Unifying Communities: Transformative Journeys in Jewish Service through The Catalyst Fellowship

The Catalyst Fellowship powered by Repair the World – a journey of Jewish service commitment, planning, and reflection.  In this inspiring three-part series, we delve into the heart of The Catalyst Fellowship program powered by Repair the World and in partnership with Jewish Federations of North America, exploring each pivotal phase: the initial commitment, the intricate process of program planning, and the meaningful reflections that follow. Through nine dedicated Catalyst II Fellows stories, we will uncover the passion, challenges, and triumphs that define their Jewish service and learning journey. Join us for part one, where we introduce these remarkable individuals and their unwavering commitment to making a difference.

The Catalyst Fellowship, powered by Repair the World, is designed to inspire service through the Jewish Federations of North America. Evelyn (she/her) of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, Emma (she/her) of the Jewish Federation of Delaware, and Nicole (she/her) of the Jewish Federation of Milwaukee each embarked on transformative journeys with The Catalyst Fellowship, driven by professional goals and personal values. Their unique stories were united by a shared mission: to strengthen their communities through Jewish service and learning, embodying the values of strengthening each other,  hitchazkut, and action and learning, na’aseh v’nishma.

Evelyn’s journey began with a recommendation from the retiring CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. “I discovered this amazing opportunity thanks to her encouragement,” Evelyn recalls. She had been deeply involved in her community but wanted to make a more structured and meaningful impact. Her main goal  as a fellow was to create a robust service program. “We had increased event participation but lacked a service program focused on meaningful Jewish service and learning,” she explained. Through The Catalyst, Evelyn worked to design a program that resonated with volunteers and considered all aspects of program building—from volunteer experiences to agency partnerships.

Emma was driven by her passion for community building and service. When she was tasked with revitalizing the young adult division at the Jewish Federation of Delaware, she faced both challenges and opportunities “Our community in Delaware, though small, has immense potential,” she reflected. The Catalyst provided a platform for her to learn from other young adult division professionals and adapt their successes to Delaware’s. This opportunity to exchange ideas with peers was invaluable, as it allowed Emma to tailor successful strategies to fit the unique needs of her smaller community.

Nicole’s journey was fueled by her passion for social change. Starting her role at the Jewish Federation of Milwaukee, Nicole saw the fellowship as a way to build community bonds and enhance her leadership skills. “The chance to combine my passion for social action with Jewish service and learning was something I wanted to jump on,” she says. Nicole explained that she has always been drawn to causes that promoted justice and equality, and The Catalyst Fellowship provided a platform to integrate these values into her professional role.

As Evelyn, Emma, and Nicole progressed through the fellowship, they shared insights and experiences that enriched their individual journeys. Evelyn’s involvement in The Catalyst Fellowship was not just about professional development; it was a journey of personal growth and self-discovery. “During one session, I realized the spirit of service was part of my upbringing,” she shares. Her parents had been active volunteers, and this legacy of service had influenced her deeply, although she hadn’t fully appreciated its impact until she joined The Catalyst.

Evelyn leads a program called “Purim Carnival” at the The Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre.

Emma, facing the challenges of working with a small Jewish community, found enormous value in the support and camaraderie of her fellow cohort members. “The fellowship gave me a sense of kinship that strengthened my journey,” she says. The shared experiences and mutual support within The Catalyst cohort created a strong network of like-minded individuals committed to Jewish service. Looking ahead, Emma aims to build a strong foundation of Jewish service and engagement in Delaware. “Creating sustainable service among young adults is my goal,” she explained. She hopes to inspire future generations to  ensure that Jewish service is always  an integral part of their community.

Engaging this demographic was crucial for Nicole, as she hoped to foster a sense of belonging and purpose among young Jewish adults who did  not previously feel connected to the Jewish Federation. Professionally, she wanted an opportunity to boost her leadership skills. “While I enjoy facilitating programs, The Catalyst gave me the confidence I needed,” she said. The fellowship provided her the tools and techniques to lead Jewish service effectively and inspire others.

Integrating Jewish service and learning was essential for Evelyn, Emma, and Nicole to deepen community engagement. Evelyn emphasized the importance of incorporating Jewish learning into service programs: “People can volunteer anywhere, but offering something uniquely Jewish makes the experience more meaningful.” After October 7th, Evelyn found that people were eager to reconnect with their Jewish heritage, and she believed that their programs should – and could – help facilitate this spiritual reconnection.

Emma wanted to foster a culture of service among young adults in her community. “I envisioned a culture of giving and serving in Delaware, and The Catalyst helped me achieve this vision,” she shares. Infusing Jewish values into her initiatives was key to bridging divides and fostering the Jewish value of solidarity, achdoot. “Our work with a non-Jewish senior center showcased the universality of Jewish values,” she explains. This initiative demonstrated how Jewish principles could resonate broadly, helping to build bridges between different segments of the community.

Nicole’s focus on social change was reflected in her efforts to engage young adults. “I admired those who could seamlessly blend Jewish values into their programs,” she says. Nicole’s goal was to create programs that were not only impactful but also infused with Jewish values and learning, making them relevant and meaningful to both religious and secular participants.

Looking to the future, Evelyn, Emma, and Nicole each hope to leave a legacy of Jewish service and community stewardship. Evelyn hopes to create programs that will continue to inspire dynamic service and community engagement. Emma envisions a culture of service that will endure for generations. “Creating sustainable service among young adults is my goal,” she said. Nicole wants to establish a lasting impact through her work. “My goal is to leave a legacy of service that endures beyond my tenure,” she said, envisioning resources and frameworks that future leaders can build upon.

Evelyn, Emma, and Nicole’s dedication and passion for Jewish service and learning not only enriches their communities but also serve as an inspiration for others to find deeper connections and purpose through Jewish service. Their stories are a testament to the enduring power of service and the profound impact it can have on individuals and communities alike.

Follow The Catalyst fellows as they plan their service-learning programs, and measure the impact of their work in part two.

The Catalyst Cohort II training at Fed Pro in Chicago.