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Archive for : volunteer

On Thanksgiving, Share Your Gratitude By Giving Back

Polish your gravy boats and slip into your eating pants, people – Thanksgiving is almost here. It’s the holiday devoted to lots: of traffic, of eating, of time with family, and of being grateful for everything we have. (hmmm … didn’t we just do this in October?)

Thanksgiving is also dedicated to those without lots.  Every year, millions of people across the country take time out of their holiday festivities to give back through volunteering. And we can think of no better way to celebrate a day of gratefulness than by helping others. After the annual touch-football game is over, why not take advantage of the holiday spirit by participating in one of the service opportunities below.

Too busy prepping the turkey (or tofurkey), whipping the mashed potatoes or just gobbling it up? Fret not. People need help all year round! So prep away, and bring the Thanksgiving spirit into the rest of the year!

  • Bake or Buy Pie. Across the country, expert and novel bakers-alike are banding together to bake pies to raise money for charity – like this Pie in the Sky event in Massachusetts or these pie events across the country. As if pumpkin and pecan pie could get any sweeter!
  • Race. Sign up for a Thanksgiving Day run that helps raise awareness or money (or both) for a good cause, like the Run for Food race in California.
  • Deliver meals to older and housebound residents with Meals on Wheels. Your visit will bring them much more than food.
  • Visit residents at a local senior center for VA hospital. Many of these organizations throw Thanksgiving dinners or parties for their residents, like this one in New York City, and need extra help and extra friendly faces.
  • Serve (literally) by volunteering at a local soup kitchen, which provides free, hot meals on Thanksgiving (and the rest of the year) to people in need.
  • Donate. If you don’t have time to volunteer in-person on Thanksgiving, donating to a favorite charity is a great way to give back.

What did we miss? What did you do? Feel free to share other local and national volunteer opportunities in the comments below.

Groundwork Somerville and Tufts volunteers clean forgotten spaces in Somerville

On Friday, September 23, Groundwork Somerville engaged Tufts University Volunteers in an effort to clean up Somerville in our second annual Green-a-thon.  Students volunteering through “Repair the World Service Day” met Groundwork Somerville representatives at two sites in the city that have been flagged “dirty” by community members.  The event was made possible thanks to the support of Apex Green Roofs,, and Somerville’s Department of Public Works.

In planning the event, Groundwork Somerville was pleased to discover how hard it was to find a truly dirty plot of land in the city.  Thanks to the hard work of employees of the Department of Public Works, Somerville’s parks and streets are cleaned very regularly and do not seem to accumulate trash.  The sites in the city that need clean-up assistance are the vacant and unclaimed spaces.

One team diligently picked up trash in a vacant lot adjacent to the Healey School and near Groundwork Somerville’s Healey School Garden.   Upon completion of this task, they moved across the black top to pick up trash and remove invasive Japanese Knotweed from the sloped area between the school and Mystic housing development. The second team worked hard to clean the steep wet forested slope behind the Somerville High School and the Commuter Rail tracks.  Within two hours, 18 bags of trash, 10 bags of recycling, and 4 yard waste bags were filled!  Groundwork Somerville would like to thank Apex Green Roofs,, Somerville’s Department of Public Works, the Alpha Phi Sorrority, Groundwork Somerville’s National Park Preservers, and Repair the World Service Day for making this Green-a-thon possible.

Marathon of Good: 10 Ways to Serve Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

The Jewish calendar is filled with holidays that come around to remind people of ideas they should ideally be thinking about the entire year. Hanukkah, with its focus on light and miracles, is a reminder to look for those things during the depths of winter. On Purim, reading the story of Esther (and the parties that come after), is a reminder to celebrate. And Passover offers a chance to be thankful for freedom and to work for justice.

In the case of the high holidays — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — they are a reminder to reflect on the opportunities one has to be the best they can be. They give people a chance to look inward and gather the strength and courage they need to do good work in the world. They allow people to press the reset button, start fresh and reconnect with their deepest values – like the importance of helping others and actively creating a better world.

