By Jake Max
As the old adage goes, a year of service is a marathon, not a sprint. The Repair the World Fellowship – an 11-month opportunity for young adults to engage the Jewish community to address social justice issues through service – is no different. Serving as a Food Justice Fellow this past year in Brooklyn provided me with a unique opportunity for professional, intellectual, and emotional growth. I spent much of my time recruiting peers and serving with local soup kitchens and food pantries, including St. John’s Bread & Life, Bed Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, and Masbia Soup Kitchen. Moreover, I learned how to leverage my existing skill set to organize and facilitate service learning programming for young adults and families. Repair the World empowers recent college graduates to effect real change on a local level through this Fellowship model.
But the most impactful learning for me this year is that things don’t always go as planned. The Presidential election altered the trajectory of our cohort’s year of service in ways that no one could have predicted. Amid the shock, fear, and sadness experienced by many in the social justice community, I saw leaders rise up in this time of unprecedented political uncertainty. In the weeks and months following the contentious campaign, passionate community members flooded our Brooklyn workshop space – we hosted organizing groups, as well as expert speakers on a variety of issues. From the Crown Heights Tenants Union to Save Our Streets, we welcomed local advocates into our space to promote community engagement and involvement from folks with vastly differing visions of social justice here in Brooklyn.
The reality is there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the complex array of issues facing residents on a local, national, and global level. Here, we believe that we have to meet people where they are and address needs on an individual level. One of our fellows, Simona Fried, partners with Hunger Free America, running a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) pre-screening center at our workshop. She reviews clients’ financial information and assists them in the tedious application process. Poring over technical documents and navigating the federal bureaucratic protocol certainly isn’t the most glorious work, but Simona’s dedicated efforts have helped dozens of clients apply for the benefits they deserve.
A core part of Repair the World’s strategy, and imbued in all of the fellows, is going out into the community to find and create partnerships with people already doing authentic work. We attend events in both Jewish and secular spheres to address ongoing social justice initiatives. From community board meetings to discussions on education and refugee rights, we try to be present as much as possible. We’ve hosted expert speakers including Brooklyn native Yavilah McCoy, a thought leader on the intersection among Judaism, gender, and race. After all, how could we attempt to influence positive change without first understanding the needs and desires of the people here in Crown Heights?
In the end, being a fellow at Repair the World NYC means much more than volunteering regularly at the soup kitchen. We are the eyes, ears, and hands out in the field, working directly with residents in the hopes of building a better tomorrow for everyone. All that said, changes don’t simply happen overnight. If the solutions to current problems were easy, then we wouldn’t be out in the field every day trying to solve them. The reality is that change takes time, and we believe that we’re doing our small part to secure a future filled with opportunity for all. Our work here certainly isn’t done – it won’t end when this year’s cohort leaves in July – but each day we do all that we can to keep moving toward our vision of community growth and prosperity.
Jake Max is a Food Justice Fellow at Repair the World New York City.