By Jodie Zisow
Repair the World: Baltimore
I am excited to have been invited by The Associated to introduce Repair the World: Baltimore, an organization with the mission of making meaningful service a defining feature of Jewish life. The new Repair the World Communities project brings together community-organizing theory, Jewish Service Learning and local volunteer initiatives in order to empower a team of Repair Community Fellows and volunteers to come together as agents for change.
Baltimore was chosen as one of four pilot cities (along with Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) due to the strength of our organized Jewish community. As you know, Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) does amazing work in Baltimore with a very similar mission. We are grateful to our friends and partners at The Associated and JVC, which have already been strong partners helping us lay the groundwork for this new project.
Our first class of nine talented, bright and dedicated Repair Community Fellows, ages 21-25, landed in Baltimore this October. The Fellows are starting their 10 months of service as community organizers to recruit, train and serve alongside volunteers within local organizations, including Success Mentoring through the Mayor’s Chief Service Officer, CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., Civic Works, Incentive Mentoring Program, Banner Neighborhoods and more. Some of these organizations work around the Highlandtown area, east of Patterson Park, where the fellows and our workshop will be located in early 2014.
We are taking time to study and reflect about the concept of “Repairing the World,” as we launch and learn this year. The Hebrew phrase, Tikkun Olam means our shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world. Upon further study of the phrase, other interpretations become apparent including an obligation to create just laws that increase social harmony. Another thread linked to this concept is tzedakah, often associated with collecting money in a jar to give to charity, which in and of itself is certainly important. The word tzedakah literally means, “justice or righteousness.”
Over the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to serve in different roles as an educator and activist in Baltimore City, mostly with young people from communities of color. Most of my students did not have anywhere near the resources and privileges that I had growing up in Pikesville.
Unfortunately, there are still a number of inequalities in Baltimore, especially with regards to race. I think that there is another critical layer to the work of “Repairing the World.” It is incumbent upon us to learn about the history that has brought us here and to work for change.
As we focus externally with good intentions to do good deeds, we must also focus inwardly and examine the manner in which we approach our work, individually and as a community. Doing service work in unfamiliar neighborhoods without reflecting deeply about the process of how we do this work is counter to the concept of Tikkun Olam, because it can lead to even greater social disharmony.
Through this work, I am thrilled to be connecting with others in our Jewish communities who are committed to working for racial justice and other types of social justice as central tenets of Tikkun Olam. I am grateful to have wonderful thought partners and teachers as Repair the World embarks on this journey in Baltimore. Here are some big questions that I am committed to exploring with Fellows, community partners and volunteers during this pilot year and in future years:
- What kind of Baltimore do we want to work to create?
- How we can take action towards racial justice within all of the work we do?
- What are best practices to avoid symbolic service and to do deeply transformational service?
- How can we take action that leads to sustained change?
One key way we will work to answer these questions, in addition to our daily direct service work, will be through incorporating Jewish Service Learning with Fellows and volunteers within a rich context of Jewish education and values. For me personally, it has been powerful even during these initial, busy months of starting up this project to have the time planned in for spirituality as well as for learning and reflection. I look forward to learning from and with members of Baltimore’s Jewish communities and with our neighbors.
What are your difficult questions? What are you most passionate about? What do you repair?