My First Observant Shabbat

When I started Avodah, I was in a very vulnerable religious state. I had just come from a weeklong Chabad retreat, where I strongly connected to Halacha and orthodox practices. While attending the first few bayit meetings, I felt uncomfortable speaking up about wanting to keep Shabbos. I didn’t want to pressure others or to make them feel as if they had to observe it as well. But I knew that keeping Shabbos was something that I wanted to try. Previously, I had only kept Shabbos twice during college when I stayed at a Chabad house and at a retreat where there were thousands of other people to talk with and lectures to attend. I had never kept Shabbos in the “real world” and I was interested to see how it spoke to me, but my lack of religious confidence made it difficult to advocate for myself and my desired practices.


After about five months of not keeping shabbos, I mentioned at a bayit meeting that I’d like to give it try. I explained in detail what it would mean for my housemates and for the bayit itself to be a “Shabbos house.” After answering a few questions and providing clarifications, we agreed on a date and each made a few compromises so that the whole bayit could participate. We agreed that the kitchen on the first floor would be Shomer Shabbos, but the kitchen on the third floor  would not, for those needed or wanted to cook food. We agreed that we would not turn on the lights in the hallways, but the bathroom lights would stay on. We agreed to not play any loud music, but that people could still use their phones and computers in their own rooms. Everyone was extremely supportive and I finally had the confidence to ask for what I wanted all along.


When that Shabbos finally arrived, I texted our group to remind them everyone so that we could all prepare ahead and not be caught off-guard. When I left work that day, I went home and made “Good Shabbos!” cards to place on top of all of our electronics as a friendly reminder not to use them. I placed one on top of the stove, the microwave and the toaster, as well as, on the hallway lights and bathrooms. I pre-ripped my toilet paper and cleaned my room so I wouldn’t trip on anything in the dark. I made sure to cook dinner in advance, braided the challah, and got out the Shabbos candles and kiddush cup. I was ready.


Dena, my roommate, decided to be shomer Shabbos with  me, which made everything much easier. When it was time to light the candles, Dena and I dressed up and rushed downstairs. We lit together, said the bracha, and gave a shabbos hug. Then, it was time to daven. Thankfully we had siddurim in our house and we know a lot of the same tunes. We sang every prayer from kabbalat shabbat and ma’ariv, choosing the tunes that we wanted to sing and laughing through the whole service.


The rest of the evening was lovely. Dinner was great and Dena is amazing company. It was strange to go to sleep without checking my phone first, but I made it through.


On Shabbos day, Dena and I walked to Williamsburg to attend a Shabbos brunch at Base BKLN. It took about 45 minutes and it was lovely out. We made sure to not carry anything and left our phones at home. At Base, we studied Kabbalah and ate bagels with our friends. We were there for about two hours before walking back to our bayit in Bushwick. Then, as all good shabbos’s have, we took a long shabbos shlof (nap) and woke up just in time for Havdallah.

We lit our candle, poured the wine, got the cinnamon from our spice drawer, and closed out shabbos. Hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol.


I realized a few things from this experience:

First, advocating for yourself works! I had so much shame and nervousness about my religiosity at the beginning of Avodah which made me too scared to ask for anything “too strict.” Once I was able to ask for what I wanted, I was able to collaborate with my housemates and together, we created an experience that worked for everyone.


Second, I learned which of the 39 melachos spoke to me spiritually and which didn’t. For example, ripping toilet paper on shabbos does not feel like work, so I don’t think I need to pre-rip it before shabbos. However, not using electronics or carrying anything was enlightening.  I also realized that for shabbos day to be meaningful, I need to have something to do; learning, playing, or socializing. If I am alone with nothing to do or someone to talk to, I will end up watching Netflix. A person can only read for so many hours.


Lastly, I learned that my fellow Corps Members really care about me and want to support me. I was worried that asking for a shomer shabbos would be a burden to my roommates, but it turned out that I had nothing to be worried about..Through open communication and compromise, we were able to find a solution that worked for everyone. It was a Shabbos that I will never forget.

