8 Ways to Grow Your Light This Hanukkah

Hanukkah takes place during the darkest time of the year. The days are short, nights are long, and the cold is setting in. Lately, the world feels pretty dark, too. In these difficult times, Hanukkah offers us the chance to bring light into our homes and hearts, not just with one flame, but with each candle spreading more and more light each night. To help grow your light this Hanukkah, here are eight practices you can adopt to help sustain your light within and ignite the flames of justice this year:
 

 

Build a Community

As the saying goes, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” No one can change the world alone. To work for social and economic justice, we have to work together in order to make lasting change. In Avodah’s 20 years of service, we’ve worked with nearly 200 anti-poverty organizations across the United States and many more partners including Hillels, advocacy organizations, synagogues, and Jewish community leaders. As you light the first Hanukkah candle this night, think about these questions: Who is on the issues I care about? How can I form a deeper connection with them? How can I form relationships with those this work might impact? Answering and acting on these questions can help grow this single, flickering flame into many great and bright lights all year.
 

 

Serve Others

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” You don’t need to solve world peace, be an Olympian, have a PhD, or invent a cure for disease to do something great in this world. Everyone can play a role in bringing a bit more light into the world by doing small acts of good. Every single one of us has the power to impact the life of another. Whether through volunteering, philanthropy, or advocacy, we can all play a small role in making the world a better place. Better yet, serving others benefits the person serving too, sometimes even more. From adding a sense of purpose to our lives, to lowering blood pressure and decreasing mortality rates , science has shown that generosity and kindness benefits us all. When lighting the second candle of Hanukkah, think about what small acts of good you can do this year to bring a bit more light into this world.
 

 

Live Your Values

In our Jewish history, we know how important it is to stand up for vulnerable and targeted populations. The Torah teaches us, “Tzedek tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue.” Our Jewish values teach us that we must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. In the Jewish social justice world, we often call this action, ‘praying with our feet.’ That’s taking meaningful action to stand against hatred, bigotry, and speaking out for those whose voices are silenced. This year, we’ve taken action to stop a Muslim ban , stand up for immigrants , serve those most in need, and ignite young changemakers to make a difference and ensure tzedek for all. As you light the third Hanukkah candle tonight, consider what you can do to more fully live out your Jewish values.
 

 

 Be Proximate

“There is power in proximity,” scholar and activist Bryan Stevenson says. In order to be true agents of change, we have to be close to the issues. When we fight poverty, we don’t do it from a distance. Our participants are working in homeless shelters and food banks , leading student afterschool programs , helping to administer healthcare , and marching with activists on the front lines. Being close to these issues helps us to understand the root causes of poverty and allows us to form the solutions that will bring it to an end.
 

 

 Stay Curious

We’re living in a time of extreme polarization, but listening to one another can help to create real change. Sometimes our instinct is to shut down when we hear hard things, but deep practices of listening and reflecting back can be more constructive. When we’re willing to have those difficult conversations and cross our divides, we often find that we have more similarities than differences and our stand for justice is stronger.
 

 

Have Hope

As we say on Hanukkah, “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – A great miracle happened there.” Despite all odds – fewer soldiers, little resources, and just enough oil for one night, our ancestors defeated a tyrant and miraculously kept the consecrated oil burning for eight nights, in time to rededicate the desecrated Temple. They couldn’t have done any of it without hope – without the belief that they could somehow beat the obstacles against them. Faced with today’s challenges, we too must hold hope in our hearts that power can be challenged and those who are oppressed can rise above. The Hanukkah story teaches us that miracles are possible – it is us who help ignite them.
 

 

 Be Joyful

Joy gives us energy. It helps us to be better, faster, stronger from the inside out. Happiness keeps us going, it fills our soul and gives us power to move forward. Take time to sing, dance, celebrate. From that energy, we build power. As you light the seventh candle, think about what brings you joy. How can you add more of it in your life?
 

 

Rest

The importance of rest is built into the very framework of Judaism with each Shabbat. Taking a step back, giving ourselves a break, and reflecting on our work is how we rejuvenate our hearts, minds, and bodies. Our Rabbi-in-Residence, Danya Ruttenberg , was recently asked what we should do when our engines are running out of steam. She answered, “Rest your precious self. Do a few things that refill the well—not that numb you out, but that bring you joy, make you feel alive or reconnected with yourself. Spend time with people who really see you and love you for who you are. You’ll be back in it soon enough.”

Day In The Life: Avodah Service Corps Member Danny Brown

Danny demonstrates the spelling and grammar tool in Microsoft Word.

