Alyza Weinberg, from Ottawa, Ontario, attended University of King’s College and recently completed her AVODAH year as a Corps member at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington D.C.
A bit of wisdom that I frequently turned to during my AVODAH year was Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I love this quote, and its message gave sustenance during times that were particularly challenging for me and my AVODAH cohort in our work this year. It helped us remember that even though we were only a small group of people, we could have an impact on the inequalities we experienced and witnessed in our placement communities.
On Friday, July 29th, 2011, I was moved by the exact opposite as 170 Jewish social justice grassroots leaders packed into the National Press Club to organize for our descent on the White House. I was one of two lucky AVODAH Corps members who attended the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable White House Community Leaders Briefing Day. Our group included members from American Jewish World Service, the Religious Action Center, Hazon, Mazon and many more. After introductions were made, we moved to the White House and participated in briefings on the issues around which the Jewish social justice movement is mobilized: education, health-care, food justice and housing, among others. The requisite tour of the White House was followed by lunch and discussions with members of the Obama administration.
Each of these events could have a complete blog post written about them, but there was one particular moment that remains the most memorable to me. Debbie Goldman, AVODAH Board member and veteran leader in the labor movement, asked Jon Carson, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, what the Obama administration was going to do about the social service safety net. Mr. Carson responded with his own question: “How many of you are kept up at night wondering about this very issue?” The entire room immediately raised their hands. Picture it: 170 hands in the air, declaring to the Obama administration that this is an important issue to us and our constituents.
Now close your eyes and picture an even larger sea of people. The 170 people in that room represented a much larger community, a community committed to changing the world. If each of them represents only 65 people (65 for the number of Corps members in AVODAH), then together we represented 11,050 individuals. My imagined number is way lower than the actual number of people we represented. I cannot even imagine how powerful that larger community could be – how massive the effort for change is and how many lives could be positively impacted by our organizing. I felt moved, realizing that change is happening not only by a small group, but by this huge powerful group.
I was honored that my AVODAH affiliation made me a part of such an amazing group. I have spent this year with 17 other AVODAH Corps members. These 17 people–this small group–has changed my life. They have set the bar high for expectations of what I want from a community. I know this small group of people has changed my world perspective, and I know that each Corps member changed the lives of the people they interacted with. On July 29th, I felt moved, realizing that this change was prodded along not only by a small group, but by a vast, powerful network.
My day at the White House was at the very end of my AVODAH year, and I was terrified about finding an equally as meaningful and committed Jewish social justice community. That day showed me that not only is there a growing Jewish movement committed to economic and social equality, but that AVODAH is one of its leaders. I feel well prepared to deepen my work, and know that I am strengthened and supported by the AVODAH community, and by the many Jewish social justice leaders across the country and the world.