Join Avodah at a #FamiliesBelongTogether Rally Near You

Families Belong Together BannerTomorrow, on Saturday, June 30th, thousands, including many in our Avodah community will take to the streets for #FamiliesBelongTogether rallies across America.
We’re raising our voices to oppose the recent separation of 2,342 immigrant children from their parents, an executive order that will lead to further detention of families, and recent immigration laws that harm vulnerable people. Our Avodah community will be marching in New York, DC, Chicago, New Orleans, and in cities across the country. If it is within your Shabbat practice and you wish to join us on this national day of action, please keep an eye out for updates and meeting locations on our Facebook and social media pages.
Unfortunately, Jewish history taught us what happens when those fleeing violence are turned away at our borders. Unjust immigration policies are not new to America’s history. We’ve seen the effects of forced government family separation through our history of slavery, Japanese internment camps, roundups of Native American people, and more. We must not repeat the wrongs of our past. We will march tomorrowSaturday, June 30th, to demand that our leaders restore the status of asylum seekers and immigrants who are running from violence, persecution, and other horrific circumstances. We must act to stop indefinite detention, immigration bans, and move toward real immigration reform.
Please join us! Follow our Facebook page for meeting points and updates on this national day of action. You can also download and print an Avodah demonstration sign here to bring to a rally near you. If you have other Avodah materials, such as a T-shirt, tote bag, or pin, please bring them to your local rallies so that we mCongressoer show our Jewish solidarity with immigrant families.

March with a Jewish Contingent at a #FamiliesBelongTogther Rally Near You

Jewish Contingent
When: June 30th, 9:30am
Location: South side of Collect Pond Park (Leonard Street between Centre and Lafayette Streets).
Info: Begin at Foley Square and march across the Brooklyn Bridge to Rally at Cadman Plaza.The lead banner will say “Jewish Communities Standing For Justice” with no organizational identification.
Shabbat at Families Belong Together Chicago
When: June 30th, 9:15am
Location: West side of the fountain at Daley Plaza
Info: An inclusive, participatory, song-filled service before the rally. March begins at 11amat the Richard J. Daley Center. RSVP here.
Jewish Meetup
When: June 30th, 9:30AM
Location: AFL-CIO (on 16th St between H & I, 815 16th St NW)
Info: Jewish meet up prior to the action. Organizers are asking attendees to wear white.Click here to join.
March with The RAC
When: June 30th, 10am
Location: Franklin Square on the corner of 14th and I St NW
Info: Rally organizers are encouraging everyone to wear white to make a visual statement of love and solidarity.
♦New Orleans:
March with Avodah and Congresso
When: June 30th, 12pm
Location: Congo Square
Info: Demand an end to family separation, an end to ICE an end to detention. If you’d like to march with other Avodah community members, reach out to [email protected].
♦San Diego
When: July 2, 8AM
Location: Chicano Park
Info: Join the Jewish delegation in an action with the advocacy group Mijente to speak out against the prosecution of immigrants there. Click here to join.
Find a rally near you here.

#FamiliesBelongTogether Demonstration Signs

Protest sign that reads: Families Belong Together/Familias Unidas No DivididasOn Saturday, June 30th, thousands, including many in our Avodah community will take to the streets for #FamiliesBelongTogether rallies in cities across America. We’re raising our voices to oppose the recent separation of 2,342 immigrant children from their parents, an executive order that will lead to the further detention of immigrant families, and recent immigration laws that harm families. Our Avodah community will be marching in New York, DC, Chicago, New Orleans, and in cities across the country. If it is within your Shabbat practice and you wish to join us on this national day of action, please keep an eye out for updates and meeting locations on our Facebook and social media pages. Click the download links below to view and print a demonstration sign to bring to a rally in a city near you.