Every day, Avodah Service Corps Members work at antipoverty nonprofit organizations in cities across the United States, serving people in need, building skills for social change, and living together in a supportive community.

Danny Brown, a Colorado native, is spending his Avodah service year as a Digital Literacy Instructor for Byte Back, an adult education school in Washington, DC. Danny teaches computer courses on Microsoft Office – Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word, to help his students gain the skills needed for careers in administrative and secretarial positions.

Below is a minute-to-minute peek into a typical Monday workday in Danny’s life.

*Article reposted with permission from Byte Back.

 

By Danny Brown

Pre-Class #1: 12-1 p.m. 

Note: Although class starts at 1 p.m., I get there an hour early for review and to catch up students who were absent the day before.

11:40-11:48 a.m. – Set up in the room, begin reviewing lesson plan.

11:48 a.m.-12:11 p.m. – Have my check-in phone call with my supervisor (Ellen Bredt, training manager) and catch up on stuff from last week – she was on vacation. Most of our call has to do with figuring out logistics for next week. I will miss class on Monday, Nov. 27 for an Avodah program, and so we need to coordinate everything involving substitute teachers for both of my classes.

12 p.m. – Students begin arriving. For now, it’s just students who want to use the computers for personal business.

12:11-12:30 p.m. – Finish reviewing lesson plan, students keep filing in.

12:30-1 p.m. – Help students review and catch up. We learned formulas in Excel last class, one of the harder concepts. I re-explain a concept, or show them how to do something again. I give students instructions for which activity to work on before class gets going and check back to make sure they got it all down.

Class #1: 1-4 p.m. at Skyland Workforce Center

1-1:15 p.m. – Students do the Byte Back Typing Tutorial for the first 15 minutes of every class, as typing is a skill that can always be improved. This also gives students a chance to come in if they are running a few minutes late. While students file in, I mark their attendance on an Excel sheet I keep. Tomorrow I will go into our data tracking program and insert their attendance for Byte Back records.

1:05 p.m. – A person who was in the computer lab before class asks me what the class is about. I tell them what classes we offer and give them a business card.

1:15-2:25 p.m. – Class. The way that Office Track classes work is each student gets a Byte Back flash drive with files for in-class activities as well as independent practice. We are working on an in-class activity today, so the students have the same file open as me and follow along, repeating my steps as I do them. They can see my screen on the projector.

Today’s lesson is on charts in Excel. I begin by explaining what charts are and why we use them. I then show students how to insert various charts, and they follow along with me. Then we circle back, and I explain how charts are a visual representation of the data. I finish my instruction by showing some ways you can edit charts. Then I have students re-do the practice document for their own memory and understanding. I walk around to make sure everyone has the material down.

2:25-2:40 p.m. – Break. While at break, I give one student a few pages which he lost from the student workbook. I also give a different student her referral form to buy a refurbished computer at a discounted price. It’s from a computer recycling nonprofit that we partner with, Project Reboot.

2:40-2:50 p.m. – Announcements. I usually do them at the beginning of class, but I had to wait to hear back from my supervisor about the substitute instructor situation, so I waited this time. The announcements consist of: following up from last week’s class when a Career Services team member came in to talk about careers and resumes (more on that in a bit), as well as some notes to our class schedule they should be aware of, including the date of the Excel exam. I also fill in the students on my upcoming absence and the substitute instructor.

2:50-4 p.m. – I show one more function in Excel: number formatting. The rest of class is practice exercises. I tell the students which exercises to work on, and I walk around helping individuals as they need it, checking to make sure everyone got it all down.

Danny teaching Office Track from 6-9 p.m. class at Byte Back.

Travel to my next class: 4-5 p.m.

4-5 p.m. – Travel to the Byte Back office. Check out this awesome video of our new office building!

Pre-class #2: 5 -6 p.m.

Note: My second Office Track class started one week later, so other than the timing it’s the same class as before, just a different location with different students.

5:10 p.m. – Put my bags down in the classroom. Again, I let students come an hour early for review and make-up (I’m a bit late today). There are already two students here – they are study buddies and were studying before class and came early.

5:20 p.m. – One student who was absent the day before comes to catch up. I sit with him and help him through the lesson. He’s more advanced so he gets most of it on his own.

5:35 p.m. – Another student comes to take the Microsoft Word test that he recently missed.

5:35-6 p.m. – Walk back and forth between helping the student catch up, clarifying any questions from the Word test, and helping other students review. Students continue to file in.

