Pieces of a Puzzle: Mandy Peskin’s Avodah Journey

Published Jul 8, 2021

Mandy Peskin spent this year serving as a legal clinic coordinator at Bread for the City, as part of Avodah’s Jewish Service Corps. The organization focuses on eviction defense, family law for survivors of domestic abuse, and helping people access public benefits, like SNAP. Mandy’s favorite part of her role is helping clients get proof of identification, such as birth certificates. Many of the clients she interacts with on a daily basis are from the South. As a Georgia native, Mandy’s service year has helped her understand how policies in her home state impact people, particularly those who are low income.

She recalls one client from Georgia who was in need of a birth certificate, but had no other proof of identity. Georgia law requires at least three forms of certified identification, each at least a decade old, to qualify for a delayed birth certificate. In addition, a number of fees are included in the process, including paying for the birth certificate and the documentation that leads up to being able to get the certificate itself, an issue that activist Stacey Abrams has brought to light. Mandy spent a great deal of time contacting different government agencies at local, county and state levels on behalf of the client — to no avail. She’s learned an important lesson in public service: you can’t help every person. 

“Working with government systems can mean running into all these dead ends — it’s a puzzle I have to put together. To avoid frustration, I give myself some space, move on from that client, and keep working. Maybe I can do something to help someone else. I’m not going to be able to help everyone, but if a little work on my part can make a big difference for someone else, I’ll keep going… I really like the challenge. I have always loved sudoku — this work is like navigating a puzzle. ‘What do I need to do to see the bigger picture?’ I enjoy navigating the challenges and frustrations in order to put something together that’s better than it was before.” 

When applying for an Avodah placement, Bread for the City appealed to Mandy for its diversity of issues. Even within the organization’s legal department, there are myriad causes to assist with: housing law, immigration and family law, and public benefits law. Her placement allowed her to learn about different fields and causes, which was critical for her considering her next step after Avodah — law school. 

On July 21, Mandy will join the nearly 1,400 Avodah alumni who have gone on to careers in social justice work. She intends to do the same by attending law school at the University of Maryland and create positive change on a systems level.

“I want to use my future law degree to work on policies and accomplish systemic change. While direct service with individuals is crucial, it’s also important to work on policy change to make things better for as many people as possible. Working within the education system is my niche — I want to help with policies that improve education, especially for students with disabilities. I believe education is the cornerstone of people’s lives. There are many building blocks of people’s lives that start in a school building.” 

Mandy and her housemates.

Getting into law school was “a dream come true,” and Mandy intends to take the lessons and friendships she gained from Avodah with her. She’s grown close to her housemates, which made it easier to navigate difficult workspace dynamics. Of our two DC bayitim, everyone in Mandy’s bayit spent their service year working remotely from the house. (To avoid spread of COVID-19, DC Service Corps Members who served at their placements in person lived in a separate house.) Sharing a home with 10 other people forced Mandy to improve her communications skills. She says wouldn’t trade her experience or the people she’s spent it with. 

“My advice to future Service Corps Members is to come in with an open mind. I met a lot of people who are very different from who I am and because of that I’ve been able to grow. We’ve been able to become friends and we now understand why we are who we are. I think not closing yourself off from others is the best way to make the most of living in the bayit.”

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