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Archive for : Baltimore

You Should Know … Lou Fusco

Lou Fusco
Lou Fusco (Courtesy of Lou Fusco)

This article originally appeared in Baltimore Jewish Times on March 4th 2022

Lou Fusco (they/them), 23, strives to advocate for social justice through their work at Repair the World Baltimore. Fusco graduated from Goucher College in 2021 with a degree in sociology and anthropology, and with a concentration in social justice. They also double minored in dance and women, gender, sexuality studies. After graduating, Fusco became a Repair the World fellow.

Lou Fusco currently lives in Charles Village.

How did your involvement with Hillel at Goucher College enhance your college experience?

I was involved with Goucher Hillel for three years. I started off as an engagement intern in my sophomore year, then went on to plan programming in my junior year and culminated my time as co- president during my senior. My time with Goucher Hillel enhanced my collegiate experience in multiple ways. The most notable being that some of my closest friends were made through Hillel. We would all hang out together, doing homework in the Hillel lounge. We also watched movies together after Shabbat dinner. Even though some of us have graduated and we’re spread out across a couple different states, we’re still in contact and talk to each other often.

Besides being able to make friends and feel connected to the Jewish community on campus, Goucher Hillel also provided me with space and time to find my Jewish identity. It’s still something that I am honing in on now, but Goucher Hillel was one of the first places I was able to discover how I wanted to celebrate and practice Judaism. It provided a safe space for me to question what I was taught before, deconstruct preconceived notions and rebuild myself as the Jew I wanted to be.

What does it mean to be a Repair the World fellow?

Being a Repair the World fellow means a lot of things. It means volunteering at local organizations, serving the community, sharing skills, entering the professional world, building relationships, inspiring others … I could go on. But, most of all, I think being a Repair the World fellow is all about learning. Through both local and national sessions, we learn about many different important issue areas like food justice, education justice and housing justice. It also means learning how to be an anti-racist and an active ally. At the heart of it all though is learning what social justice really looks like and how we can enact it on an individual, communal, national and eventually global level. It’s about understanding the long-standing connection of social justice to Judaism and then putting it into tangible and equitable action. Our organization is named after the Jewish value of tikkun olam — repairing the world. So, I believe that the fellowship, at its root, is about harnessing the power we all have towards fixing what has been broken.

How did you become involved with this work?

I see my work as a Repair the World fellow as a continuation of the work I was doing on Goucher College’s campus, both through Hillel and with my majors and minors as a whole. I actually found out about the fellowship through some of my connections at Goucher Hillel. I was a senior who was job hunting and my Hillel co-president, a junior at the time, shared with me the job listings posted by Repair the World. Unfortunately, I was not quite qualified for any of them. But a couple days later Goucher Hillel posted about the Repair the World fellowship on Instagram and how it was a great opportunity post-undergrad. It just felt right. One thing led to another, and a couple interviews later I was offered a position as a fellow with Repair the World Baltimore.

Why is social justice important to you?

Social justice is important to me simply because of the identities I hold. I am a queer, nonbinary, genderfluid Jew. I believe my mere existence is an act of resistance to the heteronormative, patriarchal, capitalist systems I was born into. At the same time, I have racial and class privilege that cannot be ignored. So, I also see how I need to use my positions of power to fight for the social justice of others who don’t have the same as me but should. I have always had a passion for social justice. It’s been ingrained in me from a young age. To me, asking why social justice is important is like asking why food or water is important. Because it’s needed.

Do you see yourself continuing in this field in the future?

I definitely see myself continuing to work in the social justice sphere. I know that I want to be an activist and an advocate. Whether that will be through a Jewish organization or not is still to be determined. Everyone tells me that I should go to law school. But right now, I’m focused on the fellowship and will see where it takes me.

MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” remains relevant, Baltimore Jewish social justice groups contend

This article originally appeared in Baltimore Fishbowl on January 17th 2022

On Sunday Jan. 16, two local groups advancing social justice through a Jewish lens — Jews United for Justice and Repair the World Baltimore — held an event to show how relevant the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” remains today.

Two seniors at Baltimore School for the Arts, Jayden Ozoemena and Joseph Hatchett II, brought King’s words to life through pre-recorded readings. The event also featured Zoom breakout rooms and a panel discussion with Tré Murphy, Tara Huffman and Taylor Branch, a historian known for his trilogy of books chronicling King’s life and much of the American civil rights movement.

