For the last few years, Repair the World has convened a delegation of Jewish non-profit professionals at the annual Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service (June 27-29 this year). So much exciting work has happened in the world of service and volunteering within the Jewish world over the last decade. The delegation offers a chance for some of the leaders of this movement to get together, share ideas, and learn from one another.
We are so excited to have this year’s delegation meet one another. In the meantime, we want to introduce some of them to YOU! Here, we spoke with delegate Michele Freed. As a fellow at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, she works to empower young Jews to build inclusive communities and repair the world. This recent college grad had a lot to say about the role CVS and Repair the World have had on her work. Read on… Read more
Civil rights and racial justice are two of the most pressing and vital issues of our day. Recently, Repair the World had the opportunity to convene a conversation with other leaders in the Jewish and justice worlds. Through the JPRO Network, an organization that works to help Jewish non-profits do their work better and in a more connected way, we participated in a Webinar in honor of Black History Month called “Is Social Justice at Work? Jewish Organizations as Racial Justice Allies.”
AVODAH just completed a survey of AVODAH alumni in partnership with Repair the World and outside evaluators from Brandeis University. Providing a portrait of the impact of a year-of-service, this survey provides the organization a glimpse of the involvement of the next generation in social change work, the Jewish community and their assumption of leadership positions.
AVODAH is expanding its programs to develop more young professionals who have the knowledge, networks, and experience to support the Jewish community’s fight against poverty.
Meet Laura Kassen, our Education Campaign Fellow and AVODAH Corps Member! We asked Laura a few questions about her decision to join AVODAH, and her work with Repair:
Why did you decide to serve with AVODAH this year?
In December 2011, during the fall semester of my senior year in college, I was forced to face “reality.” After constantly being asked various forms of the question “What are you doing next year?” I decided to bulk down and actually figure it out…or at least come up with something I could say in response. At one point I was so overwhelmed with the process that my go-to answer became making up various professions and telling something different to each person who asked. Many people may actually think that I am becoming an astronaut or a professional fortune-cookie writer—I apologize that neither one of these is true, but in my opinion I am doing something way more exciting.
I knew that I wanted to work in some capacity at a non-profit organization, particularly in the Jewish world. I also have always had a strong interest in education and education reform. While perusing Idealist.org, I stumbled upon all these job opportunities that sounded amazing. Then I noticed that they all had something in common—they were all AVODAH placement organizations.
I spent time doing research on AVODAH’s website, talking to Corps members and participating in informational conference calls. AVODAH seemed like it would be a great opportunity to do meaningful work after college. I was excited about the possibility of working at a highly effective non-profit, while living in a communal environment, and engaging in learning opportunities that would help me become an agent for social change. I thought AVODAH would be a great way for me to learn from my peers and help me gain an understanding of what I’d like to do in the future. So in January 2012 I applied to AVODAH, and in May I was thrilled to learn that my placement organization would be Repair the World!
What excited you about serving at Repair the World?
I was super excited (and still am!) about becoming a part of an organization whose mission is something I really value. I have always been proud of my Judaism and interested in service, so it was thrilling to find an organization that seeks to truly connect these two important facets of my life and make them a defining aspect of American Jewish life. I am excited to spread the word about Repair the World and help the organization flourish.
What are you looking forward to this year?
I am looking forward to learning more about structure, and what goes on “behind the scenes” at a non-profit organization. I feel like Repair the World is a great place to do this because it is growing rapidly in terms of outreach, resources and education. I am also looking forward to applying what I learn through AVODAH to my work at Repair the World, whether it be by hearing from my fellow Corps members or learning something during our educational programming.
What would you say to college seniors who might be thinking about doing a year of service post-graduation?
I say if you are able to commit to a year of service, I would definitely encourage you to go for it. A year of service has really put things into perspective for me. I have had the opportunity to learn so much about myself, about social justice, and a wide-spectrum of unique opinions and ideas. And if you cannot dedicate a whole year to doing service, try to become involved in other capacities. Volunteer with your friends on weekends, read up on social inequalities, and attend events with topics related to social justice. You may find something that really grabs your attention!
How do you see this year informing your future career plans?
I think both my experience at Repair the World and AVODAH will help me figure out what I would like to do in my professional career. I hope that I will be fortunate enough to find something that combines all of my interests, and even if I don’t I would like to find out other opportunities to stay involved. I am very excited to grow professionally, expand my interests, and do my part to help with Repair the World’s mission.
Laura Kassen is from Westport, Connecticut. She attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where she was an American Studies major and History minor.
