What We Stand For at Repair the World

This post originally appeared in The Forward on January 19, 2017

By Liz Fisher, COO Repair the World

I haven’t (yet) seen Hamilton. Like many, I’ve heard the soundtrack and recently was reminded of a lyric from the show: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Turns out, that quote likely didn’t originate with Alexander Hamilton. Whomever said it first, it echoes in my head as we move towards inauguration day and a new administration.

At Repair the World, we recognize that dissent and debate leshem shamayim (for the sake of heaven) are inherently Jewish and American values. We honor the rights of individuals and organizations to disagree, to express their opinions and perspectives in non-violent ways, and to engage in action to improve our communities and nation.

We are non-partisan not because our legal status demands it nor because our funders urge us. We work to remain non-partisan because we see ourselves connecting service in all parts of our community as a fundamental and common practice of American Jewish life. We know that service, done right, strengthens local communities.

We’ve also seen service unite people across disparate beliefs, and have learned that the best way to drive connections between Jewish values and Jewish millennials is to create space of radical inclusion and openness. If we truly want authentic, impactful service to be a part of the American Jewish landscape, we need to further build the wide tent that has always characterized America’s service culture.

In the days after the presidential election, we leaned on these values. We launched a Shabbat dinner of dialogue in partnership with Moishe House, OneTable, and the Schusterman Family Foundation. We urged our networks across the country to come together in a moment of rest, reflection, and conversations.

At the same time, many of us personally – Repair’s staff and fellows – reeled. What did it mean to have a President-elect whose rhetoric felt contradictory both to Repair’s core values of respect and inclusion and our commitment to the needs of vulnerable communities? Was this about partisanship, liberal versus conservative politics, or something different? We opened up our community workshop spaces for dialogue, we reached out to our service partners, and we did one of the things we do best: listened and fostered difficult conversations.

As an organization, we did this internally as well. We gathered our team. We convened a smaller group to keep working through these issues. Our executive team wrestled with ideas and responses. We heard our board express their trust in our judgement, their sense that this is a time of urgency to express our values and priorities while maintaining our big tent approach, and their agreement that this is a difficult road to navigate. I personally spent hours with people throughout the organization hearing their frustrations, worries, and dedication to the work.

If I had to summarize it all – it would be in those words, “If we don’t stand for something, what will we fall for?” Repair the World’s success is built on different partnerships: Partnerships with our local service partners, many in marginalized communities, who feel personally vulnerable and professionally concerned – about the impact of increased hate crimes in their communities, about the possibility of losing government funding, about how policies that are now on the table might hurt those they serve; partnerships with our fellows – who lead the organization from the ground, recruit thousands of their peers every year, and have taken a year of their lives to focus on creating local change; and partnerships with our professional staff – who give hours of their lives to the work and who feel the need on the ground every day. We will once again see the power of partnerships as Repair the World, Moishe House, the Schusterman Family Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundations join together to support Shabbat dinners and service experiences this coming Inauguration weekend.

In all of these efforts, we heard this: Repair the World stands for something. At its core, Repair the World stands in solidarity with marginalized communities: all those who have not received an equal opportunity to thrive in this country. This includes people who have been discriminated against due to their race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, immigration status or other characteristic.

We believe there is no place for hatred, bigotry or intolerance of any kind in this country. We have deep concerns about recent acts of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islamism, bullying and bigotry taking place in our schools and communities. Moreover, we understand compassion and kindness as essential Jewish and human postures and believe that anyone, regardless of their political approach, can strive for empathy and concern for those who are vulnerable or afraid.

We believe firmly in the power and necessity of quality social service organizations that address needs at the community-level and provide essential services to members of the community, regardless of race and geography. In the work we do in our communities, we understand that the government’s posture toward our social service infrastructure will have a direct impact on the work of our community-based partners, whose capacity we seek to build.

In our core issue areas, food and education, we believe firmly in the power and necessity of quality publicly supported education for all American children and in nondiscriminatory access to high-quality, nutritious, affordable food for all. We understand that there are multiple viewpoints on the policies and programs to ensure these values, and we will continue to educate ourselves and our constituents on local and national impact of different perspectives and proposals. Our role at Repair the World is to mobilize communities to volunteer to ensure these values, to educate our volunteers about the root causes of the need for the service, and to encourage all to work towards just solutions.

I came to Repair the World as an optimist. I work for an organization called Repair the World, after all. I remain an optimist. I believe deeply that the work we do, and that of all of our partners and allies, will bring us closer to justice. But my work at Repair the World grounds me in reality every day as well. I know that this moment may be different than moments in the past. And all of us at Repair the World are committed to continuing to stand for something and not fall for anything.