Living Lives of Value

Sundara Hygiene Ambassadors preparing soap to be distributed in Bukompe refugee camp, Uganda

By Lisa Eisen

Next month, my daughter Tamar is headed to Kolkata, India to spend the year teaching in a girls school and volunteering in a health clinic serving young people in the community. She, like so many of her peers, is eager to make a difference in the world.

For Jews, this pursuit is age-old. Our texts and traditions teach us that it is our responsibility to ask, generation after generation, how can we live a life of value? How can we devote our time, skills and energy not solely to bettering ourselves but to bettering the lives of others and repairing our world?

Today, these questions have assumed a renewed sense of urgency. In a landscape in which many are turning inward amidst calls for populism and isolationism, we must take up the call to focus on the needs of others.

At the Schusterman Family Foundation, we believe that by investing in service, volunteerism and social change, we can put our Jewish values into action to support those most at risk in the U.S. and across the globe. That is why we are particularly excited to join together with fellow funders, field professionals and experts from diverse Jewish communities and Israel at OLAM’s annual Focal Point gathering. Informed by insights from top leaders in global service and international development, we will discuss how we, as Jews, can address the world’s greatest challenges and how we can inspire and mobilize a new generation of Jewish global citizens.

A water pump installed by Innovation: Africa

For years, many of us in the Jewish community have dreamed of a Jewish Peace Corps, a chance for our young people to engage meaningfully in tikkun olam in vulnerable communities across the globe. We have imagined what that could look like and debated how best to implement such a vision.

OLAM is helping to chart the path. OLAM was created to support and expand the field of global Jewish service and international development – to help organizations, practitioners and volunteers tap into a growing pool of knowledge, best practices, training opportunities, curricular resources, evaluation tools and much more.

Today, just two years after its launch, OLAM is a coalition of 47 Jewish and Israeli partner organizations carrying out increasingly critical service and development work in every part of the world. Tevel B’Tzedek volunteers rebuilt communities in Nepal after the devastating earthquake of 2015; Innovation Africa installed drip-irrigation systems alongside new water pumps to bring clean water to villages in Uganda; JDC Entwine placed Jewish Service Corps fellows across the globe, including at a youth village for at-risk high schoolers in Rwanda; and the American Jewish World Service is working to end poverty and protect human rights in 19 countries in the developing world.

Tevel B’Tzedek volunteer speaking with Nepali children about sport

First and foremost, this work is about making a positive and tangible difference in the lives of others. But global Jewish service has a secondary effect, too. In addition to impacting the communities in which volunteers serve, it also impacts the volunteers. Service opportunities give young Jews the chance to grapple with what it means to act on Jewish values and teachings, while demonstrating their capacity to do good in the world.

And finally, it is through this work that we can show that being Jewish means service to others. It means being a light unto the nations. And it means repairing the world for the benefit of all global citizens. It is this message that will inspire more and more young Jews to join our community’s efforts and to find their place among those who are drawing on particular Jewish values to make universal impact.

As a parent, I can think of no greater lesson for the next generation. My hope for my daughter, her siblings and every young Jew is that they each realize that our world is small, that it is malleable and that it needs them, desperately.

As for Jewish philanthropists community leaders, my hope is that we come together and create many more global service opportunities by supporting the organizations that offer them. We can increase the number of Jews and Israelis involved in this vital work. We can help more people give their time and energy to uplifting the most vulnerable among us.

We may be in the throes of tremendous political and social change, but our hands are not tied. We have, as our inheritance, the Jewish traditions and values that can guide us forward in these tumultuous times. We have, in our community, the talent and the resources we need to expand global Jewish service opportunities in ways that will both inspire our young people and impact many more lives.

Photo courtesy Tevel B’Tzedek, Nepal

Most importantly, we have within us the ability to look outward, to shift the world’s attention from destruction to construction and to meet today’s challenges with an open heart and open arms.

Join us at Focal Point, June 12-13, in New York City.

Lisa Eisen is Vice President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.