Answering the call to greatness

Posted on January 20, 2011

Today Lynn Schusterman had an op-ed in the JTA about her service experience on MLK Day of Service. In it she writes:

“This is what makes service so unique, what gives it four intrinsic qualities not seen in virtually any other human endeavor:

  • It is something everyone can do. Anyone can spend a few hours serving in a soup kitchen or a spring break rebuilding New Orleans. Anyone can give a year teaching in inner city schools, developing community projects in India or teaching English in Israel’s periphery. No contribution is too big or too small when it is in service of a better tomorrow.
  • It provides a level playing field. Service is not cost prohibitive nor location specific; need exists everywhere. It is blind to age, race, religion, creed and sexual orientation. When done with grace and love, service is magnanimous in its celebration of our shared humanity and in its embrace of our humble differences.
  • It strengthens local communities. Service has long been documented for its ability to create strong ties between volunteers and communities served. Despite concerns that short-term immersive service experiences leave the door open to incomplete projects, a recent study by Repair the World shows that the local impact can be immensely beneficial, both for completing concrete tasks, such as renovating classrooms, as well as for expanding capacity to address ongoing needs.
  • It fosters global community. Also among the primary benefits host communities report? The rich cultural exchange that takes place between community members and volunteers.

Today, we are citizens of the world. Whether serving in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Ghana or Ecuador, our sense of community has expanded from one defined solely by geography to one also rooted in shared interests, common experiences and deep-seated passions. In giving of ourselves, we indicate a willingness to listen and to learn — the foundation for building mutual understanding and respect for all.

These four qualities are vitally important to us as Jews and as human beings. They make service among the most powerful human connectors that exist. Service is a tie that binds us together — volunteers to volunteers, those served to those serving — creating bonds among people who might otherwise never have felt part of the same community….

Indeed, clergy and congregants who cannot pray together can step across denominational lines to serve together. Politicians who cannot vote together can step across party lines to give back together. And young Jews committed to service can know what it means to belong to a diverse, pluralistic, global Jewish people that hold as a core value a responsibility to repair the world…

This is why I am so committed to the effort to build a Jewish community fully engaged in service, tzedakah and tikkun olam. This is why I hope to see a term of service become a rite of passage in which young Jews live out their deepest values. And this is why I hope to see a commitment across our global community to inspire, empower and celebrate those who serve.

Because, in serving, we not only positively impact communities and individuals in need, we also unite our tradition as Jews with our universal values and realize the full extent of our humanity…”

I cannot agree more. Ms. Schusterman eloquently and powerfully captured the values and importance of Areyvut as a concept and as an organization. I applaud her for highlighting the importance of service and invite her to lend her support to Areyvut so that we can do even more to inspire, engage and empower middle and high school students from all denominations of Judaism, all types of Jewish education and all levels of Jewish communal affiliation.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email