launched Repair the World’s new flagship Communities program, under the entrepreneur’s creed of “Launch and Learn” that included commissioning the independent evaluation of the program’s first two years. Operating in Baltimore, Brooklyn, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the program leverages best practices from AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, Public Allies and Points of Light. We deploy cohorts of full-time Repair the World fellows in each community with the explicit goal to connect young adults in those communities with education and food justice causes and with opportunities to serve with organizations embedded in those local communities that are excellent at addressing these critical needs.

Now fast forward back to today. Repair’s service programming, including direct service and contextual education, has matured in just three years to driving ever-deeper relationships between young Jews and local communities working together to address pressing social injustice. Leading national and local Jewish communal organizations are today using resources, training and opportunities to participate in cause-oriented campaigns, delivered by Repair the World – and they are working to build authentic and meaningful social justice programming and to engage Jewish young adults.

Based on my experience in the service field, my assessment of the culture that thrives at Repair the World and the data from this study, I believe that the reinvigorated momentum around service that Repair the World Communities has started in only two short years, as documented by this evaluation, has four drivers beyond a strong board, staff, planning and execution (not, of course, that we take those things for granted!):

Our commitment to make service and educational work authentic and impactful by taking our cues from our community-based partners, so that we serve with, not to or for, the impacted communities;
Our enforcement of “extreme pluralism” in terms of Jewish (and non-Jewish) inclusion and our rejection of any form of “bait and switch” or encouragement of religiosity or observance – we believe service through a Jewish lens can be not just a step toward a Jewish life, but the full expression of a Jewish life;
Our willingness to experience and discuss without flinching or avoidance the sometimes uncomfortable challenges and complexity associated with both the social issues and injustices we serve to address and the multiple narratives of the Jewish connection to those issues; and,
Our ethic of building fast cycles of data-driven learning in all of our activities, which we reinforce across the organization as well as with our partnerships.
We are hopeful that many more Jewish organizations and communities will take advantage of these learnings to build impactful and sustainable programming that embraces the passions of our next generation. This will, simultaneously, strengthen a robust, diverse Jewish community that is fully engaged in improving the lives and communities of our neighbors, a central feature of our commitment to Repair the World.

David Eisner is President and CEO of Repair the World. Building Jewish Community Through Service is available for download here.

March 2016 Social Good Roundup

In addition to our monthly Newsletter, we are also bringing you a monthly round-up of our favorite programs from our partners and from across the web. The opportunities below are separated by long term (6+ months), short term (6 months or less) and ongoing service, social good, and travel opportunities.

Be sure to check back monthly for updates and new finds!

Commit…To Service!     (Long-Term Programs)

You Want To Go To There.      (Short-Term and Travel Opportunities)

Be Social. Do Good.    (Social Good Jobs, Events and Campaigns)

Repair the World, In Detroit, Philly, Pittsburgh and NYC!

Don’t forget to check out upcoming opportunities in our Repair the World Communities:

Up Next: A Jewish Peace Corps

This letter, by Repair the World’s President and CEO, David Eisner, was originally published in HaAretz.

A Call to Heed

In response to “Only ‘Jewish Peace Corps’ can save Zionism from millennial crisis,” February 25, Ari Shavit issues an important call to expand service opportunities for young Jewish adults. Shavit’s right: Jewish service links volunteering to Jewish values in millennials’ minds. Each year Repair the World engages tens of thousands of young adults in meaningful, Jewish-infused service, and we’ve measured strong increases in how they connect their passion to drive social change to their Jewishness. Many even build innovative Jewish communities around this work. Through service initiatives like Passover’s #SupportforRefugees, young adults address today’s urgent issues, make Judaism fit their lives, and challenge themselves to learn, question and lead.

The difficulty for many in the Jewish community is internalizing how crucial it is for the service to be authentic – for programs to reflect uncomfortably extreme pluralism, and for Jewish elements to be offered “no strings attached.” Young adults deepening their appreciation for and identification with Jewish values don’t always build stronger connections to what they perceive to be the “organized” Jewish community. And, that’s okay. For many, this work is not an entry point into Jewish life – it is their Jewish life. As more young adults bring their Jewish expression to authentic service, they are making not just a better world, but a more vibrant Jewish community. 

We hope others heed Shavit’s call and create more opportunities for young adults (and Jews of all ages!) to explore the Jewish imperatives of tikkun olam and creating social change.