Download a Demonstration Sign:

Families Belong Together/Familias Unidas No Divididas

Jews Against Bigotry

Jews Against Xenophobia

Justice is a Jewish Value

Families Belong Together

Welcome The Stranger

Immigrants Are Welcome Here


‘No Muslim Ban Ever’ – Avodah Stands Against Bigotry After Supreme Court Travel Ban Decision

Avodah signs at a protest against the Muslim travel ban in New York City on June 26, 2018

As you may know, today the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s Muslim Ban. This discriminatory executive order violates our core values as Jews: standing by refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants.

Unfortunately, as Jews, we are well aware of the consequences of racist and xenophobic immigration policies. It wasn’t long ago when many of our own family members were denied safe refuge in the United States. There are many instances over the course of American history when bigoted policies resulted in shameful discrimination and abuse — whether it be slavery, immigration quotas, or Japanese internment camps. Many of us would like to believe we would have spoken out and stood up against those policies. Now is the time to be on the right side of history and say never again will bigotry and xenophobia be our rule of law.

At 6 p.m. in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan, we will stand with our Jewish and Muslim brothers, sisters, and neighbors to say #NoMuslimBanEver. Join us and please wear your Avodah shirts, bags, and other items to show our solidarity. You can also download an Avodah sign to bring to the rally. We hope to see you tonight.

Download an Avodah Demonstration Sign:

Justice is a Jewish Value

Jews Against Bigotry

Jews Against Xenophobia

Liberty and Justice for All



Avodah Named One of Chicago’s Top 20 Innovative Jewish Organizations in Annual Slingshot Guide

Avodah Named One of Chicago’s Top 20  Innovative Jewish Organizations

Thirteenth  Annual Slingshot  Guide Highlights the  Best of the Thriving Jewish  Nonprofit World

CHICAGO, NEW YORK – Avodah has been named one of Chicago’s top 20 innovative Jewish organizations in the 13th annual Slingshot Guide. The Guide has become a go-to resource for volunteers, activists, and donors looking for new opportunities and projects that, through their innovative nature, will ensure the  Jewish community remains relevant and thriving. Slingshot 2018 was released today.

Selected  from among  hundreds of finalists  reviewed by over 100 individuals  with expertise in grant-making and  Jewish communal life, the Guide said Avodah is “achieving both a shift in the way the American Jewish community engages in the fight against poverty and how the community engages with service, and it’s doing it big.”

Organizations included in this year’s Guide were evaluated on their innovative approach,  the impact they have in their work, the leadership they have in their sector, and their effectiveness at achieving results. Avodah is proud to be among the 20 organizations honored for meeting those standards.  

Avodah and the organizations included in the Guide are driving the future of Jewish life and engagement by motivating new audiences to participate in their work and responding to the needs of individuals and communities – both within and beyond the Jewish community – as never before.

“Avodah is so proud to be selected in this year’s Slingshot Guide and thrilled to be part of the amazing cohort of the hundreds of innovative Jewish organizations who are driving forward Jewish social justice and making positive changes in the Jewish community. Congratulations to all 20 change-making organizations included in this year’s guide.” Executive Director Cheryl Cook, said.

“We are proud to highlight organizations doing exceptional work,  serving as the trailblazers for what is possible, meeting the community’s evolving needs and inspiring all of us. Whether we look to the guide for funding ideas, best practices or trends in  Jewish life, it remains a resource for all of us, providing new tools and optimism for our collective future. We would like to thank our generous partners for helping support the Chicago edition of Slingshot 2018 – The Crown Family Philanthropies and the Jack and Goldie  Wolfe Miller Fund,” Stefanie Rhodes, Executive  Director of Slingshot, which publishes the Guide each year, said.

Sarah Rueven, Slingshot’s board chair, agreed, “We are excited to highlight the work of organizations that strengthen Jewish life by rising to the challenges of the day and making our community more relevant to our generation. We are inspired by projects that help people connect to Jewish life in ways that both feel both fresh and relevant while honoring our traditions. Readers will learn  about valuable new projects and gain a deeper insight into  the emerging needs in Jewish life, as identified by our community’s  top leaders.”

