Tuesday, April 24, 2012

As the chair of a Hillel sponsored initiative, Read By the River, and an active contributor to Hillel, I have recently been invited to several Repair the World dinners and events.  The one that impacted me the most was our dinner on tzedakah with Don Abramson.  Don is a former chair of the American Jewish World Service. He engaged us in conversation about tzedakah and philanthropy.

Don gave us different scenarios to discuss to see what type of decision we would make in that situation.  The scenario that stood out to me the most was a true story that happened at Don’s summer camp as a counselor.  One of his campers (Joey) had a difficult summer.  It was the last few days of camp and the campers were playing a big softball game, the most important game of the summer.  The score was tied, it was full count, and the bases were loaded.  Joey was at the plate, and in this situation he could either be the hero, or the goat.  The pitch comes in, and the ball looks 51% like a strike, and 49% a ball.  If you are the counselor umpiring, do you call this pitch a strike or a ball?

At first I quickly answered the question and said of course you call the pitch a ball, you want Joey to go home happy for the summer and that remaining image could bring him back the next summer.  However, as I thought about the situation more, I started to lean towards calling the pitch a strike.  The discussion became a conversation about where you draw the line.  The pitch most likely was a strike, so do you challenge the integrity of the game, by calling it a ball just for Joey, or do you call it a strike to have continued trust in the rest of the campers.  You also need to think about how the 17 other campers will feel after the call.  However, in the situation, you don’t have this amount of time to weigh the pros and cons of the outcome.  It is an instinct call, and this type of scenario can change the complete outlook of a camper on their time at camp for that summer.

This idea of one event changing the outlook of a child, is exactly what we are trying to create with Read by the River.  At this 1,000 person annual event, myself, Hillel, and other Tufts students promote reading to Medford and Somerville elementary school students.  With our literacy based booths and carnival themed event we try to show these children that reading is fun. When they think of reading, we want them to envision all of the possibilities and how they can use their imagination.  With events and programs like Read By the River, and Repair the World dinners we are increasing awareness about social justice on step at a time.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

We and I: Rabbi Jeffrey Summit

I want to talk about the words “I” and “We” and I want to begin with a poem by Adreinne Rich called “In Those Years.”

In Those Years
In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you 

we found ourselves 
 reduced to I
and the whole thing became 
 silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
and, yes, that was the only life 
 we could bear witness to

But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through rages of fog 

where we stood, saying I

We live in a world where people are used to focusing on “I” as opposed to “We.” It’s easy to share examples. I’ve been to the homes of friends where they seem to have a television in every room and at night, family members sit in separate rooms watching the specific program that they want to watch. Sometimes family members sit by themselves in separate rooms watching the same program. When I’m out running on Comm Ave, I will often see two friends running together and then see that each is listening to his/her own Ipod as they run. And this is much bigger, while Tufts is known for a commitment to active citizenship and public service, there are an awful lot of people on campus who don’t continue the volunteer work that they were so careful to list on their college applications once they actually arrive at school. I’m not saying these are bad people but university has a way to make us focus on the “I” and that often comes at the expense of our responsibility to others in society. This plays out in the Jewish world as well. More and more Jews report that Jewish peoplehood, the sense of connection and responsibility they feel to Jews around the world, the gut feeling that connects Jews in the United States with Jews in Israel, is just not a part of their worldview. I’m not talking here about political support for any specific government or policy in Israel. I’m talking about the sense of “we-ness” that for so many years defined what it meant to be Jewish: peoplehood, a connection that bridges physical boundaries. The slogan for the Jewish Federation used to be “We are One,” a sentiment that no longer has an immediate, visceral impact for many Jews.

A major theme of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, is connection. The very word “atonement” can be broken down to “at-one-ment” being at-one, connected with ourselves, with God, with our families, friends and communities, with the Jewish people. This morning, I want to focus on our connections, and responsibilities to those around us, what the rabbis call our connections “ben adam l’havero,” between us and our fellow human beings. Most people will agree that they aspire to be responsible adults, but what does it really mean to be responsible? Who are we responsible for and how do our responsibilities play out in our day to day lives? At this point, I want to give special acknowledgement to my friends and colleagues Sheila Katz and Rabbi Josh Feigelson who are developing a wonderful new program for International Hillel called “Ask Big Questions.” They put together material for a discussion “What are we responsible for?” and I drew great material from their teaching for my words this morning.

