On Chanukah, the Jewish community celebrates the rededication of the ancient Temple that was desecrated by people who did not tolerate Jews and their practices. We learn about the miracle of the oil following that military victory – but truly, the triumph of Chanukah is that the Maccabees managed to create social change. Specifically, they fought for a society that would allow them to live, learn and worship as they pleased.
Before winning that important victory, educating their young children was still a priority for the Jewish people – to the point where, when forbidden from engaging in Torah study, the Jews hid in caves and risked their lives to study and teach Torah. Today, we commemorate the determination of the Jewish people to educate their children by playing with a dreidel (a top). Jewish children would play with a dreidel when soldiers would approach them to see if they were learning.
These were the priorities, even when oppressed: education, legacy, maintaining their community.
While circumstances are very different today, we live in communities where children living in poverty do not have access to high-quality education. Communities throughout our region have encountered desecration: crime, poor academic achievement, lack of job opportunities; the list goes on and on. We can either accept this status quo, or like the Maccabees, fight to ensure that education is improved and accessible to all.
The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL)’s Department of Community Engagement, through a Jewish service-learning fellowship program created by Repair the World, is launching a project that will increase impact and meaningful service opportunities for Jews living in the South. Repair the World, like the ISJL, aims to make service a more defining part of American Jewish life by infusing service-learning with Jewish sources, values and traditions.
The ISJL is in the early stages of piloting an initiative that will work closely with several congregations to develop ongoing and meaningful Jewish service-learning projects that will impact the educational experience of youth in each of their communities.
After conducting some preliminary surveys and research we decided to focus on education, because it is an area of great need in our region and of great interest to ISJL’s partner congregations. These congregations will benefit from Repair the World’s established service models and tools.
Each participating congregation will convene a group of congregants who will commit to meet monthly to discuss potential project ideas, learn about their local community and join in Jewish text studies. The outcome of these conversations is that the congregation will select a project that can meaningfully impact their community.
As we celebrate the rededication of the Temple, congregations throughout the South can envision rededicated communities where all children have access to education of the highest quality.
The ISJL seeks to assist congregations develop existing or new programs that will foster social change in their communities. Can you imagine this program in your community? If you can, please contact Malkie Schwartz at 601.362.6357 or [email protected].
Respectively, Repair the World is piloting a national education campaign aimed at connecting American young Jewish professionals as volunteer tutors and mentors assisting our nation’s students, and seeks to collaborate with the ISJL on this important endeavor.
To learn more about Repair the World and to read more about the Repair Fellowship and other service programs being implemented around the country, please visit www.werepair.org.
About Malkie Schwartz
Malkie Schwartz is the director of Department of Community Engagement at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Miss.