Archive for : Repair the World Fellows

Coming Home: Reflections on the Jewish Multiracial Network Retreat

The following post is by Rebekkah (Bekkah) Scharf, food justice fellow with Repair the World: Philadelphia. Bekkah identifies as a SF-born Hapa and Jewish Chinese-American; she attended the University of California: Santa Cruz, and is member of Kol Tzedek Synagogue in West Philadelphia.

 

“It is beautiful and rare to have Jewish spaces where I walk through the door and think: I belong.” Sabrina Sojourner is a Chazzan, chaplain, and attendee of the 18th annual Jewish Multiracial Network (JMN) family retreat on May 12th-15th.

I felt a sense of relief wash over me, filling every pore of my skin, every braciole in my lungs, and a lump in my throat, as her words resonated with me and every other person in the space. It was a breath of fresh air: I had found my people.

Finally.

In August I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Philadelphia, yet to find a space where Jews of Color and patrilineal Jews like myself, felt welcome. I had met Tamara Fish, the current president of JMN, at the Repair the World: Service Matters conference last year. According to Fish, JMN “is the only grassroots Jew of Color organizing group run by Jews of Color, whose demographics range from every permutation of family imaginable, both progressive and traditional from renewal, and everything in-between.” Several months later, she encouraged me to attend their family retreat.

I did not only feel welcome, but celebrated. I did not only feel comfortable, but like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I discovered something critically important missing in my life, something I had recently heard of, but never seen with my own eyes: a thriving, multi-ethnic, intergenerational Jewish community. And a space where I was allowed–no– empowered, to unravel, reflect, discuss, and most importantly, celebrate our shared experiences, with 70 other Jews of Color and white allies, of all ages.

davened, studied, and learned with young adults, parents, teens, kids, and entire families, Orthodox and progressive alike. African, African  American, Filipino American, Chinese American, and Latinx American Jews, LGBQ Jews, from six months to elderly, were in attendance. Traditional and progressive Shabbat services were held on Friday night and Saturday morning, where we counted the Omer and read from the Torah.

I hugged babies and played with the children, shared, listened, and met people who now feel like family. I exchanged stories and life experiences with other Jews of Color and their families, most of whom I had just met that weekend.

I grieved, raw, emotionally, and unexpectedly, with people who truly understood, grateful for every single moment, the Shehecheyanu playing in my head like a broken record.

As Rabbi Mira Rivera, the first Jew of Color at Jewish Theological Seminary to be ordained (two years ago), said afterwards: “The community we have here is every rabbi’s dream.” Rivera is a Chaplain Fellow at DOROT in New York City, and teaches Jews of Color, allies and co-conspirators through Harlem Hevruta.

When we gathered for Shabbat dinner, it indeed felt like a dream come true. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who looked like me, families that looked like mine, and children running around and playing together, like it were any other Shabbat. I had to remind myself that it was real, that I there as well, not an outsider looking in.

Together we sang a nigun as we lit the candles, parents held their children’s heads and said the brucha, and Rabbi Mira and Sabrina Sojourner raised the tallit over their heads and called for the children to gather underneath. We sang and celebrated the children, their beautiful faces. We celebrated each other, in their presence our unity, together, as a people. Our skin colors a spectrum, our families all shapes and sizes, our children, smiles, joy and unquestioned belonging.

It was overwhelmingly…normal.
It was perfect.
It was beautiful.

It was feeling that I could not put into words, until a song returned to my memory: Hinei ma tov uma naim shevet achim gam yachad.

“How good and pleasant it is for people to sit together in unity.” How precious was is to celebrate every single person in the room, exactly as they are, white, Black, AAPI,Latinx, and mixed. Orthodox and progressive, Jews by choice and by birth, patrilineal and matrilineal, single and coupled, families and individuals, young and old.

The babies, clueless to the miracle surrounding them, the children, who will not begin to comprehend the sacredness of this space, until they are years older.

And the teens, parents, and young adults like myself, who do know, savoring every note, laugh, smile, and clap, holding every moment tight in our hearts.

Knowing of the looks, actions, questioning, and isolation to come, subtle and unsubtle, as they always have, in which remembering this moment will keep us grounded in our very sanity.

And knowing that we are loved, belonged, and matter. And I know this because I was there, taking it in all at once, living in the moment.

And in that moment, I felt me.
I felt holy.
I felt everything.
I felt home.

 

A special shout-out to Chava Shervington, Tamara Fish, Sabrina Sojourner, Rabbi Mira Rivera, all of the JMN leaders, organizers and volunteers, and everyone else who made the 18th annual JMN retreat possible. Thank you for helping create such a meaningful and transformative experience for so many individuals and families seeking a brave, inclusive space, for the past 18 years. Thank you to the many individuals not mentioned here, who offered your listening ears and hearts, genuine selves, support, trust, friendship, and open arms.

Repair Inspiration: Meet Detroit Fellow Michael Evers of the Bagley Book Brigade

Collaboration is a beautiful thing! Case in point: Recently Michael Evers, one of Repair the World’s Fellows reached out to the good folks at Chalkfly, a socially responsible school and office supply company in Detroit that works tirelessly to find ways to give back to the community, about finding pen pals for a reading program he was starting at a Bagley Elementary School. They were in!

For several months, Chalkfly crew members exchanged pen pal letters with students – getting to know one another through their notes, and inviting the students to visit their headquarters. They also attended a Bagley Book Brigade meeting to help students dream up ideas for a short film they will shoot and edit in the coming months.

All in all, that’s an inspirational story if we’ve ever heard one. Find out more about this great collaboration. Check out what Michael had to say about it on the video below, and learn more about Chalkfly at their website.

Celebrate Tu Bishvat with Repair the World and Around the Country

Hey everyone, it’s time for Tu Bishvat – a.k.a. The Jewish holiday for the trees. Tu Bishvat is an ancient holiday that has evolved and changed throughout the centuries into a celebration of tikkun olam (repairing the world), connecting to the environment, eating seasonal and ancient biblical fruits, and having fun at seder celebrations.

There are lots of great ways to celebrate around the country – including with Repair the World’s own Fellows. Plug in and get connected to Tu Bishvat!

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8 Nights of Giving Thanks: Join a Cause

Here at Repair the World November is Gratitude Month – a month dedicated to giving thanks for everything we are grateful for. And this week it’s also Hanukkah! To celebrate, Repair the World presents 8 Nights of Giving Thanks: tips and thoughts for filling the Festival of Lights with gratitude.

On our last night of giving thanks, it is time to think about going forward. How can we bring our gratitude into the rest of the year, and into next year as well? The very best way is to become involved in a cause that is important to you. By joining a club or an organization, or volunteering regularly, you’ll gain greater appreciation for the world around you while making a difference. It’s a gratitude win-win.

Looking for an organization to help? Join Repair the World’s efforts by becoming a 2014-2015 Repair the World Fellow. Applications are due January 6, 2014.) Or check out Idealist.org to find another great fit for you.

Chanukah: A Time to Rededicate Communities

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.