So, sometimes it good to begin at the end and I want to stress that in this question, as in many questions, Jewish tradition ultimately comes out on the side of balance. You are all familiar with Hillel the Elder’s words: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me. But if I am only for myself, what am I?” While we can applaud this call for balance, how do we think about responsibility to others in our day to day commitments and decisions as we build our lives?

So I want to begin by sharing a story written by Rabbi Hebert Friedman, a rabbi who passed away in 2008. It’s a story about responsibility and I’m not completely sure who does the right thing in this story. I interested in what you think?

Friedman grew up during the great Depression and his family was poor. He tells how one night, his mother attended a meeting of her synagogue sisterhood in the late 1930s, where a representative of the U.S. National Refugee Service made an urgent plea for American Jewish families to take into their homes German-Jewish children whose parents were willing to let them emigrate to the United States, not knowing if they would ever see those children again. Of the more than 100 mothers at this sisterhood meeting, no more than a dozen raised their hand. Friedman tells the story, “My mother stood and announced that she would take three children. God had been good to her, she said, giving her three healthy sons; this was her opportunity to repay. She added without embarrassment that her family was living in a small apartment, with only two bedrooms, because their house had been foreclosed by the bank during the Depression. So, she could take only boys, who could sleep in the same room with her sons.

Friendman continued, “Mother came home with the affidavit forms, placed them under my father’s nose at the kitchen table, and told him of her commitment. No one, including the Jewish community, was responding to the impending Holocaust. As far as she was concerned, signing the forms was only a formality. My father saw it differently, because of the legal obligations his signature would impose. The Depression had reduced his earnings to some pitifully small amount, and he could not envision for an instant how they could handle the additional expense for food, clothing, school, for three more children.

My mother answered him quietly, but with great passion. Even though we were poor, how could we refuse to save Jewish lives if we were given the chance to do so? She was ashamed of the other sisterhood members. All of them should have volunteered, and she would not hesitate to tell them so at the next meeting. “But if we have enough food for five of us,” she asked, “why can’t we simply make it do for eight? If I have to wash shirts every day for six boys instead of three, what’s the difference?”

Friedman says, My parents argued all night — the only time I remember my parents raising their voices in anger and disagreement. My mother won. In the morning, my father signed the affidavits, and she proudly took them back to the synagogue. As I thought this over, I decided that my mother’s fight with my father symbolized the whole problem, and the only conclusion was to act according to moral Jewish values, without permitting rationalization or delay--“When history knocks, you answer!”

It’s a powerful story but I’ll ask you, what was the right thing to do in this situation? Friedman’s father was certainly thinking about his responsibilities, to his own children, to his wife and even if he could honestly provide for three more children? Yet, his mother is thinking on a different plane: what are our responsibilities to the Jewish people, to save a life when children are in imminent danger? What is the right thing to do? What would you do in this situation?

Let me throw a different story into the mix, one that I have struggled with over time. For many years, I’ve had a connection with a homeless man. Joseph (not his real name) started showing up at Hillel years ago. He’s a nice person and I don’t believe he is dangerous but he is schizophrenic and not the easiest person to deal with. Over the years I’ve tried to get him connected to social services, tried to help him find a place to live. But he doesn’t like shelters or half way houses and he prefers his freedom to a structured or controlled living environment. Usually, he would come to see me at Tufts and often he would show up at Shabbat but at one point, he got my home address and phone number and began to call me at home. Then one afternoon, when our son was about thirteen years old, and very idealistic, I came home to find Joseph sitting in our living room with my son, having a cup of tea. My son said, Dad, he knocked on the door and said he knew you and needed a place to sleep. Of course I let him in. It’s cold outside. We have a big house; there’s more than enough room for him to stay.

So how do you explain to your son, who has just had his bar mitzvah and is thinking seriously about social justice and our responsibilities to society, that you don’t want the homeless guy to move in with you or to set up a tent in your back yard? That yes, we have a big house and money and yes, I had known Joseph for many years but still, I said no. Was I being responsible or hypocritical? Was I teaching the right lessons to my children?

In the Talmud, the rabbis discuss how our responsibilities to others begin close and move out in concentric circles of responsibility. We are immediately responsible for the needs of our family, then our neighborhood, then our city or town. Because the Jewish community is a small community, and one that has been persecuted over the years, we are first responsible to the needs of the Jewish community but the rabbis are very clear that our responsibility doesn’t end there and they teach that for the sake of peace, we have an obligation to help human beings in need regardless of their religion, ethnic or cultural background.

