Emily Hoffman is from Charleston, South Carolina, and graduated from Wesleyan University in May. She is currently a New York City Corps member serving as an advocate at the Brooklyn social services organization, Neighbors Together. Emily enjoys singing, dancing, and laughing at inappropriate times.
Looking back on the past month, I was struck by how the beginning of our AVODAH year coincided with a string of Jewish holidays that celebrate beginnings. How appropriate, I thought, and how cheesy. But upon further reflection, I realized that Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Simchat Torah are really more about cycles than beginnings, and that as Avodahniks, we too are part of a cycle that has been going round for years and will continue once our year is over. Yeah, that’s still pretty cheesy, but for me it raises some genuine questions. How do we seize this year and create a temporary structure that will sustain us and, like a Sukkah, provide us with a place to foster community? Especially when we are 18 people who carry radically different stories, traditions, and places into this year?
Right now I think the best way to answer this question is to not answer it – to not let our preconceived notions about our AVODAH year build walls around us or between us. So far, I have been incredibly impressed and proud of how our group has done this. Everyone has allowed themselves to try out new ways of being Jewish, whether it was the gospel singalong and massage circle at our first Shabbat together, eating on Yom Kippur, doing Tashlich with Hasidic Jews, or dancing in shul on Simchat Torah. The experimental nature of our community building also extends outside of our Jewish life, as we test out different roommate pairs and cooking and cleaning schedules.
One challenging aspect of being part of a cycle is, for me at least, trying to make my own mark on my workplace. For all of us, the previous Avodahniks at our placements have set a certain precedent in demeanor, work ethic, and relationships with clients (or tenants or students). We must figure out ways to make our jobs our own, and to turn them into experiences that are not only conducive to our own personal growth and learning, but also to creating positive, lasting changes in the lives of the people we work with. The work that we do has very real consequences for very real people, and we must not let the goofy “We’re on the Real World” jokes we often make in our house get the best of us at our placements.
Our jobs have very much informed the nature of our community, from the stories we tell during programming to our casual Saturday night discussions of the flaws of the public benefits system. For me, my housemates have been an invaluable resource for both reflecting on and escaping from my workday. It is so good to be around others who feel the need for this balance. This program has changed our lives in every way, and though it will only be one short year in our own lives and the life of AVODAH, everything we do has a function in allowing this cycle to continue to spin.