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Archive for : Pittsburgh

Community Garden In Pittsburgh Holds Volunteer Events To Help Community Heal After Tree Of Life Shooting

This article originally appeared on October 27, 2021 in KDKA CBS Pittsburgh

Growing vigorously in a vacant East Liberty lot, bursting from its 18 garden beds with things like fresh tomatoes and peppers, the Sheridan Avenue Orchard and Garden has been providing free produce to the community for almost a decade.

“The goal is that people who are walking by know that they can come in, pick some fresh produce, eat it immediately or take it home with them. Anything that’s not collected, we harvest, and take to the food pantry,” said Julie Mallis, executive director for Repair the World Pittsburgh.

But from the very same soil, those who tend to the garden are sowing seeds of hope.

In the wake of the Tree of Life tragedy three years ago Wednesday, the group started using the community garden for annual volunteer events to help those impacted by the tragedy heal from trauma.

“When I’m in mourning or my friends are in mourning, we’ve found that it’s really meaningful to do something that’s giving of the self,” said Maxwell Reiver, a fellow with Repair the World Pittsburgh. Read the full article here

Volunteers Sought For Days Of Service In Honor Of Tree Of Life Victims

This article originally appeared on October 22, 2021 in KDKA CBS Pittsburgh

Next Wednesday marks three years since the tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

Part of the commemoration includes Days of Service, sponsored by Repair The World Pittsburgh. This year, those activities were chosen specifically to reflect causes near to the eleven people who died that day.

“This year we really tried to work with the families to create service sites and projects that were really honoring the legacies and work and contributions of those who we lost and making sure that something that they really cared about is also something that we can continue to work on and inspire people to continue to get involved in and be a part of,” said Julie Mallis, the executive director of Repair The World Pittsburgh. Read the full article here

Pittsburgh prepares third-year commemoration of Oct. 27 massacre

Commemoration events begin more than a week before the public ceremony. Eighteen volunteer opportunities, beginning Oct. 18, were created by Repair the World as part of “Oct. 27: Remember, Reflect in Spirit and Action.” Most will occur on Oct. 24, the date marking the yahrzeit of the 11 people murdered, said Repair the World Program Manager Jess Gold. The volunteer opportunities include tending the earth, community care, civic engagement and health and wellness. Many of the opportunities were created in conjunction with the victims’ families, Gold said, “in honor of individuals whose lives were lost.”Other service events include an orchard harvest and weeding, a virtual workshop to advocate for gun safety reform, cemetery cleanup along with the Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association, and a blood drive. Read the full article here

Third year of Tree of Life remembrance returns to in-person commemoration

Opportunities to give back to the community at various service sites will be available throughout the month through Repair the World, including cemetery cleanups, packing care kits, a blood drive and more. Julie Mallis, the executive director of Repair the World Pittsburgh, said the programs promote service as a way of healing and allow space for different people to participate in more than one opportunity. The work provides a “physical, tangible way” for people to process the tragedy, Mallis said. “There’s almost a kinetic exchange.” Read the full article here

Sabbatical Year: How rest and reflection can volunteer new insights on service

By Rabbi Jessy Dressin, Senior Director of Jewish Education
and Wendy Rhein, Senior Director of Philanthropy

Youth Spirit Art Works Volunteer Work Day

It’s spring 2021, and Jaqob Harris (xe/xem/xyr)* has just arrived at 1Hood Media, a Pittsburgh nonprofit, inspired to help meet a pressing need in xyr community. Jaqob is there to assist with election education, but in the process xe gets to know folks in xyr extended community and listens to stories about the experiences of xyr neighbors. Reflecting later, Jaqob speaks of much more than the work xe performed:

“The most significant change for me has to be how much I learned about myself, and how others view the issues we face,” said Jaqob, a member of Repair the World’s Service Corps spring 2021 cohort. “I had the opportunity to think about and look into how we experience modern racism, oppression, discrimination, etc., and how it’s perpetrated throughout national and local systems — as opposed to just being told that it exists.”

As Jaqob learned, sometimes unexpected insights volunteer themselves to us when we serve. This Rosh Hashanah, we welcome a shmita year, or Sabbatical year — a year that invites us to approach things from a different perspective, one that tells us to be open to the unexpected. 

The Torah, Judaism’s foundational text, instructs that every seventh day of the week should be a day of rejuvenating rest. In a concentric circle of time, the Torah further instructs that every seventh year should be a year of reset, recalibration, and release. In Exodus 23:10-11, it is written: “six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield and the seventh you shall let it rest and lay fallow.” This shmita year has simple but profound instructions: let the land lie fallow, release people from their acquired debts, and see what emerges when we take time to learn new things. In Deuteronomy, the Torah further teaches that abundance follows this release. 