So let me return to the two stories that I told. I can’t be so presumptuous to tell you the right thing to do in these situations but I’ll share a little of how I struggled with these questions. In terms of Herbert Friedman’s story, I think that if something was going to have an impact on a whole family, such as bringing in three new children, it seems right that the family would be engaged in this decision together. It’s not the same situation but when our children were young, we involved them in our family discussions of where and even how much tzedukah (charity) we gave and their opinions did have an influence about where we gave our money. I also think it’s important to realize that there is a middle ground between taking in refugee Jewish children and not taking them in. Certainly, the situation required that a responsible person, a responsible Jew, needed to do more than brush off the request to help. One could commit to working actively to find them homes, educating and taking care of them. It didn’t have to be all or nothing.

The situation with Joseph, the homeless man, is somewhat clearer to me. I was not prepared to take him into our home, even for a short time. We did, however make sure he had warm clothes and we drove him to a shelter. We helped him get his glasses fixed as well. But when it comes to defining our responsibility in such a situation, I think we should we should think more broadly and deeply about our responsibilities and obligations as we confront the broken parts of our communities, like the parts that leave people homeless and abandon people with mental illness to live untreated on the streets.
At Hillel, we have been in active partnership with an organization Repair the World, to get more students engaged in service. We teach, and apply, a strategic approach in this work that I think is meaningful. It’s called CASES and has five components that I believe are important to consider when we work to figure out our responsibility to people, and issues, in our community. The C stands for Community Partnerships. Who else is doing this work, what can they teach us and how can we partner with them? The A is Advocacy: (continuing on the example of homelessness) it’s not enough just to help someone who is homeless; we also have to be involved in changing the laws and social structures that leave people homeless and without adequate care for their physical and mental health. The S is direct Service. We should be in the trenches, in some way, volunteering in a homeless shelter or food pantry, actually meeting, talking to and helping the people who need our help. The E is education: we need to know and understand about the root causes of homelessness, how large is this problem, how is it being effectively addressed and where? And the final S is sustainability. How do we make sure that our efforts continue when we graduate or move on to working for another cause or in a different community? By approaching issues of social justice with the CASES methodology, we go deeper and make a more impactful contribution. We increase our effectiveness as change agents. There is nothing wrong with stopping at a table on campus to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to deliver to a homeless shelter but we can, and we should, do more, becoming educated about these issues, come to know the people we’re working with as human beings, partnering with others who are knowledgeable and devoted to the cause, working to change root causes and making sure our efforts continue into the future.

When we think about ourselves and our responsibility to people around us, when we think about “I” and “We,” I want to suggest that we should push ourselves and honestly assess if we are doing enough to make a contribution to the communities, to the world, around us. It’s our actions, not our intentions, that inscribe us for blessings in the book of life. Our tradition teaches that we don’t have to finish this work but as Jews, we obligated to find a way to be engaged and involved.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gateways to Judaism: Arielle Evans

Last spring I received an email from a Hillel member seeking volunteers for Gateways, a program that brings together Tufts students and adults with special needs for Shabbat. I was beyond excited. For fifteen years I attended a Jewish Day School that stressed the importance of gemilut chasadim (acts of loving-kindness) and growing up I spent much time volunteering with children with special needs in music therapy and in a camp setting; additionally, during my gap year in Israel I spent every Tuesday working at a recreation center for adults with Down Syndrome. These hours of volunteering were always the most fulfilling part of my week. Yet at Tufts, I’d found myself slipping into my one-track mind academic mode and, despite the Tufts commitment to “active citizenship”, spent less time volunteering than I had hoped. I figured Gateways would be the perfect remedy and jumped at the chance to be involved. I was right; Gateways immediately reignited my passion for working with others and reminded me that there is more to life than Club Tisch.

Gateways Shabbat happen every few weeks. We always start the evening with an interactive discussion about some aspect of Judaism, whether it be the next-approaching holiday or our favorite Shabbat meals. We then head over to Hillel, where we sing together in services and eat dinner. I am lucky enough to spend these nights with Ilyse, an eighteen year old woman with Down Syndrome. She defines spunk, is always color coordinated (even down to her glasses!), and is one of the very few people who shares my love for Justin Bieber. Yet Ilyse and I have developed a bond that runs deeper than just talking about musicians or her color choice of the week. We have gained an understanding of one another and work off each other’s emotions. Her laughter makes me laugh; her smile makes me happy; her success makes me proud. She has become so much more than a just a buddy; she is truly a friend.