Steve Eisenbach-Budner was a social-justice minded carpenter working in Portland, Oregon when he had a big idea: what if there were a Jewish service organization that combined carpentry education, affordable housing, and Jewish tradition? From that seed of an idea, Tivnu (which means “we build” in Hebrew) was born: an organization where “you can learn how to use a table saw in the morning, see what an ancient Jewish text has to say about social justice in the afternoon, and celebrate Shabbat in the evening.”
Eisenbach-Budner, who is a participant of Repair the World’s technical assistance program, was recently named a Joshua Venture Group fellow, giving him funding and support to take Tivnu to the next level. As of next fall, the organization will launch a gap year program for recent high school grads to live together in a pluralistic Jewish environment in Portland, while learning hands-on carpentry skills and Judaism’s take on justice.
Eisenbach-Budner took the time to speak with Repair the World about the influence his father had on his social justice perspective, how Repair the World and Joshua Venture have helped him on his journey of building Tivnu, and the power of building something with one’s own two hands.
What is your background with service?
I had several experiences growing up that impacted my commitment to service and social justice. Growing up in Manhattan in the late 1970s and 80s, when the current homelessness crisis was taking root, I grew accustomed to seeing people who were homeless. I got involved with Young Judea, which meant friends from other cities would visit for events. While walking with a friend, I stepped near a homeless person without really noticing them and my friend said, “Steve, that’s a person!” I remember that conversation as being my first real awareness of the issue. My father was also a great role model for me – he taught me to see and treat everyone as a human being.
In college I was involved in a couple of service programs, though I wasn’t yet looking at the big political stuff. I worked in a sleep-over shelter, working the night shift. I brought meals to elderly people with Dorot – I would visit with them for a while because it seemed like that was almost more important than the food.
Did you begin working for a service or social justice organization right after graduating?
Actually, I wanted to be a carpenter first. I liked to build stuff and do useful things, so I started working for a contracting company. Eventually I realized that instead of building fancy kitchens and remodeling people’s homes, I really wanted to be helping people who needed it. So I started volunteering in Oregon with Portland Youth Builders, which is part of a national coalition of schools that work with at-risk kids through mentoring and carpentry. The kids work to get their diplomas or GEDs, learn job training and carpentry skills, and build affordable houses for the community in the meantime. I started working as a substitute trainer 10 years ago, then began working there full time 6 years ago.
So when did you get the idea for Tivnu?
About four years ago, I started to envision something that combined aspects of Youth Builders and Habitat for Humanity with Jewish organizations that work on social justice issues. I tried to ignore it for a while – I have three kids after all! But that didn’t work out very well. So I started talking with different service leaders in organizations like AJWS and Avodah, and the idea seemed to resonate with people.
I started doing one day and one week programs – events for people in their 20s or 30s, or for a particular synagogue or community that worked across the age spectrum. And we would also partner with a non-Jewish organization to do the building projects – for example, we worked with the Oregon Farm Workers Union to help build a 2,600 square foot leadership institute. Meanwhile, we had educational programming about farm worker issues, and also Jewish study that focused on relevant topics. What I found was, the programs built relationships within and beyond the Jewish community, and across ages. And because we would bring real construction experience as well as willing volunteer labor, we were able to make a real difference.
And now you’re about to pilot a new program, right?
Yes, we’ll be starting a gap year program for recent high school graduates in the coming year. The program will start next fall and be based in Portland, Oregon. The participants will live together and work together learning construction, building affordable housing, and studying Judaism’s perspective on what traditionally has been the obligation of a community to help people have a roof over their heads. The Jewish learning will focus on traditional texts, but also more modern texts and literature like Yiddish poetry about tenement living. That program will become Tivnu’s cornerstone, but it will also strengthen our capacity to offer one-day or one-week programs for synagogues, BBYO groups or other community groups.
Congratulations on being named a Joshua Venture Group fellow! What will that allow you to do?
Until last month, everything I’ve described – putting together the organization, finding a board, running the programs, dealing with legal issues – has happened on the side of my job with Portland Youth Builders. Joshua Venture has helped me go full time with this work and really make it happen at another level.
How are you connected with Repair the World?
I’m part of Repair the World’s technical assistance program, which means they provide professional support and training to help me do my work better and more effectively. Early on, I attended a logic modeling workshop, which was really helpful and helped me pull together my model for the gap year and have something professional and thought through that I could share with people. Repair the World holds webinars and training phone calls, and is helping Tivnu spread the word about the program.
