March 10, 2023 - 17th of Adar 5783 - Parashat Ki Tisa 5783 / פָּרָשַׁת כִּי תִשָּׂא
Dear Beit Rabban Community,
Friday from 12:30 to 1:30 PM is the single best hour of my work week. At that time each week, I am either leading Shabbat B’Yachad, our raucous whole school assembly, or teaching a service learning class to the eighth grade.
Sherut Kehilati, a weekly service learning class in our middle was born from a prototype developed during the communal design thinking process we used to build the new division of the school a few years ago. One of the questions that surfaced in this process was “how might we emphasize and cultivate a sense of responsibility in our middle school students to the communities and world they inhabit?” We use many strategies to this end across every subject area as well as during community gatherings and events. One of those tools is this class.
Each year, the class focuses on a different question through service learning. The first-year students explore what it takes to make our school facilities function on a daily basis, and they serve through cleaning, updating inventory, arranging bulletin boards, setting up furniture for Shabbat events, and the like. The next year, they explore the efforts it takes to be a strong and supportive community and why this is important. Some of the service they do includes helping out in the preschool, practicing Torah reading skills with elementary students, sending notes to community members who have experienced a simcha or a loss, and thanking people who have supported our school in a variety of ways.
In their last year, I have the privilege of teaching Sherut and working with the eighth graders to consider how they choose to participate in society and make a difference in meaningful ways. This year of Sherut is divided into four units. We start with a speaker series, wherein the students hear from people making a difference in all sorts of local and global issues. Ruth Messinger visits to open the semester with framing about systemic change versus direct service, and then they hear speakers from organizations like Hebrew Free Loan, Westside Campaign Against Hunger, Climb Hire, Jewish Youth Climate Initiative, New Neighbors Initiative, and much more (two of our incredible speakers were Beit Rabban alumni Raphi Gold and Shoshana Akabas Barzilay!). In their next unit, students choose an organization to research that is working on an issue close to their heart. They learn the difference between an organization’s vision, mission, and strategies; how to read a 990; the different ways to assess impact; and the tools to use in determining whether to support an organization. After this unit, students participate in a service activity for a series of weeks and reflect on their experience after each engagement. This year, we are working with the New Jewish Home and starting our series of visits in a few weeks. Finally, the class ends with a unit on advocacy. We partner with Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger to learn about food insecurity, delve into a timely legislative issue related to food justice, and lobby our representative in Congress on that issue when we visit DC on our end-of-the-year trip.
This afternoon during Sherut we began preparing to visit the New Jewish Home and participate in programs with the residents. Rabbi Jonathan Malamay, the chaplain, graciously visited our class to prepare students for this service experience. I anticipated an orientation that would include many technical questions. As it turned out, our students kept directing the conversation back to the larger goals of the New Jewish Home’s work. They wanted to understand the impact of socio-economic factors on the ability of a person to get the care they need in a place like the New Jewish Home. How does the funding structure work? They wondered why so many social service organizations started around the same time in the 1800s in New York City. They asked about the ethical questions that surface in Rabbi Jonathan’s work. When, if ever, can you compel a person to live in a place like the New Jewish Home against their will? I was so interested in their questions and conversation with Rabbi Jonathan that I almost forgot I was there as “the educator” to facilitate the experience for them. Do you see why this is the best hour of the week?!?!
And now I want to share a window into this wonderful part of Friday afternoon with you. Our eighth graders just completed their organizational research projects, and some of their written reflections are included below. As you will see, they invite you to support organizations they have researched. I hope that you are inspired by the work being done and even consider adding one or more of these organizations to your personal tzedakah portfolio.
I also suspect you’ll want to join me on Friday afternoons. In which case, we may be able to work something out.
Wishing you a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,
The organization I chose to research in Sherut Kehilati is Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as CHADD. I chose this organization because I have ADHD and this is an organization that helps people with ADHD and their friends and families. CHADD was founded in 1987 to improve the lives of people with ADHD. A surprising number of people in the U.S. don’t know much about ADHD despite there being around 14 million children and adults with ADHD in the U.S., so CHADD works to spread awareness, as well as offer support groups for families. and CHADD also engages in advocacy for legislation related to mental health. Despite CHADD’s small staff of 33, they make a significant impact, in part thanks to their many volunteers. They have received grants to create national guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD, and they also have an annual ADHD conference. If you want to know more about CHADD or support them, you can go to their website, chadd.org, where they have so many different ways to learn about ADHD and support them.