Class #2: 6-9 p.m., Byte Back Headquarters

6-6:15 p.m. – Typing practice. I mark student attendance in my Excel sheet as they file in.

6:15-7:15 p.m. – It’s career day. Bock Szymkowicz, career development coordinator, comes in and gives a presentation on different ways to conceptualize career development, as well as different resources students can use. The last bit of his presentation is making sure everyone has a resume so he can provide feedback to help them improve. A few people don’t have resumes, and so they make one with an online form Bock provides.

7:15-7:30 p.m.- Break. I chat with students in the kitchen area.

7:30-8 p.m. – Today, we’re learning how to freeze panes in Excel. It’s day three of Excel. Students watch me and follow along on their computers. I go over once more to explain. I have students try on their own, walking around and making sure they all get it.

Class is a constant dialogue. When students need me to say a sentence over, they tell me. When they are completely lost, they tell me (that doesn’t happen too often). Questions are more than welcome in class!

8-9 p.m. – We review Excel cursors, as well as sorting and filtering. Those were our first two days of Excel, and I want to make sure everyone has those skills down pat.

9-9:05 p.m. – I chat with students as I pack up. I leave the office.

It’s a full day! The best part of it all is knowing that I advanced more than 20 students’ learning. And so I go home, and prepare to start again the next day.


Learn more about our partners at Byte Back.

Want to read more Day in the Life stories from our Avodah Service Corps Members? Click here.

 

Join The Avodah Jewish Service Corps! Apply Today!

 

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl: Why I Chose Avodah as My New York Times #GivingTuesday Pick

 

 

Avodah was featured in The New York Times on #GivingTuesday as one of several prominent organizations well-known New Yorkers are giving to this holiday season. Avodah is listed fourth in the article (under Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pick and a few others). Here’s what Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Avodah Board Member and Senior Rabbi at Central Synagogue, had to say about making Avodah her New York Times #GivingTuesday pick.

“I wrote this piece today in The New York Times because I believe in the work of Avodah. By supporting Avodah, I am investing in leadership for a more just world.”
In the article, Rabbi Buchdahl illustrates Avodah’s mission to create new generations of Jewish leaders to help repair the world:
“Imagine taking some of the brightest, most idealistic Jewish leaders graduating from college and placing them for a year of service in anti-poverty and justice nonprofits in four urban centers. Imagine them living together in communal housing so they could celebrate, network and support each other in the everyday challenges of working to alleviate poverty and social injustice. This is the Avodah Jewish Service Corps, and it is building the next generation of Jewish leaders with a commitment to bedrock Jewish values such as tikkun olam — repairing the world. By supporting Avodah, I am investing in leadership for a more just world.”
Avodah Jewish Service Corps Members have contributed more than 1.7 million hours of service and they touch the lives of more than 50,000 people each year struggling with poverty. By working on issues of education, hunger, housing, immigration, health, legal services, domestic violence, and more, Avodah is eliminating the root causes of poverty and creating new generations of Jewish leaders.
To contribute to Avodah’s work, please visit our donation page.

Fighting Hunger on Thanksgiving and All Year

Before heading home to Texas for Thanksgiving, Avodah Jewish Service Corps Member Dena Lipper will be spending the holiday with Brooklyn’s food-insecure families at Neighbors Together, a food bank and community services nonprofit.

Avodah Service Corps Member Dena Lipper at her service placement, Neighbors Together.

During her service year, Dena works with families and individuals to acquire food assistance, housing, healthcare, and other social services. She also runs weekly art classes, movie screenings, and more to give vulnerable members of the community a chance to relax in a supportive environment and help relieve the mental burden of life in poverty.

Neighbors Together is run by several Avodah Alumni including Executive Director Denny Marsh and Community Action Program Director Amy Blumsack.

Denny shared that, “Working on the frontlines of domestic poverty at Neighbors Together during my Avodah year, had a profound and transformative impact. Avodah was a true catalyst for me – I came through that year with the clarity that I wanted to continue in this work for the long haul.”

Dena is the 14th Avodah Corps Member to serve at Neighbors Together.

“The most meaningful thing has been seeing how strong all of the members that come in are. Coming in every day and speaking with the members and staff and volunteers inspires me and it makes me want to continue doing the work and continue making a difference in people’s lives,” she said.

Avodah alumna and Executive Director of Neighbors Together Denny Marsh leads a staff meeting.

In light of the great needs of so many across the country, we are grateful at Avodah to be able to provide a path for inspirational young changemakers, like Denny, Amy, and Dena, to make a difference for tens of thousands of people every year.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to move across the country and this experience has been absolutely incredible,” Dena said.

