In tense political climate, young Jews turn to volunteering

Last month, over 10,000 young Jews joined Repair the World’s Martin Luther King day volunteering activities and the organization also held service projects and discussions in Washington DC.

Repair the World’s Martin Luther King day volunteering activities (photo credit: REPAIR THE WORLD)
Repair the World’s Martin Luther King day volunteering activities
(photo credit: REPAIR THE WORLD)
NEW YORK – As protests against President Donald Trump’s travel ban take place across the United States, some young American Jews have decided to volunteer to help marginalized communities.
One of the organizations that allows them to do so is Repair the World.
Founded in 2009 with the goal to “make meaningful service a defining element of American Jewish life,” the NGO aims to engage Jewish young adults with the communities around them.
The group operates across the United States, with a focus on programing in six cities: Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In each city, Repair the World partners with local NGOs and allows members to volunteer in their communities.
“When we say meaningful service we mean work to improve equity and fairness especially within marginalized communities using tools that include direct volunteering, contextual education and reflection so the service comes through a Jewish lens,” CEO of Repair the World David Eisner told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
This year, Repair the World expects to engage 25,000 young Jews across United States.
“We saw a beginning of a spike a couple of years ago around the Black Lives Matter movement when discussion of social justice and racial justice peaked in general,” Eisner said. “There is just an increased attention to this.”
He added that the group also witnessed a “very strong increase” in Jewish young adults moving into intercity multi-cultural, multi-racial communities.
“And of course the recent election has brought a lot of the discussions around equity and fairness, vulnerable populations and marginalized communities into focus in a way that there are more people that want to find outlets to stand in solidarity with [these] communities,” he went on.
Last month, more than 10,000 young Jews joined Repair the World’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteering activities, and the organization also held service projects and discussions in Washington during the weekend of Trump’s inauguration.
Cheryl Pruce, 30, who has been living in Washington for the past seven years, is originally from Baltimore and became involved with Repair the World last November, just a few days after the presidential election.
That week, Pruce, who works in education policy research, joined other young Jews in Repair the World’s delegation to the Facing Race conference, a national gathering focused on racial justice, which took place in Atlanta.
“It was absolutely instrumental in my trajectory forward after the election of Donald Trump two days prior. It connected me to [other Jews serious about racial justice],” she told the Post. “That work with Repair’s Jewish delegation at Facing Race was very pivotal in solidifying my work in racial justice.”
Following that first interaction with the organization, Pruce recently worked to initiate a retreat with members of Repair the World to discuss racial issues further.
She said that growing up in Baltimore, these topics were always important to her.
“Race and class were extremely salient factors,” she explained. “These concepts have not been new to me. I’ve been interested in the intersection of race poverty and education for the last decade.”
Trump’s controversial appointments to key positions in his cabinet, she said, have amplified her motivation.
“It has made me very, very concerned and made me want to double down [my involvement]. I will absolutely push 10 times harder than I did before,” Pruce told the Post. “I’m not convinced that the people in power are going to protect all Americans.
“I am disheartened but extremely motivated to fight for my community and to fight for others,” she added.
Eisner explained that Repair the World sees significant Jewish value to volunteering and conducting the kind of work that Pruce has engaged in. One of the group’s main goals is to help young Jews make the connection between their passion for helping their communities with their Jewish identity.
“Loving the stranger because you were once a stranger in Egypt, taking care of the widow and the orphan and not putting stumbling blocks in front of the blind: these are not optional pieces for people that hold Jewish values,” he said.
“There is nothing more hopeful than watching Jewish young adults make change in communities that improves justice, that strengthens relationships, that builds community understanding and that strengthens their personal character and their understanding of their own connection to their Jewish identity,” Eisner said.
When asked whether volunteering is part of her Jewish identity, Pruce responded: “This is my Jewish identity. This is what it means for me to be Jewish in the world.”