What makes our service Jewish? How can we articulate the connection between or intersection of Judaism and social justice? These are questions that many of us are deeply familiar with. In AVODAH’s year-long service corps, we begin to tackle these questions from the beginning of Corps members’ experience, even before they begin their service work.
Two important ways to understand what makes our service Jewish are understanding our own identities as Jewish activists and reflecting on the spiritual wisdom and inspiration that exists within our tradition for this work. During AVODAH’s week long orientation, Corps members engage in two activities that begin to help create the Jewish frame for their year of service.
Jewish and Social Justice Journey-Mapping
This lesson has been a part of AVODAH’s orientation curriculum since the beginning of the program and is always one of the most positively reviewed activities during orientation. It incorporates a variety of learning modalities including auditory, visual, tactile and relational learning. Each Corps member is given a large sheet of butcher paper and art supplies and asked to create a visual representation of their Jewish and social justice journeys using the analogy of a river. They’re given a variety of questions as prompts including:
- Did Judaism play a role for you as a child? Did a passion for social justice play a role for you as a child?
- What have been your most formative Jewish experiences?
- What have been your most formative social justice experiences? Do you think of yourself as having been awakened at some point, or in some way aware of larger systemic injustices? If so, what led you to that realization?
- Who are the people who most influenced your thinking around Judaism? Around social justice? Around the intersection between the two?
- Have you had moments of disconnection or doubt? When were these and did anything in particular lead to them?
- Do you or have you had a connection to a higher power/God? Has this changed over time? Does this connection or lack thereof in any way impact your justice work?
- Where have your Jewish identity and work/passion for social justice intersected? Where have they stayed parallel but separate? Where have they come into conflict with each other?
Once each Corps member has completed the visual representation they break into groups and narrate their journey for their peers. This activity not only serves as a way for Corps members to reflect on the Jewish and social justice path(s) that have led them to AVODAH, but also as a community building activity.
Morning Coffee For the Soul
Throughout orientation, Corps members engage in a series of activities called “Morning Coffee for the Soul” that were developed several years ago in order to strengthen the Jewish spiritual framework that Corps members work with during the year. Each of these activities asks Corps members to engage in some kind of spiritual practice or reflection and is meant to serve as a model of ways that participants can engage their spiritual lives throughout the course of their AVODAH year.
One of these sessions, “Amidah-Inspired Journaling,” uses the structure of the traditional Amidah to promote Corps member reflection both about their own role in promoting justice and larger systems of justice and injustice. The activity focuses on the six Amidah blessings, whose themes relate to justice in some way. Each of these blessings has reflection questions following it that Corps members can use as discussion prompts in chevrutah/study pairs or journaling. For example:
Selach Lanu: Forgive us, our Parent, for we have sinned; pardon us, our Ruler, for we have transgressed, for You forgive and pardon. Praised are You, gracious and forgiving God.
- Considering repentance as also being about self-assessment and change, how do I think about my place in the world and what I “have”?
- How does that sense of place change in relationship to others who may have more or who may not?
- If I consider myself privileged, do I see that privilege as obligating me to action in any way?
- Is my work here an apology for what I have or an attempt to readjust the scales? Are those two things intertwined? What is the appropriate approach from one with resources to one who does not have enough?
This discussion and/or journaling engages Corps members in the emotional and intellectual preparation they need to be able to fully and effectively engage in their service work while fostering this reflection within a Jewish framework and context.
Through these two activities – Jewish and Social Justice Journey-Mapping and Morning Coffee for the Soul – Corps members begin to explore how they can engage in service work Jewishly and how they can rely on Jewish thought and tradition to sustain them through this experience. They find meaning from engaging with their spirituality and Jewish identity individually and create powerful bonds with one another through doing this in community.