Shimon HaTzadik used to say: “Upon three things the world stands: on Torah, on worship, and on acts of loving-kindness” (Pirkei Avot 1:2). Gateways is a program that brings together these three tenets of Judaism in a unique way, and the fact that this is one of Ilyse’s favorite songs during services makes this quote all the more fitting. We spend time learning about Judaism, actively engaging ourselves in Shabbat worship, and working together in the spirit of gemilut chasadim. My Shabbat experience has been made all the more meaningful through Gateways and I constantly find myself looking forward to the next one!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Don't Separate Yourself from the Community: Rebecca Herzberg '14

One of Rabbi Hillel's most famous sayings is, "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?" I heard this quote often throughout my fifteen year Jewish Day School education. I was active in community service throughout my high school years, whether it was through sometimes volunteering in food banks and soup kitchens, other times working with children in inner-city Philadelphia public schools, and ultimately completing a semester of community service before graduation.

Community service has continued to be a part of my life here at Tufts, where campus life is truly centered around active citizenship. Over the past three semesters, I have had the opportunity to be the co-director of Community Relations for the Leonard Carmichael Society (Tufts' Umbrella Volunteer Organization), tutor a middle schooler in math, and be a buddy for a young adult in the community with special needs. While I thoroughly enjoy these commitments, these are very much individual acts, where I do not necessarily see the broader impact of my actions on the community.

But on September 23, 2011, when Tufts Hillel and the Leonard Carmichael Society hosted Reach Out: Tufts' Service Day, I was able to see the impact the Tufts community could make on our surrounding one. Reach Out: Tufts' Service Day was a first-ever campus wide day devoted to community service. Its goal was to have Tufts students volunteer in the community and show community organizations how much we care. As one of the organizers of the event, my vision, and that of my co-chairs, was to have students volunteer with many types of non-profit organizations, such as working in community development, with the elderly, or in after-school programs. We wanted to jump start the year with community service in the hopes that students would forge lasting relationships with their organizations and continue to invest their time there. We also wanted to make Tufts students aware of the needs of or our surrounding communities, and that community service opportunities abound.

We definitely did just that - on September 23, 200+ bright blue t-shirt clad students left the Aidekman Arts Center motivated and ready to "reach out." After the event, we received inspiring feedback. Students exclaimed how much they enjoyed working with their various organizations - whether tutoring children after school or cleaning up parks to name a few. The other day I even had a student approach me, asking me about how she could get involved in community service because she wanted to forge a relationship with organizations but had been unable to attend the Service Day. I spoke to some students who even said that they did not realize how easy and fun community service could be, and others who are already planning to work with their organizations on a regular basis. I'd say we definitely met our goals.

As Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) 2:4 states, "Don't separate yourself from your community." Participating in Reach Out: Tufts' Service Day allowed me to feel a sense of ownership of my community and allowed me to see the huge difference one community can make in the lives of another. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tufts Against Genocide - Remembering Rwanda: Annie Lobel '11

I studied post-conflict development and the aftermath of civil war and genocide during my junior year in Rwanda and Northern Uganda. It was an incredibly eye-opening, transformative and at times difficult experience. I lived with host families while living in both countries. I learned to love cold basin baths, having electricity only sometimes, having very little personal space, learning how to slaughter a chicken ceremoniously, learning how to speak some Kinyarwanda and Acholi, and learning that there really isn't much different between myself and people my age half way across the world. What I took away from my time in East Africa was the power of humankind - the acute awareness of people's strength to do good, but at the same time, their ability to commit evil – as happened in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. This is not an event of distant history. No, it happened during my lifetime. And the repercussions of such a tragedy are still very present. Genocides are frequently spoken about as “unthinkable” events; yet they are “thinkable,” because they have happened and keep happening.

I of course am not Rwandan nor Ugandan myself, but when studying the Rwandan Genocide in Rwanda, although it happened to a certain group of people, I realized that this issue of genocide is far from an issue of one ethnic group. It is an issue relevant to all of us. Whether we are the people being persecuted, the persecutors, or the bystanders, we are responsible. We are responsible to take a stand and to educate ourselves and our peers about the histories of genocides, the ongoing occurrences of genocide, and how to take steps to stop such inexcusable massacres.