Being listed in the Guide is often an important step for selected organizations to attain much needed additional funding and to expand the reach of their work, as the Guide is a frequently used resource for donors seeking to support organizations transforming the world in novel and interesting ways.

About  the Slingshot  Guide:

The  Slingshot  Guide, now in its 13th year, was created by a team of young funders as a guidebook to help funders of all ages diversify their giving portfolios to include the most innovative and effective organizations, programs and projects in North America. The Guide contains information about each organization’s origin, mission, strategy, impact and budget, as well as details about its unique character. The  Slingshot Guide has proven to be a catalyst for next generation funding and offers a telling snapshot of shifting trends in North America’s Jewish community – and how nonprofits are meeting new needs and reaching new audiences. The book has been published annually since 2005. Each edition is available as a free download at,  where you can learn more about Slingshot’s work and new strategies for continuing their impact into the future.

About Avodah:

Avodah strengthens the Jewish community’s fight against the causes and effects of poverty in the United States. We do this by engaging participants in service and community building that inspire them to become lifelong leaders for social change whose work for justice is rooted in and nourished by Jewish values. For 20 years, we’ve been inspiring Jewish leaders to commit to a life of social change, promoting a vision of Jewish life rooted in justice, and engaging the broader Jewish community in some of the most pressing issues facing our country at a local and national level. Learn more at

Men, Bowling and Abortions

By Sam Schachter, Avodah NYC Justice Fellowship (’16-’17)


Group of Avodah Justice Fellowship alumni pose with bowling balls at a fundraiser to increase abortion access.
Avodah NY Justice Fellowship Cohort ’16-’17 participate in a bowl-a-thon to raise funds to increase abortion access for low-income women and families.

A few weeks ago, I and a few friends organized a group to go bowling. It wasn’t an ordinary Sunday bowling outing, we were bowling to raise money for the New York Abortion Access Fund in New York for The National Network of Abortion Funds. The more I thought about asking friends and family to donate money to this philanthropic effort, the more I thought about what it means to be a man raising money for abortion access in The United States in 2018. The most alarming part of the day, was looking around the bowling alley, and only seeing five or so other men in attendance.

The event and our list of donors had one thing in common, it was made up almost completely of women. In a country that seeks to provide freedom and equality for all citizens, why are we as men, not doing what we can to help our sisters, mothers, and daughters provide the care they need? What is our responsibility as men to help fund abortions for those in need?  

The topic of abortion in the US is a complicated and gets more difficult to understand once we start talking about it on a national level, so I will restrict this article to discussing abortion access in New York State. There are some states that are terrible for abortion access, New York is not one them. However, there still can be more done to help those in need of obtaining access who seek these services.  New York state requires that all insurance providers cover abortion procedures. According to Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2017, In 2014, 44% of New York counties did not have clinics that performed in abortions, 10% of women lived in those counties.

In New York state it is illegal to perform an abortion past 24 weeks of a pregnancy unless the life of the woman is in immediate threat. Although there are seven states that do no limit the gestational age that a woman can terminate a pregnancy, New York state is not one of them.

If you live in The United States, you will know that not everyone is covered by a health insurance plan. That leaves a substantial amount of women on their own to cover these costs. Depending on the stage of the fetus, abortions can cost up to $600. Basic healthcare costs and preventive care should not lead to women and families to decide on to choose to take care of their bodies or pay their rent.

Presumably, we are under the assumption that women who are considering abortions are connected to men in some way. Where does the responsibility lay with men and their involvement of abortions, support, and responsibility in the stages of pregnancy? We know that men are overwhelmingly involved in creating laws that restrict women from choosing how and when they can receive services, but men must take on more responsibility to help women gain more access, funding and opportunity regarding resources.