Service and social action are (naturally) important all year round. But the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known as the Days of Awe, offer the perfect time to stock up on service points, and set a tone for the rest of the year. This year, try doing one of the good deeds below each day between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Think of it as a New Year’s resolution that will jump start your year of service and tikkun olam.

Marathan of Good: 10 ways to serve between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

  • Prune your bookshelf or your closet and donate the used books/clothes to a charitable organization.
  • Give blood or get swabbed to be a blood marrow donor (find out more here).
  • Sign a petition for a campaign you believe in (find one here) – then share it on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Get more informed on world issues: Read a newspaper (or two) from cover to cover, or read the top articles on a daily news website. (Sorry, Gawker doesn’t count.)
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter or animal cruelty society.
  • Take a walk in a park, on a beach, or around your neighborhood and pick up every piece of trash you see along the way.
  • Read through all the emails you got in the last two weeks from non-profits asking for financial support. Donate to one of them or email them about volunteer opportunities.
  • Go apple picking at a local orchard. Make applesauce and freeze half of it for Hanukkah latkes. While at the orchard, learn more about their sustainable agriculture policies.
  • Send this blog post to a friend, encouraging them to join you!

Turning Mountains into Mole Hills

“I want to volunteer,” the caller told a colleague at a local social service agency.

“Great,” she said, “there is a elderly woman who returns from the hospital every Monday afternoon and she feels really down and weak from her treatment. She was just asking if someone could stop by.”

After a pause, the caller said, “Mondays are no good from me. I have a tennis lesson.”

“Ok. Well, we could really use some help in the food bank on Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday mornings,” my colleague replied.

Again a pause. “That won’t work for me either. I am free from 2pm to 3pm the next two Thursdays. And then the following Wednesday from 4pm to 5pm. I’m not sure of my schedule after that. Do you have anything at those times?”

Exaggerated or not, I have heard similar stories from many professionals working in social service agencies. Well-meaning people want to volunteer, but they often don’t realize how much strain volunteers can add to an organization.

How can you feel great about volunteering and make sure that you aren’t causing extra strain on a nonprofit?

  • Before even reaching out to an organization, reflect on how much time and what kind of commitment you can realistically make. We often look at our schedules a couple months out and see an ocean of extra time. But when we look back at the past month, we’ll often find that we barely had the time to brush our teeth.  Use your availability in the past as a predictor of your free time in the future.
  • Do some research and have some conversations. Whether you want to volunteer as an individual, you are organizing a group of volunteers or you want to lead a donation drive, have a conversation—or several–early on with the agency you want to work with to find out their needs. Then, see if you have the skills to match those needs.
  • Start from a place of humility. Don’t try to negotiate your way out of their training or set conditions on your service. While it can be challenging to arrange your schedule to make a regular commitment of service hours, the benefit is often much greater to the organization and more satisfying for the volunteer.
  • Remember, you are there to help, and ideally learn. By learning about the needs of the agency with which you hope to work, you can greatly increase the odds of supporting real work without making more work for often-overtaxed professional staff.  Early conversations allow you to develop an understanding about what efforts are underway that you might be able to plug into. It is also an opportunity to share any specific skills you may have. For example, if you are a CPA or a web developer you may be most useful helping in the office and not the serving line.

After the tsunami in Southeast Asia, I was told that among the highest points in one village was the mountain of molding blankets collected and shipped over – probably at great expense. The intention was beautiful and well-meaning, but the problem was they didn’t need warm blankets. They are in the Tropics. They needed a molehill of blankets, not a mountain of them.

Like all successful relationships, you have to listen, be willing to put in the time and make the effort for them to be fulfilling. And nothing is more satisfying than feeling your skills and talents are helping address the world’s greatest needs or relieving even one person’s loneliness.

Poll Finds Young Jews Love To Volunteer — But Not Through Jewish Groups

For Jewish social service and advocacy groups, it is a good news/bad news sort of survey: Most young Jews volunteer for social projects, according to a recent, widely discussed poll, but few of them connect this with their Jewish identity, nor do many of them choose Jewish organizations as places at which to volunteer.

The survey, recently published by the not for profit organization Repair the World, reflects an undeniable drift away from Jewish life and Jewish institutions, according to analysts. Yet at the same time, the findings indicate that the values Jews impart to their children continue to imbue these Jews with a spirit of volunteerism that has long been part of the communal ethos.