Hebra Hased Va'Amet, Elie Sasson
Did you know that Hebra Hased Va’Amet is the oldest Jewish nonprofit in New York City? The Hebra was founded in 1802 when two congregants of my synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel, Ephraim Heart and Naphtali Phillips saw a Jew being buried in a non-Jewish cemetery that he had not even chosen. Appalled, they intervened and arranged for him to be buried in the synagogue’s cemetery at Chatham Square. After this, they knew something had to be done, so just 13 years after the US Constitution was ratified the first American Chevra Kadisha was born and it is still in existence today, run out of my synagogue! Hebra Hased Va’Amet’s mission is to give New York Jews a proper and halachic Jewish death experience. The Hebra’s main purpose is to do taharot, or the Jewish ritual purification of a body before burial. Additionally, the Hebra pays for the funerals of those who cannot afford them. The Hebra also cares for mourners, buying meals, and organizing minyanim in shiva homes. I chose this organization because it is very important to me as a Jew that every Jew is provided a respectful and halachic death experience. I believe that people should support the Hebra because as Jews we are obligated to help other Jews in need, and this is considered the highest mitzvah you can do, it is referred to as “Chesed Shel Emet” a truly pure act of giving because the person you are helping is dead and can never pay you back for it. You can support this organization by donating to them at Hebra Hased Va'Amet.
Innocence Project, Jeremy Polinsky
An estimated 4% of the people on death row are innocent. Once they are executed, there is no going back. For my Sherut Kehilati organization research project, I chose the issue of wrongful convictions. Many factors can contribute to a wrongful conviction, such as inadequate defense counsel or misused forensic science; in fact, all-time in the US, 375 convictions have been overturned using new DNA evidence. There are many organizations helping those who have been wrongfully convicted, but the one I would advocate that others suppose is the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a large national organization with many smaller regional branches. Along with their direct work at trial, the Innocence Project works to reform and improve the laws, and to support people after they are freed. This post-prison support work is crucial since even innocent people who have served time in prison often have difficulties finding work or adjusting to life on the outside. The main way to give to this organization is to give them money. You can donate directly to the organization, or donate to people who were recently freed to help them rebuild their lives.
National Anti-Vivisection Society, Ella Moeller
Have you ever considered where your face cream, soap, or toothpaste came from? Unfortunately, whether you realize it or not, many everyday things in all of our homes were developed using unnecessary animal testing, meaning living animals had to undergo excruciating procedures, often fatal, for the products to arrive at your house. For my Sherut project, I’ve chosen to research The National Anti-Vivisection Society, or NAVS, an organization that works against the use of animals in experimentation labs. They believe animal experimentation and testing are outdated, cruel, and unnecessary, and argue that there are several better alternatives. They fund animal testing replacements in laboratories, spread awareness about these issues with annual newspapers and online advocacy centers where they submit letters to the federal government, and also run the BioLEAP Program, which provides resources to teachers who want to use alternatives to animal specimens such as those used in classroom dissection exercises. I believe that it is our responsibility to fight against their suffering because animals cannot speak for themselves, and these issues are too frequently ignored. If you agree with me and would like to support this organization, you can make donations, visit their advocacy center to make your voice heard, or visit their website with the link below to learn more.
The Arman Roy Foundation, Ezra Lerner
“Inspired by Arman's love, our mission is to change the lives of vulnerable youth by opening a window to wonder, opportunity, and hope through technology.” This is the mission statement of the Arman Roy Foundation (A.R.F.). The organization was founded when Arman Roy died in April 2019. Technology was his passion, so in June 2019, his mother and father, Manisha and Pryia Roy started the A.R.F. The A.R.F. is a direct service organization that brings technology-related resources to under-resourced children. They raise approximately $150,000 per year from sponsors, small donors, and fundraisers. While they are only a small organization with 13 workers, they have plenty of young volunteers and have helped 21 communities, 43 projects funded, 414 devices donated, and 4028 youth impacted. You should support them because they are a great organization that helps people in need get the education they deserve.