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The Jewish Service Movement is Thriving—and Young People are Stepping Up

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When the Schusterman family first decided to launch a philanthropic organization in 1987, they drew inspiration from three Jewish values: a commitment to the pursuit of justice (tzedek), repairing the world (tikkun olam) and treating all people with dignity and civility (derekh eretz).

Thirty-four years later, these values continue to guide every facet of our work. More than just calls to act with generosity, we see them as central tenants of what it means to live a Jewish life. That is why a key part of our work in the Jewish community has been supporting a thriving Jewish service movement, one that galvanizes young people to action—especially during urgent times of need—and enables them to participate in Jewish learning and community building alongside it.

One of the annual highlights for this work is National Volunteer Week, created by Points of Light in 1974 as a yearly opportunity to recognize the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers. This year for National Volunteer Week (April 19-23), thousands of young people across the U.S. participated in service projects to benefit their communities.

But just as our communities’ need does not cease with the end of National Volunteer Week, neither should our commitment to service. Now is an essential moment to tap into young Jews’ enthusiasm for social change and build our growing Jewish service movement, especially as we look toward a $1 billion federal investment in national service in the coming years. While vaccine distribution has brought much-needed hope for an end to this pandemic, COVID-19 has brought massive suffering worldwide, and historically marginalized populations—including women, the Black community and people of color —face the brunt of the impact.

Young Jews have an important role to play in tackling these disparities. Research tells us that in 2018, approximately 50 percent of American Jews aged 22-40 reported volunteering at least once over the year. Those who expressed that being Jewish influenced their worldview volunteered at higher rates than those who did not.

The connection is clear: Jewish values not only call on us to serve—they inspire us to serve. Even more, pairing service with opportunities for deep and compelling Jewish learning can ensure that young Jews find the connection between their desire to serve their communities and their identities as Jews. In this way, through service experiences, we can help to meet real needs while also deepening Jewish journeys and creating entry points for those who have not yet found a meaningful connection to Jewish life.

We believe there is an opportunity to engage young Jews and their peers all across the country in service-learning experiences so that they connect meaningfully with Jewish identity, cultivate authentic partnerships and help build more just and inclusive societies locally and across the globe. Our partners and network members mobilize thousands of young Jews in acts of service, and they are committed to helping every young person find a service opportunity that resonates for them. Below, you can learn about these inspiring efforts and access information on how to get involved in building a more just and equitable world.

Repair the World

For more than a decade, Repair the World has engaged young Jews in social change through a Jewish lens. Through Repair the World Communities across the United States, volunteers come together to address a broad range of community needs, from education to food justice, in partnership with local communities in Atlanta, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Detroit, Harlem, Miami, and Pittsburgh.

In 2020, Repair the World launched Serve the Moment, a program mobilizing tens of thousands of Jewish young adults and college students through virtual volunteering, in-person service opportunities and national service campaigns to address growing community needs as the pandemic drew on. Since May 2020, the Repair-powered Jewish Service Alliance and Serve the Moment have engaged 40+ Jewish communal organizations in catalyzing more than 55,000 acts of service and Jewish learning from 23,000+ participants, as well as 555 Service Corps Members, 90 percent of whom shared that participating provided them with opportunity to do good in the world through a Jewish lens.

Repair also launched the Vaccine Appointment Network that engages tech-savvy volunteers in helping eligible community members navigate complex online systems to schedule vaccine appointments.

One way anyone can get involved with Repair the World is through their virtual volunteer hub. This is where Repair the World amplifies virtual and in-person opportunities across the country in need of volunteers, ranging from phone banking to gardening to meal deliveries. No matter what someone’s interest or whether they can make a long-term or one-time commitment, there is a volunteer opportunity ready and waiting.


Photo courtesy of Repair the World

OLAM

Launched in 2015, OLAM is a thriving network of 50+ Jewish and Israeli organizations working in the fields of global service, international development and humanitarian aid. Inspired by Jewish values , OLAM supports and partners with communities around the world to foster a more just and compassionate world for all.

OLAM advances global service by empowering Jewish leaders, fostering authentic Jewish conversations and by providing resources on best practices for making a difference worldwide. OLAM’s most recent resource, the Global Giving Guide­—created in partnership with [email protected]—helps readers scale their impact by donating to global causes ethically. Through thoughtful prompts and activities, this guide can help individuals and families identify and vet causes and organizations to support.


Photo courtesy of OLAM

REALITY, ROI Community and the Schusterman Fellowship

Strong communities are built and sustained by diverse, passionate leaders whose vision helps to connect service with better outcomes for their friends, neighbors and community members. At Schusterman, we have the privilege of working closely with dynamic leaders just like these through our three operating programs: REALITY, ROI Community and the Schusterman Fellowship.

Through these programs, we engage nearly 4,000 network members—many of whom are uniquely positioned to drive impactful change in their communities as founders of businesses and nonprofits working towards social good. Any of these initiatives are excellent opportunities for aspiring volunteers to get involved.

One example is  Knock Knock Give A Sock, a nonprofit founded by ROI Community member Adina Lichtman that collects socks for people experiencing homelessness while building relationships between neighbors. Another is Twist Out Cancer, an organization launched by ROI Community member Jenna Benn Shersher, that provides social and emotional support for those touched by cancer. Swipe Out Hunger, a nonprofit co-founded by ROI Community member and Schusterman Fellow Rachel Sumekh, addresses hunger among college students. The organization’s flagship program, “The Swipe Drive,” helps students with extra dining hall meal swipes donate meals to their peers.

These are just a few ways that our network members use their skills and passion to make an impact for the causes they care about, and our goal at Schusterman is to provide resources—such as professional development and micro grants—that can help our network members scale their work. In 2020 alone, REALITY alumni used micro grants to kick off 140 initiatives promoting racial equity—ultimately reaching 65,000 people across the globe.


Photo courtesy of ROI Community

While addressing our societies’ most pressing issues can feel daunting, we must remember that the job of repairing the world is too big for any one of us to accomplish on our own. As Rabbi Tarfon said, “It is not for us to complete the task, yet neither are we free to desist from this work.”

We will go further if we approach this work together. When young people roll up their sleeves to make a difference, we see a rising movement of Jewish leaders ready to make an impact. And that gives us hope—hope for the future of our Jewish communities, hope for the preservation of our Jewish values, and hope for more just and inclusive societies across the globe.  

Looking for more opportunities to serve and connect Jewishly? Check out these organizations:


Lisa Eisen is Co-President of Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

David Rittberg is the Senior Director of U.S. Jewish Grantmaking at Schusterman Family Philanthropies.