“Many people will say, ‘We know police brutality is an issue, we know voter suppression is an issue,’ but when we talk about the substance of what to do next, oftentimes people will have issues with the tactics that are being used,” Murphy, director of community organizing for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said at the event. “What’s happening then is happening now.”

Read the full article here

As MLK Day and Tu B’Shvat coincide, a ‘really special’ opportunity to pursue justice

This article originally appeared in The Forward on January 17th 2022

This year MLK Day fell on the same day as Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees.

For KeSean Johnson, a Baltimore-based filmmaker and military veteran who is Black and Jewish, that coincidence is “really special.”

Johnson is a program associate for the Baltimore chapter of Repair the World, which mobilizes Jews to pursue social justice and, on Monday, marked the dual holiday with an online discussion about environmental stewardship and how it relates to both Judaism and King’s legacy.

As Jews, it is important to understand “our legacy and tradition of being stewards of the environment and fighting for racial justice,” said Rachel McGrain, Repair the World’s Baltimore city director, in an interview.

How a winter day brought me closer to my community

 

On an extremely cold day in 2019 in Baltimore, Haley (they/them) decided to join a Mitzvah Day organized by Repair the World Baltimore. “It was the perfect opportunity for me to volunteer and engage with others in my community,” said Haley. “Thinking back to that first day I volunteered with Repair, it is a testament to the Repair fellows and staff who created a powerful service experience that in turn cultivated a volunteer community of people, including myself, who want to come back and serve multiple times.” 

Soon after Mitzvah Day, Haley began regularly volunteering at Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden, an urban garden dedicated to increasing accessibility to fresh and healthy food to members of the Baltimore City community, where they built a connection with those who run the farming there. “Since I started volunteering at the garden, I have become involved with neighborhood advocacy, land sovereignty, and food accessibility all while working closely with the farm coordinators. I did not expect to make those connections — discover new passions and for my life to be impacted in such a meaningful way.” 

As a passionate leader in the field of public health and community development, Haley has always been an advocate of social justice in Baltimore and of elevating the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community.  Haley deepened their service by becoming the co-chair of the Repair the World Baltimore Advisory Council. “The Advisory Council is now in its second year and through my time on the board, service has become a gateway to advocacy which before volunteering with Repair the World, I did not realize was possible. To be able to take my service a step further and diversify my impact by learning about new ways to make a difference through concepts like mutual aid and neighborhood advocacy is so meaningful to me.”

As Haley’s service grew so did the strengthening of their connection to Jewish values and the Jewish community. “As someone who was not particularly religiously observant and felt disconnected from the larger Jewish community in Baltimore while struggling to feel included, Repair the World has been a way for me to find my place within a community I didn’t always feel connected to.”

Joining the Advisory Council has not stopped Haley from volunteering at Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden where they have learned about key intersectionalities in service. Haley recalls a day where a group of University of Maryland dental students volunteered at the garden. “What I learned from on that day was that access to healthy and fresh food in communities where there is little to zero access was a key way to increasing the dental health of community members who also lack access to dental healthcare,” 

Haley shared as they reflected on that service experience, “I always remember that moment as one where my eyes were open to what the volunteer landscape truly looks like, one where people of all disciplines and expertise connect and share experiences to strengthen communities and the work collectively.” 

Community Liberation through Farming

Last summer, Zohar, a Repair the World fellow, began working with the Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden, a local farm and service partner in Baltimore, Maryland. Working at a community garden was a new experience for Zohar. “Through the fellowship, we jumped right into the work of organized gardening and cleaning the surrounding areas,” said Zohar. They recalled the moment they met the farm steward at the garden for the first time. The farm steward asked, “Are you willing to dedicate your time towards fighting for the protection of Black land and food sovereignty?” As Zohar reflected on what calls them to serve, they said, “Yes. I really don’t see any other way.” 

It was at this moment that Zohar knew their next year as a Repair the World fellow would be like none other. Zohar has dedicated their service to food access equity ever since the start of the fellowship. “If we want to move forward with liberation for everyone through food equity and taking care of the earth, Black farming and food sovereignty need to be protected.” For Zohar the moment they met the farm steward is one they also think about often when reflecting on why they truly serve. “The work I do in my community is about solidarity, organizing with my neighbors to better protect one another, and building healthy communities.” 

