The Value of Jewish service and shifting culture in the workplace
In thinking about Doron Kenter’s piece "Making Room for Time Elsewhere: Inviting Discussion," Repair the World already has a version of this ‘matching time off for service’ model. But what does our current landscape look like? How might we ensure individuals serving through these experiences are also convened together to engage in sharing, cross-pollination and potential deeper meaning-making?
My response to Doron Kenter’s piece “Making Room for Time Elsewhere: Inviting Discussion,” began with soundbites relating to Repair the World’s efforts in this area and how we can help ensure that service experiences are meaningful, grounded in community needs and imbued with Jewish learning. Repair the World already has a version of this ‘matching time off for service’ model. But what does our current landscape look like? How might we ensure individuals serving through these experiences are also convened together to engage in sharing, cross-pollination, and potential deeper meaning-making?
Repair offers six PTO days specifically for the purpose of service, matches the used service days to increase employee’s overall PTO, and has designated service days for all staff; this is in addition to PTO for vacation, personal and sick time. Paid time off for service is a category of its own. Six working days is purposefully more than a week to allow staff to choose from a variety of options, including immersive service, and to ensure that our staff members have annual time to make meaningful service a personal and professional practice.
Kenter imagines that there are swaths of professionals who also have PTO allocated to engage in contributing to something meaningful to them, but who don’t know where to start. I find myself wondering about the following:
- Could Repair the World serve as one “broker” of opportunities for a segment of people searching for how to spend that time?
- How might meaningfully integrating service and learning help steward explicit connections between the individual and time served as an act of strengthening the chain of Jewish tradition?
- Might one’s service extend beyond the Jewish community alone in order to meet universal pressing needs, albeit grounded in Jewish values? And, in doing so, might we teach the rabbinic recommendations for how we prioritize whom and where to serve when the needs are many?
Kenter talks about a path that veers away from burnout and leads to deeper personal and professional satisfaction; by doing something different or considering communal needs from a new vantage point, our perspective widens. There’s surely Torah for that, especially in the month of Adar when tradition celebrates how much we can learn when we experience something from a new perspective. What would a person learn about how they spend program dollars after the opportunity to help another organization in raising resources for its cause? How might the experience of volunteering at a local food distribution center or event and learning about the number of people in their community experiencing food insecurity cause them to reconsider how to ensure food is available in the workplace for those who may be having this experience? How might a week spent at summer camp help to inform the role ritual and song can play as part of local programming for young adults? I can imagine professionals convening to reflect, share their individual service experiences, and connect their lessons learned to a Jewish idea about how service is the essence of our tradition. This could shift our culture, strengthen each individual’s experience and connect to something larger – in which we embody the Jewish value of na’aseh v’nishmah – action and learning.
Doron made me realize I should start planning for my six days this year. Maybe I will join Rabbi Michael Lezak at GLIDE Memorial Church in San Francisco – to shadow the rabbi on staff and contribute to efforts providing meals, job training and harm reduction in the Tenderloin through a faith-based lens. Or, perhaps I’ll take my friend and camp director, Lisa David up on the invitation to spend a week at Camp Harlam, to run workshops with young adult counselors at the intersection of Jewish learning, service, sacred action, and identity construction. I can imagine the stories – and increased motivation – that would accompany me on my return to work after having had the chance to serve and learn, all supported by my employer. These experiences would not just fuel and invigorate me personally, but would also create pathways to continued connection long after the experience ends.
Like Doron and others, I want to learn the extent to which other organizations offer PTO designated for service and what their staff needs to make good use of these days. There are resource hubs and networks for all kinds of Jewish engagement experiences. Maybe we need one for PTO service days and related learning as well. Please share your own thoughts on these needs so we as a field can elevate PTO service. I am excited to continue imagining what the ingredients of a sustaining, thriving and cross-pollinating Jewish communal service experience might look like.
Rabbi Jessy Dressin is senior director of Jewish education at Repair the World.