During Thanksgiving, we thank you for helping us transform the next generation of Jewish changemakers, and making it possible for us to do this important work.

 

 

 

Avodah Launches Kansas City’s First Jewish Justice Fellowship

OCTOBER 19, 2017, KANSAS CITY, KS Avodah, the leading organization devoted to strengthening the Jewish community’s fight against poverty in the United States, is taking its national Avodah Justice Fellowship to America’s heartland. Starting this winter, Avodah will launch the Avodah Kansas City Justice Fellowship to provide a new opportunity for young Jewish adults in Kansas City to gain leadership skills, deepen their connections to the Jewish community, and strengthen local anti-poverty work.

“Nearly one-fifth of all Kansas City metro area residents live below the poverty level. The urgency of these needs and the desire for the young Jewish community to meaningfully live out the Jewish value of tzedek, justice, make the Avodah Kansas City Justice Fellowship a much-needed and important undertaking,” Avodah Executive Director Cheryl Cook said. “We are excited about our partnership with many early investors from the local Jewish community, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, who have also served as critical thought-partners to welcome the Justice Fellowship into Kansas City this year.”

The very first of its kind in the region, the Avodah Kansas City Justice Fellowship is a 7-month leadership development and community building program for young Jewish professionals and volunteer leaders working to address poverty issues in Kansas and Missouri in both the Jewish and greater communities. The program will give Kansas City-based Justice Fellows the opportunity to:

  • Develop professional, communal, and spiritual resources to enrich their Jewish lives;
  • Strengthen and sustain their anti-poverty work and create social change;
  • Prepare them for leadership roles in the Jewish and social justice communities;
  • And gain on-the-ground experience in social justice work within a supportive, pluralistic Jewish community.

The Jewish leadership component of the Avodah Justice Fellowship will be run in collaboration with Bend The Arc, A Jewish Partnership for Justice. Through this partnership, participants will benefit from Bend the Arc’s powerful organizing and leadership expertise and gain firsthand experience in creating meaningful social change through a Jewish lens.

The Avodah Justice Fellowship has become a sought-after opportunity for emerging Jewish leaders. It currently operates in New York City and Chicago and Avodah is thrilled to now make this program available to early and mid-career professionals in Kansas City. According to a Pew Research study, the majority of Jewish Americans believe working for justice and equality is key to their Jewish identity. Avodah Kansas City Fellowship Program Director Amy Ravis Furey said:

“Currently, there are few opportunities for Jewish professionals to hone their social justice knowledge and leadership skills in America’s heartland. Through the Avodah Kansas City Justice Fellowship, young Jewish leaders will be equipped with skills critical to their identity and growth in order to help create a community that incentivizes young Jews to stay in Kansas City long-term, take on prominent Jewish leadership roles, become more connected to the Jewish community, and positively impact the community’s future.”

“I am looking forward to The Avodah Jewish Fellowship continuing to grow a community of Jews who see social justice through a Jewish lens, who see their Judaism and social justice issues intertwined,” said Aviva Solomon, Kansas City native and Avodah alumna and social worker. “Avodah was the springboard for tying my Judaism and social justice together. Because of Avodah I grew professionally and was able to find my own path forward. Some of my best friends are the people I met in Avodah; they are my community. I feel excited to have a community of Avodah people I can connect with here in Kansas City.”

Avodah is deeply appreciative of the generous support that we received from the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City and the other foundations, individuals, and families who made this project possible.

For media inquiries, please contact Avodah’s Director of Communications at [email protected].

 

Avodah Co-Sponsoring #NoMuslimBanEver March

As American Jews, we know what can happen when a single group of people are targeted because of their religion. That is why on October 18, 2017,  the day a ban on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries goes into effect, Avodah will co-sponsor the #NoMuslimBanEverMarch in Washington, DC with HIAS and Bend The Arc. We join our allies, neighbors, and friends of all faiths in support of hundreds of thousands of refugees around the world who will soon be denied access to safety.

Please join us at the Jewish Meet Up during the #NoMuslimBanEverMarch. Local marches will also be taking place around the country. The Jewish Meet Up will take place at the Center for American Progress, 133 H Street NW, 11th floor, Washington, DC at 10:15am. The March will begin at 11:30. Please check out the Facebook event for more information.

