Each year, J-Serve: The International Day of Jewish Youth Service mobilizes more than ten thousand Jewish teens worldwide around meaningful service programs. Repair the World supports J-Serve’s efforts through trainings for youth group program staff throughout the country.
This year’s official J-Serve date is April 2 (though some communities pick a service date a few weeks before or after). We checked in with Nicci Mowszowski, an 18-year old senior at Cherry Creek High School in Denver, to find out how she celebrated J-Serve. Check out what she had to say.
What is your background with service and volunteering?
Growing up attending a Jewish day school, there was a precedent to engage in service and honor the Jewish values of tikkun olam and gemilut chasadim. After moving to America in 7th grade from Australia, I began volunteering at Children’s Hospital and, for the past few years, have had the honor of serving on their Junior Volunteer Advisory Board, overseeing the teen volunteers’ welfare and planning and executing large-scale hospital events. I am also a member of National Honor Society, which provides service opportunities in my community, and I take on an active role in BBYO. I believe that we each have the ability (and infinite potential) to serve our communities, whether on a grassroots or international scale.
How did you get involved with J-Serve? What drew you to it?
I was immediately drawn to J-Serve after realizing the magnitude of its impact – knowing that thousands of teens unite from across the world to serve at the same time. From volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House and making sandwiches for homeless people, to packing bags for refugees in Colorado and picking up trash in local parks, J-Serve has proven to make a huge difference – not only in the community, but on the participants. It inspires them to take action and be pioneers of compassion and service.
What sort of project/s will your J-Serve community be working on this year? What sort of impact do you hope they’ll have on the community?
Denver already had our J-Serve day on March 5th and it was very inspiring. We had a couple different projects at once including making bookmarks and donating books to refugee communities, making sandwiches for the homeless, and decorating windows for grieving kids at Judi’s House. Additionally, there was an advocacy track where teens wrote letters to local representatives about issues that they felt were important. Civic advocacy, on any level, is vital to teens sharing their voice, and I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to experience so many different facets of service within the span of a couple hours. I hope that the impact of these projects extends beyond J-Serve and encourages teens to contribute and speak up for what they believe.
What role did you play in organizing J-Serve this year?
As BBYO’s International Sh’licha (VP of Jewish Heritage, Community Service and Social Action), I’m responsible for working with a network of roughly 50 counterparts across the world, serving as the teen liaison for J-Serve and helping adapt it to every community. These teens have been working diligently year-round on creating meaningful service projects and opportunities in their respective communities, and J-Serve is a unique milestone through which to highlight and celebrate their ongoing commitment to service. I talk one on one with the teen facilitators and help ensure that they are well-prepared and excited to engage in such a unique event.
What are you most excited about this year? And what has been most challenging?
I’m really excited that we’re inviting political leaders and public figures to join J-Serve events this year. It’s incredible that teenagers are able to bridge the political and social gaps that so often divide communities, and to unite in service with such influential figures.
It is challenging, however, to execute so many events at once. Each community is different and requires a different approach to making J-Serve happen. It’s up to us to work with them and figure out which approach is best for the needs of each community.
Why is doing service in a specifically Jewish context meaningful to you personally?
I believe we all have a responsibility to aid one another in times of need and crisis. Not only is this value ingrained into our Torah and moral code, but it is ever-present in our history. My grandfather Zalman Mowszowski and his family escaped Poland through the compassion and active aid of Chiune Sugihara, who issued over 2,000 visas to those escaping the Holocaust. I care deeply about service in a Jewish context because I have seen the effects that one individual can have.
Keep up with J-Serve by tracking #JServe2017 on Twitter and on their Facebook page.