Originally from Toronto, Ontario, Ora participated in AVODAH New Orleans in 2008-2009. As a Corps member, Ora worked with the New Orleans non-profit Resurrection After Exoneration, helping wrongfully convicted and incarcerated men become advocates for change in the justice system following their release from prison.
Last week, on November 9, AVODAH began its yearly call, asking young people across the country whether we want to make a difference – whether we want to spend a year of our lives combining work for justice, Jewish learning, and community building. The opening of this latest recruitment season made me reflect on what AVODAH represented to me before I came into the program, how AVODAH challenged me as a Corps member, and how AVODAH continues to inform and transform my life as an alumna.
When I began thinking of applying to AVODAH in winter 2008, I had only a vague sense of what AVODAH offered. I knew that there would be challenges; that I would have to share a room with an unknown roommate and a living room and kitchen with 8 other young people; that I would need to learn to navigate a new city, prove myself at a non-profit, and learn what that ambiguous phrase ‘social justice’ really means. I was concerned that the program, with its emphasis on learning and working within a ‘community’, might somehow coddle me as a participant and not force me to confront the realities of life outside my bubble. I wanted to taste life’s challenges, to stand on my own and know that I had ‘accomplished something’. And so, I accepted the offer to be a Corps member with excitement, but a great deal of trepidation.
After a few months in AVODAH, I realized that the bayit was the ideal environment from which to question and explore. My fellow Corps members and I visibly grew together. We were enough alike that we felt comfortable exposing our insecurities and our ignorance, and worked together to learn more about race, class, gender, and justice. But our differences – in geography, interests, gender and sexual orientation, or Jewish exploration – created enough tension that we were forced to work at our relationships with each other. AVODAH helped me realize that the strongest communities are woven along the lines of tension that lie between difference.
With that solid foundation of community, AVODAH allowed me to open my mind to amazing and sometimes radical truths. My peers and I learned to critically examine how individuals and populations are systematically disenfranchised and pushed to the periphery of public awareness. Not only did AVODAH equip us to pursue social justice, but it also helped us find powerful voices with which to help ourselves and others become advocates for change.
When I look at what my fellow alum are accomplishing now – working with vibrant youth to bring food justice to local schools, or housing people who are homeless with the belief that housing is a human right – I am filled with a sense of our power. As an alumna, I know that I am simply one person in a growing network of people spread throughout the world who believe in working to transform communities and are convinced of the value of individual lives. With this community at my back, I am able to challenge myself to grow and challenge my local and national communities to respond to threats to human dignity. AVODAH may advertize itself as a ‘year-long program’, but it truly transforms its participants and infuses us with a meaningful power for the rest of our lives.