There are about 200 different memorials commemorating the 1994 Rwandan Genocide in a country the size of Vermont. Much of my classroom time was spent visiting, studying, and experiencing these memorials. Memorials in Rwanda are unique in that many of them have just been left as they were in 1994 - a huge statement making sure future generations do not dare forget what took place for 100 days killing nearly one million people.

Let me tell you - studying war and genocide in East Africa was really tough for me at times, but also I have never done anything so rewarding. I wish that everyone my age could be exposed to the realities of what humans can do to each other. Once you see it, smell it, respond to it and are no longer able to hold back tears, there is no way you can ignore it.

I remember returning to my Rwandan host family's home after my visit to the memorials, and my host sisters greeting me so warmly. I just wanted to cry. I wanted to ask so many questions but I didn't even know where to begin, what was appropriate, and whether they would want me inquiring or not. My host dad had told me he lost several of his siblings at the high school I had just visited, and now that I had visited I understood much more of what he was talking about. I was and still am amazed by his and his family's strength, love, and inspiration.

Although my host family felt unique to me, truth is they were not unique in that in Rwanda, everyone has been directly affected by the genocide. Everyone I met had lost a brother, mother, cousin, grandparent, or best friend. Nobody escaped the horrors of the genocide.

Let me tell you - returning to Tufts was not easy. It was a bit isolating even. I knew I had changed but my world at home had not changed very much. What I had thought was a "perfect fit" at home no longer fit as perfectly as I remembered. Reverse culture shock returning to the States was way harder than the culture shock when I first left home. When my peers would ask me "how was abroad?" no one sentence answer was ever satisfying to me. There was so much I wanted to communicate to my friends, peers, and family, and the frustration that no one would even begin to understand where I was coming from was frustrating and disheartening. I did realize that the frustration was not productive unless I turned it into something. People were trying to understand, they just needed guidance. Ever since I returned to Tufts I felt this need to take action, to do something about all of this, to educate my peers and help make them want to learn more, and to help other people understand that this should not happen again - we cannot let it happen again.

It was incredible to return to Tufts and eventually find and connect to like-minded students and to put together the Tufts Against Genocide (TAG) Committee with the incredible support of Tufts Hillel and the inspiration of the Cummings Challenge.

TAG's kick-off event was a panel of five survivors of Genocide - we had a survivor from the Rwandan Genocide, the Holocaust, the Bosnian Genocide, the Cambodian Genocide, and the son of Armenian survivors - each told his or her story. The purpose and message of our panel was to remind the Tufts community that genocide does not discriminate. It is relevant to all of us. We were hoping that by portraying a range of cultures and ethnicities on stage, listeners would be affected by the visual as well as people's stories. The event was incredibly moving, educational, and inspiring. We had no idea if 30 people would show up - we were delighted when a full auditorium of 250 people filled our audience to hear the firsthand accounts of these inspiring speakers.

After this event, a number of Tufts students have inquired how to get involved in this movement of bringing more genocide education to campus. Since the panel we have had a few other events, such as a Holocaust film screening, discussion, and dinner, as well as a Rwandan Genocide film screening during Genocide Awareness Week. 

We as college students have taken a stand and want to be part of a movement to make sure that now and in the future when people say "never again," that this "never again" will become a reality.

This is the beginning of something way bigger than just a committee of Tufts students. We want to get the whole campus involved. We want to get other campuses involved. We are not asking everyone to go on and work in memorials or attend graduate studies in genocide education. No. What we are asking is that everyone - no matter if they are a student, teacher, athlete, doctor, engineer, philanthropist, or waitress - we want this subject to be on the forefronts of everyone's mind. It is relevant to all of us. And it takes the next generation of leaders to care and to take action against stopping any and all future genocides.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Read by the River: Emma Gaines '11

This year, Tufts Hillel held the 11th annual literacy carnival Read by the River (RBTR).  I have participated in RBTR for all my four years at Tufts, and I’ve been on the executive organizing committee for three out of those four years.  RBTR has always been one of my favorite things about my Tufts experience, including the planning process and the carnival itself.  From late nights spent drawing decorations at Hillel, to the smile on a child’s face when I hear my 5th consecutive book report on Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I love everything about RBTR!