“I think it reflects the condition of American Jews being part of America and being at home here,” said Bethamie Horowitz, a social psychologist at New York University who specializes in the study of Jewish identity in America. Horowitz, who supported the poll’s credibility, said young Jews’ failure to think of service as a Jewish value reflected their decreased attachment to traditional Jewish institutions. “I don’t think it’s bad if Jewishness overlaps with Americanness,” she said.

But David Elcott, a New York University professor of public policy, warned, “If we can’t connect public service to Judaism, we run into the danger that for the majority of young Jews, their religion will not be reflective of their core values.”

For Repair the World, the debate generated by its study is not just academic. Looking at the survey findings as a case of the glass half-full, Jonathan Rosenberg, the group’s CEO, said, “This is an idealistic, civically engaged population for whom there are opportunities for us to deepen the depth of their service commitments and to connect that idealism to the Jewish community and to their Jewish heritage.”

Repair the World says on its tax forms that its charitable mission is to “make service a defining element of American Jewish life.”

The study, released June 23, found that about 72% of young Jews were involved in volunteer work in the past 12 months. But this volunteering was mostly infrequent. Forty percent of the respondents reported volunteering less than once a month, and 52% said they do not volunteer at all in a typical week. Only 27% of the respondents agreed that they consider their volunteer actions to be based on Jewish values. And just 22% said that they had volunteered for Jewish organizations. Seventy-eight percent said they have no preference between Jewish and non-Jewish volunteer organizations, suggesting that Jewish groups cannot rely on their Jewish branding to attract Jewish recruits and instead must compete on programming.

Brandeis University’s Maurice & Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies conducted the survey along with Gerstein Agne Strategic Communications. The pollsters surveyed about 2,000 Jews between the ages of 18 and 35, drawn from a list of more than 300,000 applicants to the Taglit-Birthright Israel program and from Knowledge Networks, a national online research panel.

Few of those surveyed indicated any interest in social service projects related to Israel or the American Jewish community. Seven percent mentioned Jewish causes and 9% cited Israel as their areas of volunteer interest. But 41% said that they could be swayed toward volunteering through a Jewish group if its programming more closely aligned with their (mostly non-Jewish) concerns.

While many Jewish groups do focus on Jewish concerns, there are many others that do, in fact, offer programs oriented outward, toward the general society young Jews say they prefer to work with. Rosenberg argued that making public service a primary part of Jewish identity will draw young people into Jewish life. Jewish communities, in turn, will fuel public service, he said.

But first Jewish youth need to know about the existence of such groups. And 23% of the survey respondents said that they were not familiar with volunteer opportunities through the Jewish community.

To follow up on the survey, Repair the World is planning a marketing campaign, Rosenberg said. It will brand public service as a Jewish act, stressing the message of Jewish responsibility to help others. This tested almost as well as a non-Jewish, universalistic responsibility to help others, Rosenberg noted.

Jewish not-for-profit organizations like American Jewish World Service, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Jewish Funds for Justice, have been working for years to connect Jewish values and public service to the broader American and world community. But the nature of the balance they strike between Jewish identity and universal values can vary.

The social service group Avodah, for example, begun in 1998, now runs yearlong programs in several American cities. Young Jews volunteer for anti-poverty organizations while living together in organized houses where they study social justice themes in Jewish traditional and contemporary texts.

“The corps members start really connecting how the service that they’re involved in, the work they’re doing day to day, really is their Judaism,” said Marilyn Sneiderman, executive director of Avodah. “It’s totally tied to their roots, their values.”

But elsewhere, the Jewish community may be failing to connect Judaism to service in other venues, observers suggest. Elcott believes that the disconnect may begin at home. In a 2010 study, he found that only 14% of Jewish baby boomers saw volunteer work as an expression of their Jewish identity. They likely passed on this attitude to their children, he said after seeing Repair the World’s study.

Others point to Jewish education. “I think that for a long time, the service element, the obligation element in Judaism, has not been presented,” said Ruth Messinger, president and CEO of American Jewish World Service.