This past year Zohar has committed their time to strengthening the work of farmers in the Baltimore area by showing up for Black farmers who are meaningfully transforming the food system by serving alongside them. “What motivates me is believing that tomorrow, we will be a step closer to liberation for all people. I wake up every morning thinking about what I can do today to make that happen.”  Zohar’s Judaism plays a significant role in their passion for uplifting community members, as someone who grew up witnessing Jewish organizers serving their communities everyday. “I look to my ancestors and those who came before me to guide me in my pursuit for a more just world.”

Zohar who spends most of their time at the garden and with other community food access organizations truly feels their values in action on Farm Crew Work Day when working with a farm crew, a cohort of volunteers who regularly serve at local farms and community gardens. A new initiative for Repair the World Baltimore, on Farm Crew Work Day, Zohar and other volunteers prepare seedling beds for growing during the year. Community members pay little to nothing to grow their own food. “This project directly aligns with my values. I believe that we should give financially when we’re able to and dedicate our time and labor when we are physically capable of doing so.”

Food access equity and combating lack of food resources can be an uphill battle that Zohar witnesses their community facing. “My experiences serving pushes me to reach into my Jewishness when progress feels far off and suffering is ongoing. Whatever community role I take on will be one where I am serving others.”

Zohar is a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College, where they were a Middle Eastern Studies and Politics double major. They are a social justice educator, a Yiddishist, and a Jewish community leader. They have a passion for creating a collective imagining of eventual liberation and implementing practices of indisposability in everyday life. Zohar loves historical dramas, making bubble tea, and collecting patches and pins for their denim jacket.

Service Beyond a Singular Moment

In high school, Harry was an avid volunteer at a local therapeutic riding center. “I started volunteering at the riding center because I loved horses,” said Harry as he reflected on his earlier years of serving in his community. “I didn’t realize it then, but that time in my life would shift how I viewed service forever.” Now a Repair the World fellow in Baltimore, Harry reflects on that time as a pivotal moment in his life. “Working with children with disabilities in that capacity changed everything for me. It was then that I knew I wanted to be a part of something greater than myself.”

Moving to and working in the city of Baltimore during the pandemic has been a huge shift for Harry. He joined the Repair the World Fellowship with a deep drive to strengthen his Jewish values of service and to pursue justice through a Jewish lens. Harry has an immense passion for education and began volunteering virtually with the St. Francis Neighborhood Center in August 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. “It has been incredibly rewarding to be able to build curriculums to be used for the tutoring program beyond my time serving with the St. Francis Neighborhood Center. The work we’ve done over the last year ensures that the tutoring program is set up for success in the coming year.”

This past year, through his service as a fellow, Harry has further strengthened his connections with Judaism and his values. “Over the last year, I’ve been able to truly identify parts of who I am and make meaningful connections between my values. I’m seeing more and more how service plays an impactful role in how I engage with Judaism.” Harry reflected on how the MLK weekend of service presented his values through volunteering. “Engaging in the weekend of service highlighted one of my values, justice, as part of Judaism and how fighting for equity within the community is ongoing work that I want to continue to do.”   

Harry, alongside two other Baltimore fellows, has also been working on Stories From the People, a storytelling event highlighting LGBTQIA Jewish history. First hand account stories will be performed by people across generations and will identify particular decades and center on the understanding of a collective history in order to make sense of the present and future. “I’m really excited about this project and we’ve been working on it over the last year. This is an idea that came from one community member who attended a program we hosted during Pride last year and it’s amazing to see it grow and shape into a vehicle where marginalized communities can share their stories in the most authentic way.”

Harry plans to step back into the classroom as a paraeducator after completing the fellowship. “It’s important to me that service be something beyond a singular moment. During my fellowship, I’ve learned more about the failures of our education system, including lack of classroom resources and support for students’ mental health and it’s becoming clearer what my life’s path will be as I continue working towards education equity in this country. I’m eager to continue serving my community and pursuing justice, particularly in education.” 

Harry (he/him) is a Repair the World fellow serving in Baltimore, Maryland. As an undergrad, he spent a significant amount of time at Hillel and serving his community. Following both of these passions, he is excited to continue serving in the Jewish space while fighting for education equity in his community. 

She’s Got Next: 30 Women Who Are Shaping Baltimore’s Future

This article originally appeared in Baltimore Magazine on February 11th, 2021.

The idea of tikkun olam—repairing the world—has been Dressin’s message ever since she became an ordained rabbi nine years ago. First, as founder and director of Charm City Tribe, an initiative to engage young adults interested in Jewish culture, and now through her work at Repair the World Baltimore, which mobilizes Jews to take action to pursue a just world.

