The Avodah Blog

Schlepping and Mensches

By: Danny Obeler

There is a good chance that you’ve heard of my placement, or at least a branch of it. I work at the DC Jewish Community Center, one of the only JCC agencies with a dedicated community services department. In coordinating the Behrend Builders program, I orchestrate projects that bring in skilled and unskilled volunteers to repair, renovate, and rebuild in the greater DC area.  This includes painting, sheetrocking, minor rehab and beautification work, occasional carpentry, gardening and environmental work, and even small animal control. Indeed, I have a unique placement.

The community services department also organizes large-scale projects, such as Everything But The Turkey (the week of Thanksgiving), December 25th Day of Service, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and Earth Day. On November 21st and 23rd, DCJCC volunteers prepared over 11,000 servings of food. All the food was donated to DC Central Kitchen, which served it along with turkeys to over 90 shelters and transitional homes throughout DC. This December 25th, over 1,000 volunteers will work at over 50 social service centers throughout DC. Volunteers will throw parties for seniors and children in need, prepare and serve food, or paint community spaces and shelters. I will oversee over 200 volunteers at the Community for Creative Non-Violence – DC’s largest homeless shelter and one of the largest in the country.

Social justice work to me is something dynamic and multifaceted.  It can incorporate advocacy, fundraising, organizing, education and awareness, and community service. Community service work can be incredibly relevant and impactful because it is so direct, interactive, immediate, and tangible. At its best, community service work is people helping people and, in the process, helping themselves. Volunteers can enhance a community or spread some holiday cheer while also developing a skill set, discovering new talents, and meeting new people.

Equally impressive is the impact that our work has on those in need. From my experience in DC, the recipients of our volunteer work are so gracious and our volunteers are so well received. Between the hugs and the blessings, volunteering really does make you feel good inside because you have uplifted the spirit of somebody in need.

My first memories in my Jewish community back home are from organizing and delivering food boxes during Passover. I remember walking into one lady’s home and being received with such warmth, gratefulness, and sincerity. This simple act of spreading holiday cheer impressed upon me a spirit of community service and social justice that continues today.

In programming this year, I’ve thought about the impact and possible spark that a service project may have on an individual. Whether it is 5 days or 5 years later, service work can often serve as an inspirational bridge to greater social justice work. It can put a face to homelessness, hunger, or other social issues. And working at a Jewish agency, it serves as a reminder, a reason, and a call to action to a lifetime of tikkun olam.

Daniel Obeler is from Buffalo Grove, IL and attended University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He is the Behrend Builders and Community Service Coordinator at the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center.

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