By Sarah Levitt, Bay Area Corps Member
The Service Corps is a program launched by Repair the World that mobilizes Jewish young adults to engage in critical racial justice work, tackle food insecurity, strengthen our education system, combat social isolation, and address the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a Service Corps member, I had the opportunity to volunteer with Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA), a nonprofit organization based in Oakland. YSA is responding to the homeless crisis by building a “Tiny House Village” to provide shelter, community, and job training for homeless youth. My city coordinator and the team at YSA employed my interest in nutrition and passion for service to curate a plant-based cookbook for the village community to provide healthy recipes for communal dinners. I ensured that my cookbook was inclusive for all dietary restrictions, including vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, ketogenic, paleo, and gluten-free. I also participated in one of the weekend builds and worked alongside other corps members and homeless youth to paint tiny homes in the village.
I first read about the Service Corps in a Washington Post article this past summer. I was in awe of the inspirational work that these Jewish young adults were engaged in, and I wanted to get involved. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened my understanding of the systemic injustice disproportionately impacting our Black and brown, disabled, and otherwise oppressed neighbors and communities. From a Jewish lens, I found myself thinking about our obligation to repair the world (tikkun olam), pursue righteousness and justice (tzedakah) and spread acts of love and kindness (g’milut hasadim), which our Jewish values tell us we are responsible to practice and uphold.
I had the chance to explore these values with 21 other Corps members placed at 11 impactful community organizations across the Bay Area.
Sonia Brin, a corps member on the Peninsula, volunteered with Faith in Action East Bay to phonebank during the election and with Berkeley CopWatch to curate a database that reports incidents of police violence. They said the Service Corps has “given me the opportunity to meet new people and get involved with the community in a time when it’s so difficult to do [so]. Also, I’m immunocompromised, so it was particularly meaningful to me to be able to safely do volunteer work in a time when there’s so much need in the community.”
Another one of my fellow corps members, Aaron Morrill, was placed at Urban Adamah, an educational farm and community center in Berkeley that is rooted in Jewish tradition, mindfulness, sustainable agriculture, and social action. Aaron recounted “working at Urban Adamah has reinvigorated my love of meeting new people and learning new skills, while also giving me the opportunity to contribute to a great mission. The Service Corps has given me a much-needed sense of community during a time that leaves everyone feeling constantly disconnected.”
Our volunteer service was complemented with Jewish educational seminars that I looked forward to each week. One session on leveraging relationships reinforced the power that a group of individuals has to make a change. This learning galvanized me to organize a canned food drive for food-insecure families affected by the pandemic. I reached out to my neighbors, community members, family, and friends to collect about 60 pounds of canned goods as well as $127 of monetary donations for a local food bank.
“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it” ~ Rabbi Tarfon
We cannot complete the task of improving the world, but neither are we free to abandon the task if we wish to leave a world worth living to future generations. This Jewish wisdom and my experiences in this program have led me to reflect: What are my community’s needs? How can I leverage my relationships to make a transformative change? What am I passionate about that I can offer with whole energy and enthusiasm? How are my actions aligned with Jewish values? The Service Corps has made me hyperaware of the social inequities and systemic injustices that individuals in my community face and provided me with countless resources to continue to combat these issues.
I have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to work, learn, and grow with such passionate, devoted, and like-minded educators, nonprofit organizations, and corps members. The Service Corps has been such a rewarding, enriching, eye-opening, and grounding experience, and I am honored to be a part of this organization and stand up during this moment.
This article originally appeared in Jewish Federation and Endowment Fund blog on December 18, 2020.