“Jewish tradition teaches . . . that there are things we can accomplish together we could not possibly accomplish on our own,” Dressin says. Building relationships that are substantive and not just transactional is so important in a hyper-segregated city like Baltimore, she says. “The particular callings and imperatives of Judaism require me to work closely with those who are not like me—who don’t share the same faith, or the same skin color, or the same history—but who share in the work to build a more whole and just world for all people.”

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A Fellowship Year Like No Other

This article originally appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times on January 15th, 2021.

By Elam Boockvar-Klein

Whenever I tell someone I work for Repair the World, I chuckle to myself. I am a 22-year-old Baltimore transplant from New York City, fresh out of college, working to repair the world. It sounds a bit outrageous to say.

Repair the World is an organization that mobilizes Jews and their communities to take action to pursue a just world. We partner with nonprofits, identify volunteer needs and connect interested Jewish and Jewish-adjacent individuals to those organizations.

Repair the World in Hebrew is “tikkun olam.” One of the core tenets of Judaism, tikkun olam derives from the Kabbalistic, or Jewish spiritualistic, conception of the world’s origins. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria explained that the world began filled with infinite light, then receded into absolute darkness, after which a ray of light that held everything pierced through the darkness, exploding to create the world as we know it. We humans are left with the shattered sparks of that divine light, and must reconnect them in order to repair the world, ultimately liberating all of humankind.

Now that’s quite an ambitious task. But we aren’t each responsible for repairing the entire world. Rather, we must work to repair the parts of the world that touch us, the sparks that are proximate to our lived experience.

The fellowship model is unique in that we work for multiple organizations at once: Repair the World Baltimore, along with two nonprofit partners. I am placed with a couple of inspiring organizations building educational equity in West Baltimore, the Safe Alternative Foundation for Education in Franklin Square, and Promise Heights in Upton & Druid Heights. SAFE runs a middle school learning center, while Promise Heights is the lead organization for a group of community schools, connecting families to wraparound services. In a normal year, most of my work would be centered on volunteer recruitment. In this wildly abnormal year, I’ve instead turned into part-thought partner, outreach coordinator and program planner.

At all three organizations I work for, my coworkers have entrusted me to shape and execute visions of new, transformative programs. SAFE is in the process of opening a Workforce Development Center to train young adults in the field of construction, and most of my time has been spent exploring strategic partnerships and co-creating a program curriculum for the center. At Promise Heights, staff have identified stable, affordable housing as a profound need for many families in Upton & Druid Heights. As such, my supervisor and I are building a coalition of organizations dedicated to specifically addressing this need through both advocacy and, potentially, housing development. And at Repair the World Baltimore, I am building an intercampus cohort for the upcoming semester, bringing social justice-oriented students together across colleges to engage in direct service work on a monthly basis. With all three organizations, I am contributing to the creation of an initiative that does not already exist.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, never misses an opportunity to talk about the power of becoming proximate. Proximate to people suffering from injustice, proximate to people reshaping their neighborhoods and proximate to one’s own values. Only then, he posits, can change-making relationships be borne.

At Repair, we are placed in proximity to all of those things. But I’m not only proximate to the injustices present and the people working to address them in Baltimore. I’m also proximate to the intersections between organizations across Jewish and Black non-Jewish communities. It’s made me suited to be a connector of people and ideas, amplifying work that is often siloed and creating opportunities for new relationship-building to occur. That’s how the sparks of light become reconnected, and it’s how a movement is built.

2020 Pomegranate Prize Awarded to Five Emerging Jewish Educators at Virtual Symposium

This originally appeared on The Covenant Foundation’s website on October 19, 2020.

Mazel tov to Rabbi Jessy Dressin, Executive Director of Repair The World Baltimore, on receiving the #PomegranatePrize from The Covenant Foundation! The Pomegranate Prize is designed to honor emerging leaders who have been in the field of Jewish education for up to ten years. By encouraging Prize recipients in their pursuits, and enabling them to accelerate their professional development and amplify their impact on the field, The Covenant Foundation aims to nurture Pomegranate Prize recipients in an intentional way, and empower them to take risks and make a difference in the field of Jewish education.

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Repair the World Baltimore Encourages Voter Participation

This article originally appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times on October 2, 2020
“Repair the World Baltimore is working hard in preparation for the upcoming election, with several different initiatives and partnerships intended to support the community’s right to vote.”