Jessica Schaffer has worked with vulnerable communities throughout Chicago for the last 10 years, and she views that work as an extension of her Jewish identity. But that wasn’t the case when she joined the Jewish Service Corps.
Before Avodah, Jessica had never really been exposed to social justice work or the diversity of Jewish identity that she found among her housemates. “I suddenly found myself living a house with people I might not have crossed paths with elsewhere. I was learning how to build relationships with people who had totally different philosophies and priorities, and it was a constant negotiation.”
Working as a Corps Member at the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago, Jessica spent her year serving the needs of refugee and immigrant populations throughout the city, and discovered a passion that drives her to this day. Following her Service Corps year, Jessica worked at organizations like Heartland Alliance’s International Children’s Center and Jewish Child and Family Services, where she developed a comprehensive abuse prevention program that communities around the country have looked to as a model.
Today, Jessica is the Director of HIAS Chicago, which has provided immigration services for more than a century, and played a crucial role in resettling Jews from the Former Soviet Union. HIAS has since expanded to meet the needs of a much wider range of immigrant and refugee populations, and Jessica sees an opportunity to bring the Jewish community into this work, just as Avodah brought her into it.
“My year as a Corps Member was my first real encounter with social justice work and with different ways of being Jewish. It completely shook up my world, but it also led to a gradual shift in my identity. I was exposed to so many different perspectives and ideas that year that it took some time for me to truly process it. But once everything came together for me, I came to realize that doing this work is actually how I express my Judaism.”