The Avodah Blog

A New York’Nik Retreat

By: Anna Bennett

So, where was AVODAH New York  last weekend? A seriously good question for anyone to be asking…

We were in a fall wonderland of leaves changing and great singing, fireplaces and long walks, with a labyrinth in our backyard and enough laughter to kill any boggart.

We were in the Hudson Valley.

The first weekend of November, my fellow New York’Niks (as we like to be called, say it out loud a couple times, it might make you giggle), went on our fall retreat. This is the beauty of AVODAH.  We spend weeks working with those who need our help, often feeling defeated in our inability to help all of them, and then, we also have the luxury of spending time with people who feel the exact same way, who also happen to be the people that make you laugh harder than anyone else, and allow you to cry louder than you ever thought you needed.

I work as a college advisor for a non-profit connected to a night and day high school for transfer students. These transfer students are new immigrants trying to master English, an incredible challenge for students who usually already know two or more languages. Often, they have already graduated from high school in their home country.  Or they are matriculated transfer students, who, for whatever reason, were unable to finish high school their first time around.

Because my students all have so much life experience and many are around my age, the authority I have over these young men and women is somewhat difficult to come to terms with. One of my co-workers, a young woman (21-years-old) who graduated from our school last year and who is now a freshman at Barnard, asked me the other day, “What makes you qualified to do this job?” And I had an incredibly lame answer: “Well, I’ve been to college?”

After our retreat, if she asks me again, I can say, rather simply, that I know how to work in a community and how to listen to others, and that is what makes me qualified for this job.

This weekend, we spent a lot of time trying to learn about how to listen. Simple enough sounding, but really much more complicated than you might imagine.  Today, during a training at my work, I was told that to “actively listen” is a clinical skill set and something you must learn.

Have you ever listened to someone tell a deeply personal story and not only refrain from asking questions, but deliberately try not to think of them?  Learning to trust that your partner will tell you what you need to know in their time really is a skill that not everyone has and one that many people may never have the time to discover.  We also started to discover our own triggers, things that upset us for no apparent reason, what causes them, and ways to work through these triggers.

In our first week of AVODAH we were asked to try and “assume goodwill” in all the work we do and in the way we work together, and we finally are, as a group, not only saying that we will try to assume goodwill, but all actually doing it.

The New York'Nicks during their retreat

Anna Bennett is from New York, NY and attended New York University. As an AVODAH New York Corps member, she is the College Advisor at Comprehensive Development, Inc. (CDI). In partnership with Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School, CDI provides students who prematurely ended their high school education with unprecedented academic and social service support so they can graduate and succeed as adults.

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