I’ve always been involved with doing community service with children, and in high school I even worked on some literacy oriented projects.  At Tufts, one of my majors is Child Development.  I think that RBTR is a perfect community service opportunity for me to contribute to the community in the ways that I most want to and am most qualified to.  Although it is easy to get caught up in painting murals or ordering the popcorn for the carnival, when it comes down to it, RBTR is all about the kids. 

For this reason, we are always thinking about ways to make RBTR better for the kids.  We’ve made a lot of improvements just during my time at Tufts – extending our literacy community service initiative beyond just the day of the carnival to a full year commitment and expanding to Somerville, for example.  There have also been little changes that go a long way for the kids – for the first time this year, before the day of the carnival, children drew a picture from their favorite book and wrote about why they loved reading, and we hung these up at the day of the carnival for everyone to see. 

This year we thought of another new improvement for RBTR, which was a parent’s booth.  Thanks to Lauren Estes’ dual leadership, this idea was the brainchild of both the RBTR board and the Hillel organization Vitality, which works to promote health and wellness on Tufts campus.  The idea became a reality, and the booth provided educational information to parents both on literacy and health related issues, and also gave out goody bags with health related products such as toothbrushes and hand sanitizer. 

I think the parent’s booth is a sign that in little ways, RBTR can always change and find more ways to best serve the children who loyally come year after year and have a wonderful day at the carnival.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Talk About Full Circle: Sonni Bendetson, A'09

There’s a tradition at Tufts Hillel that when we say the motzi on Friday nights, everyone reaches their arm toward the center of the table and puts a hand on the challah.  At two Shabbat dinners recently, for the first time, several of those hands belonged to young adults with special needs.  As I looked around the room at students, professors, Hillel staff and even President Bacow connected to one another and reciting the motzi in unison, I realized that, at that moment, no one could really tell who had special needs and who did not.

That was a highlight for me: watching my college world merge with my professional world around an issue that is deeply important to me. And Repair the World made it happen. 

I grew up with a younger brother who is hard of hearing, and it only took witnessing one teasing comment from another kid, a family friend who called my brother “ear boy” because of his hearing aids, to ignite my passion for advocating for people with special needs at a very young age.  In high school I became involved in the Gateways Teen Volunteer Program, which trains high school students to be one-to-one aides for students in a Sunday school for children with special needs.  I wrote my college essay about my experience in this program, and went on to study Child Development at Tufts, graduating in 2009.

After graduating college, I took a job as Program Associate at Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, the same organization that runs the Gateways Teen Volunteer Program. During one of my first days on the job, I attended a meeting with a group of parents who wanted Gateways to design a Jewish education program for their young adult children with special needs, who were all about my age.  I was thinking about the role Judaism had played in my life for the past few years and realized that, like most Jewish young adults in the US, my campus Hillel had shaped my Jewish identity as a young adult, providing a forum to explore Judaism through education, socialization, volunteerism and spirituality.  Then it occurred to me that people with special needs were simply not a part of this experience, and that if I had not found a way to incorporate this population into my definition of my Jewish community in college, then most other people probably hadn’t either.

I wanted to create a program that would meet the needs of Jewish young adults with disabilities, as well as begin to address issues around the inclusion of people with special needs in the greater Jewish community.  Lucky for me, Tufts University, my alma mater, was poised and ready to take on this mission. Tufts Hillel, through their Repair the World initiative, partnered with Gateways, Boston’s central agency for Jewish special education, to pilot this innovative new program that aims to challenge- and change- the way we view, treat and interact with people with special needs in our community.  Now the greater goal is to develop emerging adults who are not only aware of people with special needs, but who value and expect a community that is inclusive of all Jewish people.

With the support of Gateways and the partnership of Tufts Hillel, we recruited volunteers and have run the first two installments of the program with huge success. Everyone in the program- the volunteers and the young adults with special needs- have had fabulous evenings.  “The best part,” according to Marie, a bright young woman with Down Syndrome who is enrolled in the program, “was when we did the Kiddush together. The whole table and the whole room, it was like one big community and I felt part of it.”

The next installment of this program is slated for April 8 at Tufts Hillel.  For more information on this or any Gateways program, please contact Sonni Bendetson at 617-630-9010, ext. 109 or at sonni@jgateways.org