In the month leading up to Passover, Repair the World is sharing stories that highlight the on-the-ground ways our fellows, volunteers, and partner organizations serve in solidarity to turn the tables on racial injustice. Today, meet Rebecca Mather, who incorporates Repair the World materials into her work as Social Justice Coordinator at Texas Hillel. Then, join our Passover campaign and help us serve in solidarity by hosting and volunteering. Together we can #ActNowForRacialJustice.

Every Friday night, Jewish students gather at Texas Hillel at the University of Texas, Austin for Shabbat services. But in addition to the Reform, Conservative, and traditional minyanim (prayer gatherings) one might expect, some students opt for a different sort of gathering: a conversation about social justice.

Launched by Texas Hillel staffer, Rebecca Mather, the conversations cover everything from unpacking the Black Lives Matter movement to exploring Judaism’s relationship with water as a starting point to discuss the situations in Flint or at Standing Rock.

The students come from a wide variety of backgrounds. And according to Mather, the conversations can get heated. “Every time I’ve facilitated a conversation, I have been impressed with the willingness of everybody in the room to engage with difficult conversations,” she said. “Students never shy away from agitating complicated, and often painful, topics.” But as a result, powerful moments of transformation have come out of these Friday night conversations – for participants and also student facilitators.

“I help students turn big ideas into hour-long discussions,” Mather said of her work guiding students into a facilitator role. “It’s a great way to engage students who might not otherwise have a space to show their leadership ability.”

Mather, who participated as part of Repair the World’s delegation at last fall’s Facing Race conference in Atlanta, said she utilizes aspects of Repair the World’s Turn the Tables guides when she leads a conversation, and often points students towards them as a resource. Recently, one student used sources from HIAS and Repair the World’s Turn the Tables Passover guide while facilitating a conversation about the Jewish community’s responsibility towards immigrants and refugees.

So why offer a conversation on Shabbat in lieu of attending a service? Mather sees it two ways. First, she understands that people relate to Jewish tradition in different ways, and that for some students conversations like the ones at Texas Hillel offer a path toward deep engagement with Jewish values. But most importantly, holding conversations like this during a time of rest and reflection fosters deep connection and celebration through dialogue. “Demanding joy in the midst of resisting oppression is not contradictory, but absolutely necessary,” she said. “That’s something I try to convey to students.”