How can people find out more, or apply for the Tivnu gap year program?
Applications will be available soon for the coming year. People can learn more on our website and sign up for our newsletter so they’ll be the first to know when applications are out. We’re also on Facebook.
Any last thoughts to share?
Tivnu is the first domestic Jewish service learning program for gap year participants, and it’s one of the first ones based on the West Coast. Through our programs, whether a day program or the year program, people gain real skills, help others and build community – we are excited to keep moving forward.
Happy Monday. Hopefully you had a great weekend (and if you’re on the East Coast, didn’t get stuck in the early snow!) This week’s link round up is filled not only with the usual inspiring service stories from around the web, but also with opportunities, tips and ideas on how to get involved, make a difference and make your innovative project (or project idea) the best it can be.
AVODAH’s blog featured a post by corps member Lev Hirschhorn about his experience at the Occupy Chicago protests.
The Huffington Post announced a call for video submissions from social innovators who want to share their stories with a large, influential audience. The deadline to submit is Nov 18.
The HuffPo also published a helpful round up of 5 rules to know when raising money for your big idea.
Relatedly, the HandsOn Blog offered 5 tips for how to communicate your organization or idea’s message effectively and efficiently.
DoSomething.org launched a Step up to Bullying campaign to help students fight back against bullying in their schools and let others know about it. The deadline to submit (and potentially win some great prizes) is today so check it out!
And to end on a feel-GOOD note, GOOD’s 30 Days of Good Challenge reminds everyone to get some fresh air and some exercise by taking a walk on their lunch break.
Looking for an extra dose of inspiration this Yom Kippur? Repair the World has got you covered. We reached out to some of the country’s most innovative leaders in the Jewish service, social justice and environmental fields to “step up to the mic” and share their hopes and aspirations (individually and collectively) for helping to create a more just world in the New Year.
Check out these impassioned, outraged, hopeful reflections and let us know your own words of wisdom for Yom Kippur and the New Year below. Read more
Yesterday New York and the whole country commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11. (Check out Repair the World’s coverage, here.) Today, the many moods of such an emotionally charged day – devastation and comfort, fear and love, sadness and profound hope – remain with us, and we will carry them with us. In honor of yesterday’s memorial and with the hope of moving forward with resilience and compassion, here is a collection of inspiring posts from around the web.
The Huffington Post published a story about how forming non-profit organizations helped ease the grief for families of 9/11 victims.
Tablet offers a story (and beautiful video!) of service and rebuilding, as a team of experts and volunteers work to recreate one of Poland’s stunning wooden synagogues, which were all destroyed in World War II.
GOOD is on a roll with their “30 Days of Good” challenge. Today’s challenge is to do something nice for your neighbor.
The Avodah blog published an essay by Laura Taishaff about how working with Repair the World partner organizations Avodah and Moishe House have strengthened her commitment to both service and Jewish life.
eJewishPhilanthropy reported that the Schusterman Foundation will put support behind creating engaging experiences to inspire young Jewish service leaders and professionals.
Happy Monday! Today’s installment of service-inspired links from around the web includes touching personal essays, inspiring words by Jewish leaders, and tips on how to lead a more sustainable life. Enjoy!
AVODAH DC published a blog post by corps member Jacob Siegel about breaking the cycle of consumption.
The Forward published a compilation of inspiring advice given by Jewish commencement speakers including Elie Wiesel, Elena Kagan, and Thomas Friedman. My favorite line: “Everywhere, the world is in need of repair. Fix it,” via Tony Kushner. On a related note, check out Repair the World’s own roundup of inspiring commencement speeches.
The Washington Jewish Week published a profile on the impact and service of the Religious Action Center, which turns 50 years old this year.
In honor of ALS Awareness monthThe Huffington Post included a touching essay by Jamie Schler about her brother, his fight with Lou Gherig’s Disease, and a recipe for red velvet cake by Joan Nathan, which serves as a lasting link and memory of love and family.
The Wise Earth blog published an interview with Rachel Kaplan who co-authored the book Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living.
Detroit is a city that is best known for producing cars but it will now also be known for producing tomorrow’s young Jewish service leaders. To help revitalize this once vibrant urban center, the Jewish Funds for Justice (JSFJ) has just developed a Detroit Area Community Leadership Initiative, which is open to individuals under the age of 40 who are committed to social and systemic change and have the track record to prove it (i.e. past community and/or organizational leadership). The program runs for 18 months and will train these motivated change agents to become more effective in their work. Read more