At first glance, it seems a shmita year might be a year of refrain, framed by what we do not do. However, the invitation is actually to consider what we can do and can learn when we recalibrate how we approach our actions and commitments. A spiritual reset might make space for more na’aseh v’nishma, the Jewish value of action and learning, which can spur generative growth as we move toward the future.

In its traditional form, a distinct tenet of shmita is leaving fields uncultivated and unplanned so we can notice what might volunteer itself in that time. In an agricultural sense, a volunteer is a plant that grows without the gardener’s intention. Most often volunteers bloom from seeds dropped organically or by animals that leave behind the remnants of a garden forage. They are either nuisances or surprising gifts, depending on your attitude. In a shmita year, we depend on such volunteers — we need the unexpected and unplanned to flourish in the spaces that we decide not to control or cultivate. 

Observing shmita in the 21st century can be a challenge. Most of us do not have fields that we let lie fallow, nor do we possess the power to eliminate major areas of burden that may have fallen upon our neighbors. Yet, there are opportunities to reflect on our spheres of influence, new ways to connect with those we may live in proximity to but not really know, and daily needs that, if met, can relieve momentary burdens that may allow someone a bit of respite during a period of real challenge. There are ample opportunities to approach the year from a place of inquiry and curiosity: How can I reconsider my actions and practices in order to engrain the reminder that there is a greater purpose to the world, especially if we look through a lens of Jewish values and spiritual potential?

The Torah promises us that even if we let go of our plans and expectations, release our desire to be in control, and create our experiences, we will have more than enough to sustain us, as counterintuitive as that may seem. In the last year, when so much changed and we could not gather and serve in traditional ways, Repair the World did not shy away from its mission and goals, but instead doubled down and reimagined what Jewish service could look like through our Serve the Moment initiative, Repair’s pandemic response initiative, that in turn opened Jaqob’s eyes to the ways oppression manifests in the community. 

Rethinking our programming allowed us space for new ideas and new ways of serving — including virtual and smaller group gatherings, such as the Cleveland Vaccine Appointment Network, powered by Cleveland Repair, where young adults ensured those without access to the internet or lacking technology skills could still secure COVID vaccine appointments. 

Repair has learned and grown as an organization in the last year, transitioning from an extraordinary moment to a powerful movement, culminating in a new Service Era in which service is a cornerstone of Jewish life at every age and every stage. 

This September, as the Jewish community enters the first month of the year 5782, Repair will provide you with opportunities to reflect on and deepen your connection with service and community. In the spirit of Repair’s upcoming Sukkot service campaign, you can start by downloading Shelter of Peace, a guide to showing up for our unhoused neighbors and taking responsibility for housing insecurity.

As an organization and individuals, we look forward to spending the coming year reflecting and innovating in the continued pursuit of new perspective and growth. And we encourage you to do the same — to observe shmita by letting go of a limited view of service and instead being open to the learning and growth that volunteers itself when you become present for others. Meet unexpected opportunities and new connections with curiosity. Consider how both your actions and insights may take root and become generative and fruitful well beyond this year. How will you move into this year with open eyes, and how will you steward and cultivate what you learn in the years to follow? 

The shmita year imagines a recalibration and reset necessary for the land, for ourselves, and for our communities to sustain themselves for the long haul. We invite you to serve with us this year and embody the Jewish value of action and learning, so that together we may repair the world incrementally, in ways that can be sustained over time.

*Xe/xem/xyr is a set of gender-neutral pronouns.

 

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From Sharing an Office to a Lasting Partnership

Last year, Marissa Fogal embarked on a journey to work within spaces that were aligned with her Jewish values. “As a Jewish person, the value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, was presented to me as my purpose in life. It’s a value that is both so personal but also a value of the community,” said Marissa. Wanting to fulfill her passion for growing food and dedicate her work towards strengthening her Jewish values, Marissa found what she was longing for at 412 Food Rescue in Pittsburgh. Now, the Vice President of Food Rescue Operations at 412 Food Rescue, Marissa has been a key connection to Repair the World’s partnership with the organization.

