Jenna Gold originally gave this acceptance speech at Avodah DC’s 2019 Partners in Justice event on May 22, 2019 at Adas Israel Congregation.
There are currently 1,076 Avodah alumni. I am just one of them. My Avodah story is both typical and atypical. Like many of our alumni, several of my best friends are women that I met while in Avodah. One of them introduced me to my husband. We’ve blessed each other at our respective weddings, we’ve taken trains and planes to meet each other’s babies, we call each other for career counseling and in moments of joy and sadness. These are friends that I will know and love forever. We’ve taken different paths but have carried our Avodah community with us wherever we go.
On the professional side, my path has deviated from that of a typical Avodah alum. I’m not a social worker or a community organizer – who are modern day heroes that have my full respect. I’m a Senior HR Manager of Compliance and Investigations at General Electric. It’s not a title that screams “social justice” by any stretch, but I’d like to tell you the story about how I got there and more importantly – to help you understand the role that Avodah plays in the work that all of our alumni do every day.
In 2011, I was enrolled as an MBA student at George Washington University and managed to secure a summer internship in HR at GE. I was hired to spend the summer staffing up what was to be the largest solar panel manufacturing facility in the United States. For someone who did workforce development during Avodah and for several years after, handing good paying jobs to hundreds of people was like a dream. But between the time I was hired in November and when I started the job in May, the industry had taken a turn and the products they were set to manufacture were no longer competitive. I got a call shortly before I started that my role had changed. Instead of hiring hundreds of people, I would be implementing a mass layoff. That was a difficult phone call.
After a few weeks on the job, I told my boss, Steve, about my Avodah experience working with unemployed people in DC. I asked him to give me three weeks out of my 12-week internship to see what I could do to help the people who were impacted by the layoff. I pitched the idea that we could organize a job fair, and Steve gave it the green light. We networked with several reputable Colorado area employers, we hosted resume writing workshops and mock interviews, and before I left my internship, we had placed almost half of the 105 impacted people into new jobs. That job fair helped 50 families secure income for their future. It saved the company hundreds of thousands in severance payments and outplacement services, and as a bonus, I walked away with an offer for a full-time job to join GE when I finished my MBA. I’ve been with the company ever since and have found countless ways to make an impact like I did that summer.
This is what it is to be an Avodah alum. This organization has impacted us not only with a network of friendships and a year of professional experience to start our careers, but it also drives us to find our own practice of Avodat Halev, the work of the heart, no matter where we find ourselves. Multiply this story by 1,076. This is what you support when you support Avodah.
Margie Piercy put it best in of my favorite poems, “To Be of Use:”
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.