I agree with Iggy Pop who said, “I’m not ashamed to dress “like a woman” because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman.” And that’s true, so why is it so hard for women to make their own choices when it comes to receiving care for their bodies? Men must help to eradicate the public shame and embarrassment of obtaining an abortion. We can do this by speaking more with other men about times in which we have been part of these decisions, conversations, or have known those who have seeked these services. It is up to men to educate other men on how to support these causes. If that means understanding the threat to closing Planned Parenthood clinics, preventing the distortion of the Religious Freedoms Act which prevents insurance providers or doctors from supplying services based on religious influence.

But why should we as men care about this issue? If we care about a healthy country, about justice for all, and compassion for our fellow citizens, we must support those who are demanding control of their bodies. We must help the eliminate the preventive measures that exist that make it harder for women to access care. As stated on the website mentions the subject of intersectionality: “ A comprehensive vision of justice for our communities must involve working towards economic, racial, gender, and reproductive justice.” By helping women, we begin the process of helping everyone.

When men get more involved with these issues, they are able to help those from multiple races and socioeconomic backgrounds. Restricting abortion  access will have a disastrous effect on Black and hispanic communities, most of whom receive these services at a higher rate than white women. When men help those in need from continuing the cycle of poverty, we are creating a healthier and safer state for all.  

Let’s start showing up for women. Let’s start making calls. Let’s build power together by joining marches, learning more about feminism, buying cool-shirts and talking to other men about how to be allies. In New York, we have an opportunity to pass the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act to better help women and men decide what is best for them and their families.

Our group didn’t solve the problem by going bowling this weekend, but we raised a little bit of money to help someone will need an abortion in the future. There are a few more people who will acknowledge that showing up for causes that improve women’s access to healthcare is worthwhile. Most importantly, a few more woman will have the ability and access to decide whether or not they want to go through with her pregnancy. Let us as men, provide more support, more funds, and more power for abortion access, for healthcare, for equal rights, and as bowling partners.

Redefining Leadership this Passover

To our supporters and friends:

As we recount the story of our liberation under the leadership of Moses this Passover, there is one question ringing in my mind: what makes a great leader?

Avodah has been training young leaders for 20 years and one thing we’ve learned is that great leaders are those who have the vision to imagine a world in which today’s injustices are tomorrow’s history.Photo of a Corps Member coaching a little girl, two Corps Members rebuilding a home, and one other Corps Member stocking a food pantry. The text reads: Celebrating 20 Years of Jewish Leadership and Social Change.

In the Passover story, the Jewish people had little time to pack up and leave the only life they’d ever known. When Moses, our unlikely hero, gained the courage to demand freedom for the Jewish people, there was no time think twice, properly prepare, or even allow their bread to rise for the long exodus ahead. And yet, when Moses’s sister, Miriam, knew freedom was on the horizon, she called on the women to bring their instruments. Taking the time to gather timbrels might have seemed trivial when we had just moments to flee, but like Moses, Miriam was also a great leader. She had the vision to imagine that the Jewish people would not only reach a new land, but sing and dance in it, and pass those traditions on to new generations. She imagined a world beyond slavery.

At Avodah, we envision a world beyond all forms of oppression. To achieve this, our participants don’t just step up, they step in. They gain the analysis and skills necessary to understand systemic injustice and learn how to become allies with other communities. They serve as school coaches, organizers, domestic violence responders, housing advocates, immigration specialists, and more to break the chains of discrimination, white supremacy, violence, antisemitism, sexism, xenophobia, and all forms of injustice.

Passover is about liberation, yes, but it is also about illumination and envisioning a brighter world. That is why this Passover, we are proud to launch our 20th Anniversary “Lighting the Way” campaign.