Avodah Stands With DACA Recipients

 

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”-Leviticus 19:34

The decision announced last week to end the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which temporarily shields undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation, is a devastating blow to 800,000 young people in our country who are working, going to school, and serving in our military. As Jews, we are taught that we have an obligation to “love the stranger,” as we have been strangers throughout our history. It is a tenant of our Jewish values, as well as American ones, as we are a nation of immigrants.

For all those affected by the recent announcement, including those within our Avodah family who may themselves be impacted, or whose loved ones may be affected, please know that we support you and we are here for you.

When we see vulnerable populations under threat, one thing that keeps us so inspired is the dedication of our Jewish Service Corps Members and alumni, who are rising to meet the needs of this historic moment.  We are so proud to have our Jewish Service Corps Members working with incredible organizations all over the country (listed below) who are on the front lines of immigration reform and working to protect the rights of vulnerable young people. With unwavering moral courage, our participants work in all facets of immigration, helping families stay together, creating paths to education and employment, and giving a voice to those in the shadows.

We’d like to share a few of their experiences with you:

Photo by Paolo J. Riveros.

Briana Carp (Avodah Jewish Service Corps, NYC ‘08-09) worked with immigrant populations at Sanctuary for Families during her Avodah year and is now continuing her work in the field as Coordinator of Legal Information at Comprehensive Development Inc. (CDI) at the Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day School, which works to help underserved high school students graduate high school and successfully move into the workforce and higher education.

 

 

 

 

Melissa Fich (Avodah Jewish Service Corps, NYC ‘15-16) worked with the New York Legal Assistance Group  (NYLAG) and now works for the organization as a paralegal within the Immigrant Protection Unit. She is a first generation American of Venezuelan descent.

How did your Avodah experience lead you toward your work on immigrants rights?

Briana: “My placement with Sanctuary for Families through Avodah gave me the foundation to do this work. I saw the ways that one’s immigration’s status made people vulnerable to exploitation, which is the basis of a lot of struggles.”

Melissa: “I found that doing Avodah gave me a really strong foundation to draw connections between my work in immigration and Judaism. I think of the idea of welcoming the stranger and the Passover story, remembering that we were once strangers, too. I found these connections to be meaningful and powerful.”

Can you tell me what impact DACA has had on the lives of your clients?

Briana:  “After hearing the news, I was pretty devastated. I thought about the youth I’ve worked with. DACA made a huge difference for them. Having a work permit has for the first time has given them stable employment and some have been able to go to college, even though they aren’t eligible for financial aid (that’s one way DACA didn’t go far enough). Some have been able to visit their home country and see their family members for the first time since they were very little and that can make a huge difference in their lives. Most of all, it gave them freedom from the fear of deportation…The folks I work with are strong and resilient, but I see constant fear from my students. It makes their life hard and puts them at risk in other ways. I see the emotional toll of hiding who you are. One of my students was finally able to get a green card and he told me,  ‘I can finally breathe.’”

Melissa: “DACA has made a huge difference for my clients. They can breathe easier going to work and school knowing they have protection from deportation. Some of them didn’t even know they were undocumented because they were brought here at such a young age. They consider themselves American. Many of my clients have mixed immigration status families and being able to work legally, support their families, have a social security card, and open a bank account has changed their lives. Some of my clients are studying in high school and others are in college. Some are looking to become doctors, nurses, lawyers or go into computer science. They have this future as the next generation and I think that losing DACA will force them back into the shadows to financially survive.”

How do you think your own family’s Jewish immigration story influences or motivates you to protect immigrant populations?

Briana: “With the history of immigrants fleeing the Holocaust, fleeing violence in the Soviet Union, and knowing how some were turned away only to be sent back, we have a lot in common with many of the immigrants I work with. My grandmother is from France. She lived through the war and I think there are a lot of parallels to those escaping violence today. As Jews, we really have an obligation to stand up for immigrant rights. Thinking about my own family’s story of Jewish immigration is where I look to for inspiration in my work now to protect immigrants. It’s part of what drives me.”

Melissa: “My family is from Venezuela and I’m first generation American. I have cousins in Venezuela and because of food shortages and antisemitism, my own family members had to leave and were granted asylum. Because of that, I’ve learned to appreciate how quickly a place someone calls home can turn to a place of fear. That’s a big motivation for me – recognizing the situations people have to escape from. It’s especially dangerous in Latin America. Many times, families didn’t have a choice. The young people under DACA didn’t get to have a say. They consider themselves American.”