-David Eisner, Repair the World President and CEO

Volunteer to show #SupportForRefugees!

Details coming soon!

How much do you know about Refugees?

Be Aware. Take Action. Create Change.

Quiz Coming Soon!

February 2016 Social Good Roundup!

In addition to our monthly Newsletter, we are also bringing you a monthly round-up of our favorite programs from our partners and from across the web. The opportunities below are separated by long term (6+ months), short term (6 months or less) and ongoing service, social good, and travel opportunities.

Be sure to check back monthly for updates and new finds!

Commit…To Service!     (Long-Term Programs)

You Want To Go To There.      (Short-Term and Travel Opportunities)

Be Social. Do Good.    (Social Good Jobs, Events and Campaigns)

Repair the World, In Detroit, Philly, Pittsburgh and NYC!

Don’t forget to check out upcoming opportunities in our Repair the World Communities:

Rabbi Jill Jacobs & Carmen Perez for #AmplifyVoices

Rabbi Jill Jacobs Carmen Perez

Questions by Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Responses by Carmen Perez


RJJ: What inspired you to turn your personal tragedy into a catalyst for action?

CP: What inspired me to turn my personal tragedy into a catalyst for action was the fact that I had to move on beyond my grief. I felt I had to honor my sister Patricia’s life by picking myself up and actually living.  I knew at a very young age that I had a purpose in life, however, when my sister passed, she re-awakened my purpose.  She gave me the strength to my move beyond my loss and provide others the same opportunities I had – especially the most marginalized who are impacted by incarceration and/or poverty.  

RJJ: What keeps you going when progress is hard?

CP: My belief in a higher being and spiritual connection keep me going. I’m deeply grounded in spirituality, the vibration of the earth and the energy that propels human beings forward. I also often think about the many individuals who don’t have the same opportunities as myself, especially our brothers and sisters who are locked up. And the fact that I have 16 nieces and nephews who I have to be a positive role model for, it’s kind of hard not to keep going when progress is hard.

RJJ: How does the criminal justice system specifically affect women and girls? How can we better bring a gender lens to this issue?

CP: The criminal justice system specifically affects women and girls in so many ways and often their needs are not met by the system. The policies and practices that our country implements often re-traumatize and or re-victimize women and girls in the system. The majority of  women and girls in the system are victims of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. The subsequent trauma experienced by girls who have been abused has far–reaching implications for system providers, but the system has not adequately attempted to understand, address, or provide meaningful and/or gender responsive programming and support for women and girls’ abuse issues, particularly sexual abuse. Abuse trauma can affect every aspect of women and girls’ lives but what’s also important to understand is that the system focuses on an individual’s crime versus getting to the root cause of of why that individual ended up in the system in the first place, hence, never addressing or providing the appropriate rehabilitation.

In 2005, I was a part of a task-force in Santa Cruz County that provided gender responsive programming and services for all girls in the county regardless of probation status. We were able to provide a menu of services that incorporated sexual trauma counseling through art therapy, non-invasive drug testing, an evening center where we ran a girl’s circle curriculum among other services. It took a dedicated group of women to amplify the work that needed to be done in the county and if we as women came together to ensure that the needs of our sisters behind bars were met in a holistic way, we would see a decrease in recidivism.

RJJ: If you could do one thing to change the criminal justice/mass incarceration situation in this country, what would it be?

CP: My first priority would be to release all juveniles (18 years old and under) from adult facilities and place them in age-appropriate and culturally-appropriate facilities and/or programs.

RJJ: Do you consider yourself a person of faith? If so, how does faith play into your work? How do you see the broader role of faith and faith leaders in justice work?

CP: I wholeheartedly consider myself a person of faith. I was raised in a family where culture and our faith were the two most important things. I was able to participate in different faith-based practices, which has given me the ability to be open to different belief systems as well because I have a strong religious foundation. A lot of our work is grounded in spirituality. We include different faith-based leaders in our convenings and our work – whether it be our Dream for Justice March on MLK Day or Chokehold on the City, the one year of the non-indictment of Officer Daniel Pantaleo who was responsible for the death of Eric Garner. We believe that being connected to something larger than us allows us to connect to spirit and to one another.  

In the #AmplifyVoices campaign, we are pairing leaders in the Jewish community in conversation with activists for racial and social justice to further discussions on equality and social good, and to invite our audience to take action through volunteerism.Learn more >>