On September 15, Repair the World, and more than 30 partners in Jewish service, social justice, leadership development, and communal engagement, will convene Service Matters: A Summit on Jewish Service. The nearly 200 expected participants who help engage people, especially Jewish millennials, in authentic Jewish service will uncover existing breakthroughs and generate new ideas to make meaningful service a central part of American Jewish life.
In advance of the Summit – and to spark conversation – three Service Matters partnersare sharing service initiatives that are integral to their Jewish engagement efforts, or that will be field tested. By highlighting lessons learned, successes, and challenges, these pieces offer valuable insights for anyone looking to engage Jewish young adults in meaningful action toward social change.
By David Cygielman
The concept of a “service project” is one that is incredibly familiar to most Millennials from their years of school and youth involvement. From food drives in middle school to volunteering at homeless shelters with friends for high school volunteer hours, today’s millenials have grown up in a culture of giving back to the community. But in a typical young adults’ daily life today, they’re far less likely to encounter opportunities for actual service work. What they do see, though, are daily social media campaigns, primarily focused on crowdfunding campaigns (Ice Bucket challenge, charity walks, Races, etc.) with stories and videos of the do-good agencies. The goal for Moishe House is to create dynamic ways for young adults to participate more actively in meaningful service to support their their friends and communities, in addition to the participation in online campaigns. As Moishe House has grown globally and we have increased our focus on service-oriented work, one thing is abundantly clear: young adults care about important societal issues and are motivated to engage with the community and to use their skills to help others.
At Moishe House, we have always supported residents who pursue volunteerism and acts of tikkun olam. In fact, we require it as part of our model. Moishe House invests in dynamic Jewish young adults by providing them with the tools and resources they need to plan and execute service-oriented programs in their communities, in addition to educational, social and holiday and culture-related programming. We do not prescribe exactly what initiatives to participate in or where to devote their energy and attention; that has never been our approach and never will be. And we do not need to, because they are identifying needs where they live and filling those needs all on their own.
In 2015 alone, Moishe Houses across the globe executed more than 575 different service programs, with nearly 2,500 unique participants. From volunteering at an orphanage in Beijing to working with refugees in Prague to cooking for the homeless in Philadelphia, Moishe House residents and community members around the world are actively taking ownership of issues in their communities and are working to improve the lives of their neighbors and the shared cities in which they live.
And beyond just planning one-off service-oriented programs, we are seeing young adults take their work to another level, actually creating their own organizations and initiatives to combat problems in individual communities. One such real life example is “Wire the Wise,” which launched in New York City in March 2015. Wire the Wise connects young adults with senior citizens through intergenerational meetups around Manhattan. Seniors (the Wise) share their knowledge with young adults (the Wired) while the young adults teach them to use some of the newest technologies. Since March 2015, Wire the Wise events have attracted over 200 young adults and over 200 seniors to their programs. Feedback for the program has been tremendous, and the initiative continues to expand to new locations across the city every few months.
We know that the work Moishe House residents and community members do in their communities has an impact on those they serve, and we are also confident that this service work is making them more complete people. Many studies through the years have noted volunteerism’s effect on happiness, stress levels and mood. Moreover, the primary focus of young adults living in Moishe House’s around the world is to build Jewish community and that can only be done by getting involved with those outside the walls of each local house. Moishe house takes seriously the Talmudic mandate “al tifrosh min hatzibur” to engage deeply with and contribute to one’s local community. Many of these same studies have shown that once a person is invested in volunteering and service work, they are far more likely to continue to participate in this type of community involvement throughout their lives.
Meaningful and consistent service will continue to be a core part of our mission at Moishe House, not just because it feels like the right thing to do but because it is necessary for vibrant Jewish community to exist. As time has gone on, we have developed more partnerships to bring this service into action – including Repair the World and local Jewish Federations.
Giving space for young adults to create these initiatives on their own increases the number of positive initiatives in communities, increases the happiness of those involved and increases the chances of ongoing engagement in the community among young adults. Our young adults bring people together, strengthen community, encourage civic responsibility, promote personal growth and self-esteem and make a difference. When millennials step through the doors, they don’t check their community interests at the door. They bring their causes and passion with them and we should all support them in turning that enthusiasm into impactful action.
David Cygielman is founder and CEO of Moishe House.