Repair the World is a relative newcomer to the field of service learning, having emerged in 2009 from the Jewish Coalition for Service. According to its website, it supports Jewish service through technical assistance, marketing, grants, research and evaluation.

Rosenberg said that Repair the World planned to focus on education, literacy and poverty, which were among the issues that respondents identified as most important to them. He also said that the organization would encourage more local and flexible volunteering programs to address logistical issues, as these were cited in the study as major obstacles to volunteering.

Study says Jews volunteer, but not because of ‘Jewish’ values

(RNS) Young Jewish Americans volunteer enthusiastically for a multitude of causes, but the vast majority do not connect their service to their Jewish identity, Jewish institutions or Israel.

These findings, from a survey released Thursday (June 23), both hearten and concern Jewish leaders.

“The good news is that this is an idealistic, motivated population,” said Jon Rosenberg, CEO of Repair the World, the New York non-profit that sponsored the study and promotes Jewish volunteerism. Rosenberg billed the report as the most comprehensive to date on young Jews and volunteerism.

Seventy percent of the 951 young adults surveyed said they had volunteered at least once in the past year, though much of that service was episodic, with 40 percent of respondents serving less than once a month.

Rosenberg and other Jewish leaders said they want to motivate young Jewish Americans to volunteer more regularly, but they also worry about the disconnect between young Jewish volunteers and their Jewish faith.

Only 27 percent of respondents said they volunteered based on their Jewish values, and only 10 percent indicated that their primary volunteer commitment was organized by a Jewish group. Just 3 percent said the primary focus of their volunteer efforts was a cause related to Israel.

The findings point to the need to teach young Jews how their service reflects their heritage, said Ruth W. Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, which sends about 350 young Jews abroad each year to help poor non-Jews in the developing world.

“You don’t have to learn the whole canon of Torah and commentary to learn how your service reflects Jewish values,” she said, offering her organization as a model. “Our work is done with a set of Jewish teachings on why the work is Jewish work.”

Rosenberg said the survey should push more synagogues and Jewish schools to emphasize service as an important part of Jewish life. “There are windows of opportunity from childhood through young adulthood when the connection can be made between who you are as a Jew and who you are as a global citizen,” he said.

The survey also showed that service was closely linked to gender and religious observance, with Orthodox Jews showing the highest levels of volunteerism, at 83 percent. Of those surveyed, 78 percent of women said they had volunteered in the past year, compared to 63 percent of men.

The respondents ranged in age from 18 to 35.

The survey was conducted as a joint effort between the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and Gerstein-Agne Strategic Communications. Its sample was culled in part from a list of applicants to Taglit-Birthright Israel, the organization that gives young Jews free trips to Israel.


Many Young Jews Volunteer but Rarely in Faith Projects

About 80 percent of Jews age 18 to 35 have engaged in volunteer work during the past year, but by and large their volunteerism has been infrequent and not related to their faith, according to a new study.

The study, commissioned by Repair the World, a group that works to promote volunteerism among Jews, surveyed roughly 1,000 young Jews last fall and is believed to be the first in-depth look at volunteerism within a faith group, according to Jon Rosenberg, Repair the World’s chief executive. Many of the findings apply to any religious group, he says.

Repair the World was created by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

Of the young Jews in the survey, 78 percents said they had volunteered at least once over the past year, which is a positive sign, Mr. Rosenberg said. Still, the survey results point to some challenges.

Only a third of respondents characterized their volunteerism as an integral part of their lives and do so at least once a month.

“Their volunteering is sporadic and episodic,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “It’s not skilled volunteering that is likely to be high impact around communities of need.”

The survey also found a huge gap in the volunteering habits of those who are more religious and those who are more secular.

Among those who are most religiously involved–who regularly attend religious services, observe the Sabbath, and follow Jewish dietary laws–91 percent said they had volunteered at least once over the past year and 53 percent said they volunteer regularly.

Those who aren’t as religiously active are also much less active as volunteers—61 percent said they had volunteered at least once in the past year, and 17 percent say they volunteer regularly.