We know these current times can feel dark, but Avodah is growing stronger and glowing brighter than ever. Over these 20 years, we have directly impacted the lives of more 700,000 individuals and families and engaged tens of thousands of people in the work for social change. Together, all of us, secular and observant, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Sephardi, white Jews and Jews of color, straight and queer, trans- and cis-gendered, politically center and left leaning, economically advantaged and disadvantaged, are working to break down the systems and structures that are at the root causes of all forms of oppression and shine light on the world we wish to see.

Please join us in “Lighting the Way” for a brighter future as we honor our supporters, partners, participants and friends this year at our Partners in Justice events this spring. Save the Date for an event near you:

  • Chicago: May 23, 6:30 pm at Chicago Teachers Union
  • New Orleans: May 17, 6:30 pm at Martin Wine Cellar Uptown
  • New York: May 22, 6:30 pm at the Museum of the City of New York
  • Washington, DC: May 17, 6:30 pm at the Washington Hebrew Congregation

We also invite you to make a donation in honor of someone who helped light your way as we celebrate 20 years of Jewish social justice leadership.

Wishing you a happy, healthy Passover.
Chag sameach,

Cheryl Cook,

Executive Director, Avodah

Celebrating Purim with Action

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to decline to take up a key case dealing with the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, was a blow to attempts to expel the 690,000 young people, who were brought to the US as children by their parents, from the only homeland they’ve ever known. These young people who are working, going to school, and serving in our military, are safe from exile for now, but as their future status hangs in the balance in the courts, Avodah is showing up and speaking out for our immigrant neighbors, families, and friends, as we work toward creating a more just world.
In the Purim story, we celebrate the courage of Queen Esther, a woman who put her life on the line in order to save her people when a ruthless leader threatened their lives. Now, we are embodying Esther’s spirit and doing the same for immigrant children and families. As Avodah’s Rabbi-in-Residence Danya Ruttenberg wrote in Monday’s Washington Post, “This year, we are all Esther in America’s own Purim story.” As Rabbi Ruttenberg explains, even though Esther, a closeted Jew and the King’s wife, was unlikely to be affected by Haman’s decree to wipe out all of the Jews of Persia, “her privilege carries with it the responsibility to put herself on the line for those in need.” Today, Jewish Americans are largely safe from threats of exile, and with that privilege, we too have an obligation to stand up to power to protect vulnerable populations.

Driving Dreamers back into the shadows would force an entire generation into economically vulnerable positions. Undocumented young adults are often unable to obtain higher-paying jobs, earn a college degree, or gain access to basic privileges like a driver’s license, which they often need to get to and from work.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg speaking at a rally outside of the Chicago Federal Building to defend DACA.
These young people, who have only known the United States as their home, voluntarily registered to be part of DACA, paying hefty registration fees and providing personal information. Thanks to the protection afforded by DACA, talented young people are working in positions in line with their skills and training, providing a path for economic sustainability that can break the cycle of poverty.  Dreamers spend their earnings on purchases throughout their communities, which generates jobs as businesses strive to meet the higher demand for goods and services. According to recent surveys, 97 percent of DACA recipients are employed or are attending college or graduate school. And, DACA doesn’t just spur economic growth for recipients, but for entire communities, as well — 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ one or more Dreamers. They are important and contributing members to our neighborhoods.
Through our own Jewish American immigration stories, we know how important a clear path to citizenship has been for our people. That is why on Monday at Chicago’s Federal Building, Avodah and our partners, including The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, HIASProtected By Faith, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Silverstein Base Hillel, Reform IL, NCJW – Chicago North Shore Section, and members of the Jewish community from across Chicago joined together to stand in solidarity with our immigrant neighbors and families.
As we celebrate the heroines of our past this Purim, Avodah is also building the next generation of Jewish leaders – the Esthers and Mordechais – of tomorrow. That’s why our Service Corps members are working with some of the best organizations in the immigration field, including Mil MujeresNew York Legal Assistance Group, the National Immigrant Justice Center, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights CoalitionSanctuary for Families, and many more.

Click here to read Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s Washington Post piece and check out our Facebook page to stay up to date on our actions this week.

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?



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.

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