 

Avodah is proud to serve alongside organizations across the country working to create a more just world for immigrant populations. They include:

For those who may be affected, or whose families may be affected by the ending of the DACA, here are some helpful resources:

Inspiration and Introspection For the New Year

 

Every day during this month of Elul, we blow the shofar as a wake-up call to our hearts and minds. It’s our reminder to take an honest self-evaluation, a real heshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul, so that we may take the necessary steps to create a sweet, new year, as we head into Rosh Hashana.

As we listen to the shofar this month, we’re also thinking about how to equip ourselves with the right tools to best take on our work for social justice in the new year. Creating social change is hard work. Progress takes time. That’s why we’re offering you this guide for inspiration for the long haul: “11 Ways to Stay in the Justice Game,” created by our founder, Rabbi David Rosenn. We hope these tips will inspire new ways of thinking about social justice work and help you dig in and prepare for 5778.

If you would like a poster or pocket version of “11 Ways to Stay in the Justice Game” to share with your friends, family, networks, or use as a personal resource, please let us know.

Click below to view and print the “11 Ways to Stay in the Justice Game.”

 

Avodah Service Corps Members Help Students Get Ahead

Erez Mirer with two students at Teens Run DC.
Erez Mirer of Brooklyn, NY serves at Teens Run DC during the 2016-17 school year.

It’s back to school season and this time of year, we’re thinking a lot about equal access to quality education. Whether the result of poorly-funded schools or outside factors such as unstable housing and food insecurity, students from low-income families face immense challenges to obtain a quality education and break the cycle of poverty. That’s why we’re so proud to have our Corps Members working as college counselors, youth workers, and after-school program assistants to break down barriers and directly impact students’ lives to help them reach success.

Erez Mirer of Brooklyn, NY served this past year at Teens Run DC, an organization that promotes the physical, social, and emotional well-being of underserved youth through a mentoring and distance running program.

“Something that’s been really meaningful for me this year at my placement is helping students realize their full potential and give them the life skills that will help them throughout their entire lives,” Erez said.

Our Jewish Service Corps Members don’t just work to improve educational opportunities for children though. Check out this profile in The Times Picayune about the ‘Fab Five’ volunteers, who worked as education superheroes this year leading a free adult literacy program at the YMCA Education Services (YES) of Greater New Orleans.

During the 2017-18 school year, our Jewish Service Corps Members will be working with some of the country’s best student-focused organizations including: Girls in the Game (Chicago), Girls on the Run New Orleans, Communities In Schools of Greater New Orleans, Inc., YMCA of Greater New Orleans, Adams Street Foundation (New York City), Crown Heights Community Mediation Center (NYC), Educational Alliance’s Manny Cantor Center (NYC), Comprehensive Development, Inc (NYC), Byte Back (DC), Teens Run DC, DC SCORES, and others!

A New Kind of B’nai Mitzvah Project

What if a B’nai Mitzvah project could make a lasting change in the world? That’s what Clara Rotter-Laitman questioned as she embarked on her Jewish Learning Opportunity through the Avodah Justice Fellowship in Chicago.

Together with illustrator Kayla Ginsburg, Clara created a “zine,” a homemade magazine, for Jewish students and educators to help in creating more meaningful B’nai Mitzvah projects.

Mitzvah projects are social action initiatives that have become popular for Jewish children to take on while they prepare for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Often these projects include donating to a cause or volunteering for a day. The sentiments behind these initiatives are well-intended: practice the commandment of tzedakah, charity, and encourage the act of tikkun olam, repairing the world. However,  as Clara points out in her zine, one-and-done volunteer initiatives often fall short of meaningfully addressing the issues they intend to impact. For example, volunteering at a food drive is a kind gesture, if it addresses the needs of the particular food pantry, but it doesn’t prompt a budding tween to question why a community is food insecure in the first place or help to inspire a lasting solution. Maybe a B’nai Mitzvah project could do more.

Clara believed that given the appropriate framework, tools, and resources to think bigger, young Jews could examine the root causes of poverty and other social issues and learn the best methods to effect change – through advocacy, direct service, philanthropy, and community organizing.

To help students, synagogues, and Jewish institutions explore what it looks like to meaningfully (and Jewishly) engage in social justice work, Clara and Kayla Ginsburg created the beautiful zine, that speaks to and illustrates the acts of learning, listening, and liberation, complete with worksheets and resources for educators.

“You are totally capable of analyzing the root causes of society’s problems and doing something that makes a real difference,” Clara states in the eye-catching zine.

To view, download or print the zine, visit fromstarfishtosolidarity.tumblr.com.

Want to learn how you can be a changemaker in today’s world? Apply to be an Avodah Justice Fellow!