Faith also had little to do with the volunteering activities Jews pursued: Only 27 percent of the young adults said that their volunteerism was based on Jewish values, and only 10 percent said that their volunteer work was organized by a Jewish nonprofit.

Mr. Rosenberg says the study points to the need for all groups to change the way they promote volunteerism.

Most young Jews, for example no longer connect to volunteer opportunities via traditional advertising but instead through social networks and friends.

Jewish groups must learn how to use those social networks so they can connect volunteers back to the Jewish community, he said.

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Is Volunteering Jewish?

While the majority of young Jewish adults volunteer, few see community service as an extension of their Jewish values. Most Jews ages 18 to 35 said that they shy away from volunteering with Jewish organizations because they view them as parochial and only serving the needs of the Jewish community.

And, further evidence of the distancing of young Jews when it comes to Israel, only 1 percent of respondents said that Israel was the primary focus of their volunteer work.

These were the key findings of a groundbreaking study — the first of its kind to study the attitudes and behaviors of young Jewish adults when it comes to volunteering. “Volunteering + Values: A Repair the World Report on Jewish Young Adults” was commissioned by Repair the World, a national organization that aims to make service a defining element of Jewish life, and conducted jointly by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and Gerstein Agne Strategic Communications.

“This is the first time that the Jewish community has baseline data about what the current attitudes and behaviors [of young Jews] look like,” Jon Rosenberg, CEO of Repair the World, told The Jewish Week. “You have to know where you’re starting from in order to measure change over time.”

If the findings are any indication, there’s a lot of work to be done

While most Jewish young adults volunteer, the activity is sporadic, with only one-third of the nearly 1,000 respondents engaging in service at least once a month. Less than a quarter of those surveyed had participated in an intensive service program lasting between one week and three months, such as an alternative spring break or immersive summer experience. In a typical week, the majority of young Jews said that they do not volunteer.

“It’s not just a frequency issue,” says Rosenberg. “We need to increase the effectiveness of volunteer commitments and help connect service to Jewish identity frameworks.”

Only 18 percent of Jewish millennials surveyed said that they prefer to volunteer with Jewish organizations or synagogues rather than other nonprofits. The vast majority — nearly 80 percent — said that it didn’t matter to them whether the organization they volunteered with was Jewish or non-Jewish. And only a small minority of young Jews cited Israel as the primary focus of their volunteer work.

“At this point, we have young Jews who neither have 1948 nor 1967 as conscious memory,” says Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, referring to the year of Israel’s founding and the year of the Six-Day War. “In 1948, Jews had nowhere to go and were murdered in the Holocaust; those alive in 1967 remember the fear that the Jews would be wiped out.”

For Ari Teman, the founder of JCorps, which mobilizes nearly 5,000 young Jews each year to volunteer in cities across the globe, it’s not a lack of interest in volunteering in Israel but rather ignorance on the part of young people regarding the significant needs that exist there. “People are unaware of the shocking poverty that is prolific in Israel,” he says.

When asked why they did not volunteer with Jewish organization, nearly a quarter of respondents said that they were not familiar with volunteer opportunities available through the Jewish community. Others thought that the Jewish organizations did not address the causes they are most passionate about, chief among them helping the needy, health care and medical research, and education and literacy.

“The advice we are trying to take to heart here is for organizations to take a hard look at their mission and look at the interests and aspirations of this population and find the synthesis points,” says Rosenberg. “Young Jews are interested in service that is local and where there are low barriers to entry, such as education, poverty and the environment. We would never advise an organization to contort its mission to meet the perceived needs of particular groups of constituents, but rather look for ways in the messaging, programming and work that they do to synthesize the interests and attitudes of this population with the important mission the organization is performing.”

Many respondents were turned off by Jewish organizations that they perceived as being too particularistic and only serving the needs of the Jewish community. “We are now really moving in a new course that is more universalistic and less religious, and this is true generally in American life,” says Sarna.

Steven Bayme, the director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department of the American Jewish Committee, says that “the concept of Jewish peoplehood has been under serious pressure.”

“Some people find the language [of Jewish peoplehood] to be off-putting — tribalism at best, racism at worse,” he says, leaving young Jews wondering why they should care more about Jews than about earthquake victims in Haiti.