412 Food Rescue has been a service partner of Repair the World Pittsburgh for 7 years. They work with food retailers to prevent surplus food from going to waste. A relationship that grew out from sharing office spaces several years ago, Repair the World Pittsburgh and 412 Food Rescue were a perfect match. With a shared mission to provide vital resources to community members in the Pittsburgh area, this partnership has continued to evolve. 412 Food Rescue has provided a space for Repair the World fellows to grow and learn about food insecurity in Pittsburgh and ways to combat it. Repair the World continues to provide a thriving volunteer network to amplify the work 412 Food Rescue is doing in the community.

“Fellows are dedicating their time to serving their community with Repair the World and are also choosing to serve with and alongside countless service organizations that are directly providing resources to community members,” said Marissa. “Something I believe makes the fellowship unlike any other is the entrepreneurial spirit that is incorporated into serving. I’ve witnessed our Repair the World fellows really grow and learn key professional skills at 412 while engaging in Jewish learning, connecting with volunteers, and providing vital resources to the people of Pittsburgh.”

This past year was a time when many service organizations were forced to adapt and find new ways to reach their communities while making their services accessible. “Because of the pandemic we have had to shift and make changes to many of our programs in some hard but really cool ways. While stricter COVID-19 restrictions were in place, our fellows were unable to cook meals to be distributed throughout the community. Instead they created TikTok videos and other cool social media content about food waste reduction and cooking education which had a lasting impact on moving this work forward,” said Marissa. 

One year into working at 412 Marissa sees her values in action everyday. “Seeing my values lived out is centered around my being surrounded by people who have deeply committed themselves to serving others. I saw my values as I witnessed the fellows this past year use their skills to strengthen our work and I see them lived out with every volunteer I interact with.”

Beth Samuel’s small religious school perseveres through pandemic

This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle on February 15th, 2021.

Older students have hour-long Sunday experiential activities and discussions, complemented by asynchronous Hebrew language lessons, said Homich. During a recent session, a conversation about the Torah’s mandate to care for pets was followed by a crafting activity in partnership with Repair the World Pittsburgh. Participants made a chew toy for dogs and a catnip pretzel for cats. The items will be donated to the Beaver County Humane Society, and a future project is planned with PJ Library.

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Community Agreements

Growing up with a strong commitment to both my Judaism and my desire to help others, I knew that after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2019 I wanted to serve with Repair the World. Before I began the Fellowship, I thought I had a good understanding of what it meant to serve my community and encourage others to do the same. I was wrong! There was more to learn about interacting with my community, especially while serving and engaging volunteers and community members. 

I have been serving with Repair the World Pittsburgh since August 2019 as an education justice Fellow, where I first was on a team with four other Fellows and served alongside nonprofit service partners. Now, in my second year as a Fellow, I am coordinating and facilitating our PeerCorps program, which provides meaningful service opportunities for Jewish teens. Repair works to mobilize Jews and their communities to take action to pursue a just world, igniting a lifelong commitment to service. 

At Repair, we have complex conversations and we are constantly learning by pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones to address the world’s injustices so we can better serve our communities. In order to have productive and respectful conversations around challenging topics, Repair has developed a best practice of Community Agreements. This practice involves thinking of and agreeing to a list of guidelines that all participants abide by during a conversation, enabling room for all people, thoughts, ideas and mistakes. 

What I slowly learned through these conversations and, by extension, Community Agreements, isthat while the practice aids in productive conversations, even more so it supports how we show up in our service work. 

I want to share five community agreement principles that have helped me not only in my work at Repair but also have enhanced the relationships I hold with my family, my friends, and the community at large. 

  1. Speak from an “I” place. Speak YOUR truth and YOUR experiences. When engaging in conversation with anyone, it is important that you don’t speak for anyone else. Show up with your own point of view. We know ourselves better than anyone else and it is important that we respect each other enough to not put words in their mouth.
  2. Make space, take space. If you have not shared your thoughts and experiences, move up, and participate in the conversation. If you have been speaking up a lot in conversation, take on the role of the active listener. In society, White people have dominated the conversation for hundreds of years. As a White person I had to understand that we have controlled the room, the conversation, the narrative, and have benefited from racist institutions. It is imperative now that we step back from the conversation and listen.
  3. Own your impact. While you may have not intended harm, you may have caused harm that impacted someone else. Even if you had the best of intentions, it doesn’t matter if you can’t take personal accountability for how your actions impacted someone else.
  4. Lean into discomfort. In life, we need to try new things, have difficult conversations, and admit mistakes in order to learn. It is hard to move forward in life if we do not try anything new or challenge ourselves. Ask for help, practice, and pivot when something is not working. It won’t always be easy, but the results are worth working for.
  5. Finally, attend to your needs. Take care of yourself first, before you can do the work to care for the people around you, your community. This will help you show up with the greatest resilience and deepest truth. This is not selfish and it doesn’t mean that you don’t care about others or want to help others. If you burn yourself out and do not take time to rejuvenate you can not effectively help others to the best of your ability. 

