AVODAH was developed as an opportunity for people to integrate Judaism and social activism in ways that nourish their ideals and provide them with the capacity for stronger, enduring activism.
The organization was founded by Rabbi David Rosenn, and a group of activists and educators from across the spectrum of the American Jewish community. Some were religious; others not. Some worked in the nonprofit world; others were educators or rabbis or graduate students. They were united by the sense that there was a disconnect between their involvement in Jewish life and their commitment to working for social change. Dedicated to the notion of "AVODAH" — a Hebrew word which encompasses spiritual, communal and work-related "service" — they joined forces to create the first and only Jewish service corps.
From Brooklyn to New Orleans
Launched in Brooklyn in 1998 with one house of nine participants, the program doubled within a few years. In 2002, AVODAH began a new program in Washington, D.C. which quickly grew from nine participants to fifteen. In 2005, AVODAH opened its third site in Chicago with 9 participants.
In 2008 we brought AVODAH to New Orleans, opening our fourth site. Our move to New Orleans was a response to the serious need for longer-term volunteers to stabilize and advance the city’s anti-poverty organizations, to the New Orleans Jewish community’s need for new residents with fresh energy and a commitment to the community’s recovery, and to the national Jewish community’s desire to contribute in a concrete and effective way to doing something about the unacceptable levels of devastation and social dislocation that still prevail in New Orleans years after the storms.
In March of 2010, Rabbi David Rosenn left AVODAH after serving as Executive Director for 13 years and started as Deputy Director at the New Israel Fund, a grantmaking organization that works to promote democracy, human and civil rights, and a strong civil society in Israel. Marilyn Sneiderman was appointed Executive Director in July 2010.
Prior to AVODAH, Sneiderman worked as a community and union organizer dedicated to fighting poverty. She served as Deputy Director and Chief Field Officer at BBYO and directed the Department of Field Mobilization for the AFL-CIO from 1996-2005. At the AFL-CIO, she launched a national initiative designed to unite community, union, religious, and civil/immigrant rights groups regionally and nationally to campaign for decent jobs, better schools, and social and economic justice in communities around the country.
Building on strong track records in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Washington D.C., Marilyn Sneiderman poised AVODAH for new growth, adding corps members in Washington D.C. in 2011, and an additional site in Washington Heights, New York in 2012.
In the summer of 2014, Marilyn Sneiderman returned to her roots in the labor movement, opening up an opportunity for a new Executive Director at the helm. In January, Cheryl Cook became AVODAH's third Executive Director. A longtime leader in the Jewish communal world, Cheryl has brought 25 years of experience to the role, most recently serving as COO of Hazon for 9 years, a time of tremendous growth for the Jewish environmental organization.
Cheryl has come on board during a time of thriving and growth for AVODAH. In 2014, we launched the AVODAH Fellowship for emerging leaders in New York City, our first new program since our founding in 1998. The Fellowship provides leadership development and community-building to early career professionals in the antipoverty field - the "AVODAH Experience" for those who never participated in the Service Corps. Additionally, our alumni network now has close to 800 members across the country, 75% of whom continue to work full-time in the social justice space, including several members of AVODAH's professional staff.
- Avodah Updates
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I came into AVODAH wanting to learn more about Jewish religious validation for devoting my life to anti-poverty work. I want to feel that the work that I do is grounded in a religious tradition emphasizing justice and righteousness. Through AVODAH I learned about the ways in which Judaism emphasizes justice, making the work that I’m doing and my Jewish values intimately and inextricably linked.”
Rivka Burnstein-Stern2006-2007 Corps Member