And many young Jews exhibit an inherent distrust of established Jewish organizations. “Most young people don’t want to have anything to do with a legacy Jewish organization, which they view as irrelevant, ineffective, and wasteful,” Teman says.

Certain factors, such as having parents who volunteer regularly, were seen as encouraging more regular volunteer activity among Jewish millennials. Those with greater religious involvement were the most likely to engage in volunteering, do so regularly and participate under Jewish auspices. The level of religious involvement was calculated based upon whether the respondent regularly participated in a Shabbat meal or activity, attended a religious service and participated in a Jewish text study. “It’s not just [Shabbat] candle lighting,” said Fern Chertok, associate research scientist at the Cohen Center, who co-authored this study.

“Current religious involvement was a better predictor than denomination” of one’s likelihood to volunteer and do so regularly, noted Chertok. More than 70 percent of Orthodox respondents, 33 percent of Conservative, 23 percent of Reform and 7 percent of “Just Jewish” respondents scored highly on religious involvement. However, even those who scored highly on Jewish religious involvement tend to volunteer for non-Jewish causes, according to the findings.

“Most Jewish young adults do not volunteer for Jewish causes or under Jewish auspices; they’re volunteering at soup kitchens or for disaster relief; they’re mentoring, tutoring inner-city kids and building playgrounds,” she says.

The study also found that young Jewish women are more likely to volunteer than Jewish men, a trend that exists outside of the Jewish world, as well. Jewish men who do volunteer, however, do so as frequently as their female counterparts.

“This is not just a programming challenge, but also a messaging challenge,” says Rosenberg. “Who are the male role models who can be held up as American Jews making huge difference in service that they do?” Rosenberg recommends that the Jewish community begin to celebrate men and women who are not just leaders in the Jewish communal service sphere, but within the secular world, as well.

Men like City Year co-founder Michael Brown; Seth Goldman, the founder of Honest Tea, and Jeff Swartz, the CEO of Timberland. “These are American Jews who have started major service organizations or companies with significant commitment to the triple bottom line … and are in the position to speak about how they see service as a Jewish act,” he says.

That last point — viewing service as stemming from one’s Jewish identity or commitment to tikkun olam — is not something that comes natural to most young Jews.

“Jewish young adults subscribe to values of compassion and social justice,” says Chertok. “They don’t see them as Jewish values; they see them as universal values.”

According to the report, only 27 percent of respondents considered their volunteer activities to be based on Jewish values, and only 10 percent strongly agreed with that statement.

“We came at this question a whole bunch of different ways: social justice, tikkun olam, chesed or acts of loving kindness, mitzvot or religious obligation, Jewish communal ambassador — and none resonated as positively as a motivator for social justice as ‘ambassador for social justice,’” a more universalistic motivation, Rosenberg says.

For those who view service as a gateway for young Jews to greater involvement in Jewish communal life, these findings pose a serious problem.

“Young Jews are not claiming their heritage,” Chertok says. “These are Jewish acts. They’re not just Jewish acts. But they are yours as a Jew; they are part of your Jewish heritage. Young Jews are not sure that it is, and they don’t necessarily want to be particularistic about.”

That was the bad news. The good news, Rosenberg says, is that the one Jewish framework that had significant positive response was that “as a people who have suffered persecution and discrimination in our long history, Jews have an obligation to help those in need.” “That is a kind of Jewish-universalistic framework,” he says. “It comes from Jewish underpinnings and an understanding of Jewish history.”

One of the more surprising findings was that children of intermarriage are more likely than are the children of two Jewish parents to volunteer. “We spent some time thinking about why that might be,” says Chertok. “It could be that having a non-Jewish parent and non-Jewish family members leads you to see that your needs and those of people from very different groups are not so different,” she says. “As a result, your sense of obligation is more expansive.”

Another possibility is that intermarried parents who want to encourage religious and moral development may see volunteering as something that is easy to agree on and to encourage their kids to do, she says. “It’s a nonreligious avenue to encourage passion about moral responsibility. Helping others — that’s in every religion.”

For the same reasons, children of intermarriage are less likely to have strong Jewish perspective on volunteering.