There are many more community agreements that are useful and important. To me, these five are the starting point. As you practice incorporating these into your life, remember one thing. Practice, practice, practice. (I guess that was really three things)! No one is perfect and conversations will not always go smoothly. But, if you try to integrate these community agreements into your daily interactions, I truly believe that the practice will only strengthen your relationships with your family, friends, and your community. 

Alyssa Berman is a Senior Fellow, coordinating and facilitating Repair the World Pittsburgh’s teen programing. She is passionate about building Jewish Community and you can usually find her on Zoom attending programs from the Young AdultDivision at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh or attending Repair events in other cities!

Repair the World’s Racial and Economic Justice Shabbat Dinner

This originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on January 20, 2020.

“The importance of this event was to understand the systemic roots of racial and economic injustices that have permeated our city,” said Savannah Parson, a senior fellow for Repair the World Pittsburgh. “We are proud to highlight the work that Open Hand Ministries, Circles Greater Pittsburgh and Cocoapreneur PGH are doing every day to eradicate these injustices.”

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A Fellow’s Reflections from Pittsburgh–One Year Later

By Abigail Natelson
Repair the World Atlanta Fellow 2019-20

This October, some things feel the same, and some different.  Many of us observe Yom Kippur as we have done since childhood.  Many of us honor the change of seasons and the harvest from within temporary outdoor dwellings or Sukkot.  This October, Repair the World reaches a milestone as a national organization and will celebrate 10 years of focusing our Jewish community on best practices in volunteer service.  Amidst all of these occasions, one stands out as painfully unlike the others: the first anniversary of the White Nationalist terror attack on Tree of Life Synagogue. One of our Atlanta Repair Fellows, Abigail Natelson, grew up in Pittsburgh and shares her recollection of the event with us below:

Almost a year ago, I penciled a note into my calendar under Saturday, October 27th: “Halloween party with friends, dressing up as characters from Shrek, Pitt plays Duke.” Pittsburgh was ready for this regular weekend of rest, fun, and for many, Shabbat.

On the morning of the 27th, I woke up before my alarm to a calm fall day, with time to relax and appreciate the quiet morning. After a few deep breaths, I was jolted from my state of serenity by the blaring sound of what I learned later to be nearly every vehicle in Pittsburgh’s emergency fleet racing down the boulevard perpendicular to my street. Not too unusual for the city, but it seems off. Minutes later, I received an alert from the University: “Shots fired at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Wilkins Ave. Police operations are ongoing. Avoid the Squirrel Hill/Shadyside area.” Tree of Life Or L’Simcha? Where we celebrated my camper’s Bat Mitzvah last weekend? Is there more than one Tree of Life in Pittsburgh? I knew there was not. 

Then the notifications on my phone arrived, and for weeks they did not relent. The phrase “active shooter” appeared. Is this not everyone’s worst nightmare? Along with the slew of Groupme and Facebook messages was a text from my mom in the suburbs of Pittsburgh: “Rabbi ended services early. Headed home.” Call mom. When she picked up, I asked why someone would shoot at the synagogue, and it was her who convinced me that he had entered the sacred space with a weapon and was targeting actual human beings. “6 people are dead.” Dead. I hadn’t seen this word yet. Right down the street. Our community is being killed. Before I had even understood the situation, people were already dead. I was crying as I felt my community collapse. 

For hours, I sat with friends and roommates, refreshing the news stories over and over. The next few days were an indistinguishable fog of vigils, abundant communal support, and realizations about the danger all targeted minorities face in the US.  Today, our fear of the possibility of weapons harming our community and our neighbors has not subsided. Given that, I wish to amplify an article by Ilana Kaufman that initiates a discussion on how to keep synagogues safe for our multi-racial Jewish community, acknowledging the challenges of traditional security measures.  Continuing this dialogue is critical. 

As the weekend of October 27th approaches, it brings both the season of Halloween costumes and a time of heightened anxiety for the Jewish community. I am hopeful that, amidst the haunting and traumatizing memory of that Shabbat, the Jewish community, especially my insurmountable Tree of Life and Pittsburgh family, will experience some measure of peace and joy from the community’s outpouring of radical love and support.