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The Avodah Blog

Connecting with Divinity: Q&A with Service Corps Member Francesca Rubinson

In honor of Avodah’s 2020-2021 Jewish Service Corps graduation, we’re highlighting some of our outgoing Corps Members. We spoke with Francesca Rubinson, a member of our D.C. cohort about her next steps after Avodah. 

Where were you placed for your service year with Avodah? 

I work as a legal assistant at CASA, an immigrant justice and immigration legal services organization that serves Maryland, DC, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. In the legal department, I help immigrant youth renew their DACA status or now apply for DACA for the first time. I’ve learned a lot about immigration law as I prepare legal paperwork, and meet with clients either in person or via Zoom to confirm what kinds of protections they may be eligible for.

What do you enjoy the most about your placement?

I enjoy the opportunities to make a human connection with my clients. I came to Avodah having grown up in Washington Heights, a heavily Latinx neighborhood in New York City. I had a lot of friends and community members who were affected by immigration policy in different ways. 

I try to make a connection between myself and my clients. During the half-hour long immigration screenings I have to ask some pretty personal questions. I try to approach each meeting with gentleness, and a sense of humor if possible. Those are great moments to have, to not only be asking questions rapid fire.

Most of my clients came to the U.S. very young. I get to hear about what’s going on in their lives, with their families, workplaces, and communities. I talk to a lot of youth who are putting themselves through higher education and often working to support their parents and siblings. I really admire my clients’ resilience, I enjoy hearing their stories and forming connections. Even though DACA only provides temporary protections, I get to see its ripple effect on many people’s lives. 

Francesca making pierogi for her bayit.

Has this experience shifted a change in mindset for you?

I think this experience has gotten me more interested in the connection between Jewish-American history and modern immigration law and practice. In February, I was one of the people in the bayit who worked on the immigration issue salon, a Corps Member-led program about what we’re doing in our placements. 

When my group was coming up with what to share with our other housemates, I created a presentation on Jewish immigration history — ‘How did we end up in this place?’ It felt really interesting to do some of that historical research, and see the ways Jewish immigrants and refugees have faced quotas, long wait times, and discrimination. The parallels to today are obvious once you start to scratch the surface.

What’s next for you after Avodah?

I’ll be going to Harvard Divinity School, pursuing a three-year Masters of Divinity degree that combines the study of religion with skills in pastoral counseling and chaplaincy. Being in Avodah helped me figure out whether or not I wanted to be ordained as a rabbi — I figured out that I liked the combination of academic study of religion with spiritual grounding. This training will allow me to be prepared for various roles, like working within a nonprofit or a university. 

I want to combine working in faith communities with social justice work. Part of why I am interested in this particular program is the ability to try out different field placements. One of the field placements integrated into the program is the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic. I will be serving in a more social worker type of role – instead of only being a legal assistant – which gets me excited about the human connection aspect of immigration law. 

What advice would you give to the incoming Corps Members?

The work that Corps Members do in Avodah is really hard. A lot of us were helping people who were struggling with so many types of burdens, especially grief and isolation during the pandemic. We needed to support and lean on each other — the communal living aspect made our work so much richer and sustainable. Having the Avodah community to nurture yourself is a great resource while working for social change. 

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