Political ideology also has a role to play.

Those who describe themselves as “conservative” or “moderate” are more apt to see volunteering as a Jewish act than those who use labels like “progressive” or “liberal.”

More liberal folks may not see [volunteering] exclusively as a Jewish act, Chertok says. “They don’t like the particularistic piece of it.”


Study: Young Jews volunteer, but don’t connect it to Judaism

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — Most young Jews do some kind of volunteer service, but few do it through Jewish agencies or connect it to Jewish values.

Poverty, the environment, education and illiteracy are the areas that draw most young Jewish volunteers, with Israel-related work at the bottom of the list.

These are among the findings of a new study on Jewish young adult volunteerism commissioned by Repair the World, a national organization that promotes service as a defining element of Jewish life and learning.

“This is an idealistic, civically engaged population, and there are a lot of things to be done to deepen their involvement and connect it to Jewish values and the Jewish community,” said Jon Rosenberg, CEO of Repair the World.

The study, which surveyed some 2,000 Jews aged 18 to 35, could provide guidance to Jewish organizations seeking ways to involve young Jews in Jewish volunteer service, and for those that run service projects outside the Jewish community but wish to strengthen awareness of the work’s Jewish elements.

Respondents to the study, titled “Volunteering + Values: A Repair the World Report on Jewish Young Adults,” were drawn from a list of more than 300,000 applicants to the Birthright Israel program and a national online research panel. Forty-five percent of those contacted responded.

The study, conducted by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and Gerstein/Agne Strategic Communications, found a very high level of volunteerism among its demographic. About 70 percent said they have volunteered in some capacity during the past year; 31 percent said they volunteer every few months; and 29 percent volunteer at least once a month, with 10 percent engaging in volunteer work weekly or more often. More than one-fifth have taken part in an intensive service project of one to 12 weeks, such as an alternative college break project.

Those who defined themselves as Orthodox had the highest volunteer rate (86 percent), with 77 percent of Reform, 66 percent of Conservative and 63 percent of those identifying as “Just Jewish” reporting some level of volunteer activity.

About 22 percent said they had volunteered through a Jewish organization, with 56 percent of the Orthodox respondents saying they did so.

The study showed that young Jewish volunteers are motivated by universalist values; “making a difference in people’s lives” was cited as the most important motivating factor.

About 78 percent of respondents said it did not matter whether the organization for which they volunteer is Jewish or non-Jewish, while 27 percent said their volunteer work was related to Jewish values.

Rosenberg opined that many young Jews do not volunteer through Jewish organizations because they don’t always know about the opportunities, and also because of the misperception that Jewish groups serve narrowly parochial interests.

Fern Chertok of the Cohen Center, the lead researcher on the study, said getting more young Jews to see the connection between their volunteer work and Jewish values is important, particularly for those who are not religiously observant.

“It allows them to see the work as a Jewish act,” she said.

The study showed a high correlation between one’s level of Jewish education and future volunteer work, as well as how clearly one views his or her service as being in line with Jewish values.

“The more service learning is incorporated into Jewish education, the more that connection will be made,” Rosenberg said.

Jonathan Woocher, chief ideas officer of the Jewish Education Service of North America, said that “There are too many people who come away from their Jewish education with the sense that ‘doing Jewish’ is about doing particular rituals in particular places, and if these are not attractive to them, they may not see a Jewish connection to their volunteer work.”

Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, which runs projects in the Third World in which participants also learn about the Jewish values underlying their work, said Jews are interested in Jewish service learning, but the community needs to provide more opportunities. Jewish organizations, she noted, don’t ask for volunteers often enough.

The study provided material that Jewish organizations could use to develop more volunteer opportunities that correspond to the actual interests of younger Jews.

While just 1 percent of survey respondents reported doing Israel-related volunteer work, 9 percent said they would like to perform such work. And while 13 percent already volunteer in the field of education and literacy, mainly tutoring or mentoring, 37 percent said they would be interested in such service.

“If you can interest more young Jews who want to volunteer with quality programs in the Jewish community,” Messinger told JTA, “they’ll get a deeper sense of their Jewish identity and will feel further invested in their Jewish community.”