“The Art of Giving Brick by Brick” – A Recap of ROI’s Tikun Olam Mexico Gathering

by Eric Poris

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a four day gathering, The Art of Giving Brick by Brick, in Valle de Bravo, Mexico. The event was organized by the ROI Community in collaboration with ORT Mexico and the NGO “Help me, I’m also Mexican.”

The gathering brought together thirty young Spanish-speaking Jewish social innovators, project leaders and service activists with the recurring theme being the role that Tikkun Olam, or “service” (literally, “Repair the World”), plays in our lives. As one of the program leaders put it, “Tikkun Olam is one of the most rooted values in Judaism, not only because it is aimed at helping others but also because of the belief that each person has a responsibility to participate in repairing the world.” The gathering included professional development workshops, such as creating a personal brand, team-building exercises and the study of Jewish texts relating to the idea of Tikkun Olam.

Through the workshops and discussions, I wrestled around with the idea of what Tikkun Olam means to me and why I am so committed to making a positive impact on the world. Here’s what I came up with: Life and the resources that come with our lives, are all gifts. Like any gift, it must be shared, ideally with those who could benefit the most from it.

I had the opportunity to meet participants and learn about some of the “gifts” they offer in their communities. I thought it would be important to “unwrap” some of these gifts with a few examples:

  • Dina Buchbinder Auron (Mexico), a passionate woman who has a way of lighting up a room with her love, has run Deportes Para Compartir (Sports To Share) for several years. She is an Ashoka fellow and will soon lead the world in the cause to repair it.
  • Martin Ferreira and Magalí Greisoris (Argentina) helped create Sonrisas (Smiles), an innovative afterschool program in Buenos Aires. Their energy towards children and the joy that they bring to youth is remarkable.
  • Michel Wasserstein (Brazil) is the modern day Patch Adams, doing all kinds of valuable work from within the Favelas of Rio De Janeiro. One of his projects is the Favela Organica, in which they use food scraps that may otherwise be thrown away and process them to create a nutritious meal for those living in the slums.

We put these workshop lessons into action and spent a full day building two homes. It was a collaboration with “Ayúdame que yo soy También Mexicano” (or “ATM” as I like to call them). ATM is a non-profit organization that gives “gifts” by building homes across Mexico for families that truly need it. We collaborated with ATM and with dozens of local volunteers who came to share their gifts by volunteering their time and energy to their neighbors. Even our two bus drivers, who could have easily stayed in the air-conditioned buses, saw a chance to share their abilities, and did just that. This experience taught me an important lesson about the impact that can be created when we pool together our respective skills to repair the world.

Participants in the gathering hailed from nine countries: Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Guatemala, Cuba, Israel, Spain and the United States, Giving us all the chance to  learn about the 40,000 Jewish community members in Mexico, the 250,000 in Brazil and the fascinating history of the Cuban Jewish community. The connections that were made at the gathering between members of Jewish communities around the world are a gift we all take with us.

Our celebration at the end of the gathering included an evening of dancing – an excellent way to connect across cultures. By the end of the night, we had danced the Salsa, the Samba, the Electric Slide and the ultimate Jewish connection, the Hora!

One final note: We did not put the roofs on the two homes we built. What could this mean? Perhaps it is a symbol that our work is not complete, which may be comforting to be reminded that, “The task is not incumbent upon you to complete, nor are you free to desist from it.”  Is it then our task to just move the needle ever-so-slightly and be satisfied with a job incomplete? I believe this work is an example that the sky is the limit; both for what the world needs, as well as the potential we all have. There is no limit to the impact we can create in the world, especially with collaboration. Together is the only way we can possibly build a strong foundation, brick by brick.

Eric Poris founded the Pine Ridge College Connection, connecting Native American students with resources to persevere and succeed in higher education. His empathy for the Lakota “Oyate” (people) grew during his time as a Teach For America Corps Member (2010-2012) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He has also taught in the Swiss Alps, Brazil and Peru. He participated in the 2012 REALITY Israel Experience for Teach For America corps members program. Poris currently works as a freelance interpreter for students and families in the Philadelphia and New Jersey areas.