This post originally appeared on The Schusterman Blog on January 19, 2017
By Zoe Braunstein
For the first eighteen years of my life, my Jewish identity was completely intertwined with service work. From weekly visits to the Collingswood Nursing & Rehabilitation Center with my Hebrew School class, to rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina with my Jewish sleepaway camp, to social action projects with my NFTY youth group, volunteerism was embedded in my practice of Judaism.
Yet, when I went away to college, I hardly participated in service work, and I felt a disconnect from the way that I had grown up practicing Judaism.
When the time came to figure out my post-college life, I knew that I wanted to give back somehow. A friend recommended that I apply for a fellowship with Repair the World, and a few months later, I accepted an offer to serve as a Food Justice fellow for a year in Philadelphia.
Repair the World is a Jewish nonprofit committed to engaging millennials in service work around issues of food and education injustices. Through direct service and contextual learning, strong community partnerships, and engaging educational and social programming, fellows strive to infuse Jewish values into every part of our service. This fellowship has allowed me the opportunity to reconnect Judaism and service work, and showed me how important social justice is in Judaism.
What’s more, in my role, I get to work with Challah for Hunger (CfH), a nonprofit that brings people together to braid, bake and sell challah to raise money and awareness for local and global hunger-relief nonprofits.
CfH has chapters on 82 college campuses, and we are expanding our programming to engage adults with disabilities, Jewish teen groups, and families with young children through a project called The Social Change Bakery Network. We partner with existing groups and come together to bake challah, learn about hunger and philanthropy through Jewish educational programs and raise funds and awareness for social justice. Our goal is to create welcoming and meaningful experiences for Jews of different denominations, ages and abilities. In my role with CfH, I have been responsible for setting up Social Change Bakeries and running their bakes and educational programming.
My placement with CfH is, by far, my favorite part of my year of service because I have the privilege of helping others to appreciate the ties between social justice and Judaism. In developing the educational programming for the bakeries, I strive to connect Jewish values and teachings to issues of hunger and food access. For example, I have tied the Jewish value of tzedek (righteousness and justice) to our food system by thinking about animal welfare and agriculture, food access, and community participation in food systems.
In particular, it has been incredibly rewarding to watch the Social Change Bakery participants realize their Jewish obligation to advocate for social justice. The participants have also had the opportunity to engage in hands-on philanthropy. Each Social Change Bakery gets to choose which hunger-relief organization they will give to. Helping them through this process has been very humbling.
I get to give the participants information about a variety of local nonprofits, and ask them to answer questions such as “Who is being helped by this organization?” and “How does this nonprofit address hunger?” and “How far will our donation go?” The participants then must come to a consensus and select their nonprofit. With some Social Change Bakeries, this has been a simple process, and with some other bakeries, this has been more difficult and involved an examination of the values that the group wishes to uphold.
Exploring the ties between Judaism and service with the Social Change Bakeries has also strengthened my own Jewish identity. I am honored to be a part of such a meaningful volunteer opportunity, and to reconnect my religious practice to social justice.
Zoe Braunstein is doing a year of service as a fellow in Philadelphia with Repair the World. In her partnership with Challah for Hunger, she leads challah bakes and educational programming around issues of hunger and food access with the Social Change Bakery pilot project.