A Summit on Jewish Service
At the inaugural Service Matters: A Summit on Jewish Service last week, more than 200 people joined together committed to elevate the place of volunteer service in American Jewish life. The Summit was hosted by Repair the World with more than 35 partners from across the fields of Jewish service, social justice, leadership development, and communal engagement. Together, participants uncovered existing breakthroughs and generated new ideas to create meaningful Jewish service experiences that address inequalities and injustices in society.
“This was an important moment of self-reflection for the Jewish Service movement,” said David Eisner, CEO of Repair the World, which equips partners and communities to engage tens of thousands of young Jewish adults as volunteers each year. “I think we were all surprised to see how big and connected we all felt when we stood together, and also how optimistic and energetic we all felt—even at a time when the challenges we're facing can feel overwhelming. We were energized by both the incredible amount that we've already accomplished together as well as the long road we have to go. I am newly inspired to take the next steps with our partners in engaging more young adults in Jewish service and focusing on the real and important impact we want our service to have in our communities.”
Summit speakers and panelists shared personal stories about their motivations to serve; how the field can work to engage more people in service and learning; and how those service experiences can be most meaningful for participants and the local communities with which they serve. Topics for breakout sessions were crowdsourced from attendees—including some chosen in real time via online poll.
“Judaism is a tool I use to make good choices, to lead a good life,” said Ian Cohen, co-founder of Next Generation Men, in his remarks at the Summit. “For me, service is the purpose of Judaism. There are 613 mitzvot—expectations of us—so service is baked into us. At Next Generation Men, we instill in our participants the idea that they really are a part of the process of creating a village to support the next generation of leaders.”
Summit partners included Hillel International, Moishe House, Jewish Federations of North America, BBYO, JDC Entwine and others, as well as secular service-related organizations like Points of Light, the Service Year Alliance and City Year. Summit participants included professionals, social entrepreneurs, current and prospective funders, Jewish educators, and others working to engage people—especially Jewish millennials—in meaningful service through a Jewish lens. A “day of Service” on September 16, following the Summit, included multiple service activities in Brooklyn, New York.
“The Jewish service movement has blossomed over the past decade. Young Jews especially are rolling up their sleeves in growing numbers, putting their Jewish values into action," Lisa Eisen, Vice President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, said in her remarks welcoming Summit participants. "But there is still so much more we can do to address the enormous challenges facing our country and our world. Starting today, let’s collaborate closely to mobilize many more members of the Jewish community as a powerful force for good.”
Other presenters throughout the Summit included Leah Lizarondo, founder of The Brazen Kitchen; Erin Schrode, Congressional candidate and founder of Turning Green; Wendy Etheridge-Smith, Ph.D, Executive Director of Higher Achievement Pittsburgh; Diane Bell McKoy, President & CEO, Associated Black Charities; Ben Sperling, co-founder, Next Generation Men; and Rabbi Jessy Gross, director of the Charm City Tribe, among many others.
Adds Dawne Bear Novicoff, Assistant Director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which supports Repair the World, “Meaningful Jewish service experiences only exist if organizations have the necessary tools and resources to make them happen. The appetite for these experiences continues to grow—especially among young adults—and Repair the World is committed to learning what makes these experiences most effective and to sharing that learning with others. The Summit brought together leaders from both the secular and Jewish service worlds to share ideas, successes, and challenges that come with this deeply important work--and together these leaders will continue to make Jewish service learning a central part of American Jewish life."