Jessie Levine is a Los Angeles native who found her academic and social niche in Berkeley. Now she has decided to brave the cold weather and grace NYC with her infectious laughter and passionate commitment to systemic change and community building.
I wanted to expand on routines. Yes, on what it is like to live day in and day out as an Avodahnik. What are the inner intricacies of AVODAH? Of balancing work and programming? Of communal living? And what does it mean to be living with other “20 somethings,” as I like to call us? Though mundane, I hope you, listener, can better understand what we are doing and then come to see why Shabbat can be so radical or why discussions about our family background and our class status can shake us to see our own positionality when we deal both with clients and as a group of Avodahniks.
Well here it is:
The New York house is located between Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant. It is a bit of a gentrifying neighborhood, between older “20 somethings” who ride their bikes to work, wear leather shoes and have short hair, walk their children who are under five-years-old around the neighborhood, and drink fancy coffee. Towards another direction is a community which guidebooks call the location of the African Diaspora. We have our local joints for a mixture of Mexican-Chinese food, which puzzles us, in addition to hot spots for fufu and other West African specialties. In the midst of all of this, live the 18 of us and a few past Avodahniks within a 20-minute walk.
Our weekends are filled with outings to Trader Joe’s to find some tasty goodies and time reading blogs upon blogs finding free art exhibits, concerts, food tastings, and more to do in New York City. I think each of us may get five emails a day enticing us to do something. Many of us have also explored the local Jewish scene too. A few weekends ago, Elana and I were given a huge bag of cookies to take back to the house that were leftover from the Kiddush lunch at a local synagogue. The rabbi as well opened up her home to us.
Monday through Friday, some of us wake up and are out the door by 6:50am and return home around 4:30pm. Others of us are home from work around 9:30pm.
I am one of the later starters and I end work later most nights as well. I work at Tenant & Neighbors, a tenant rights organization. In the evenings I have meetings with tenants. I come home glowing from many of these meetings. A week ago, I was at a meeting where a New York City councilmember urged the residents to organize and to come together, because when they work together they can improve their living conditions and make significant change. It was tremendously gratifying to hear the same message repeated by the New York State Senator who spoke after her and to be personally referred to by the message. This year I am a tenant organizer. I work to preserve affordable housing and support tenant needs and tenant rights. I work to support tenants and help them organize.
That night, I additionally met another organizer who left the tenant meeting a little early to plan an event discussing New York City police brutality. The activism and opportunity for activism is endless. Not to sound cliché, but I am learning that New York City can be a hub of like minded people who want to organize and inform others about various injustices and causes. I am also learning how closely these causes are intertwined with the AVODAH community. Many of the placement agencies do work throughout the city, with different populations, on varying campaigns. For example, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York placement organizations has an ad campaign called “I love my boo.”
There is not a day now that I do not ride on the subway without seeing one of their posters. In addition their state policy platform is intertwined with the campaign that my organization is launching surrounding real rent reform (we call it R3).
At home, many of us share communal kitchens and though we complain that we may be tired of eating beans, most days we do love the food. This is not a plea for my mom to send money so I can splurge on goodies from the farmer’s market or some fancy coffee. Rather, this is how we live within our means this year and come to terms with what it means to be service corps members living a year of service.
For questions about the food, New York State legislative campaign to strengthen the rent laws, or insight from a day in and day out Avodahnik, send them my way, or comment below. With tremendous gratitude, I say farewell.