Sunday, December 19, 2010

Connecting with the Boston Jewish Community: Sofi Shield '14

On November 21st, I went with a group of other Moral Voices members to Temple Shalom in Medford to help them make pies. We went in two shifts, both of which were welcomed with open arms (and freshly baked donuts!) by the appreciative temple members. Making pies was a fun activity, but connecting with the Jewish community in Boston was definitely what I think the overall achievement and reward from the outing. The temple members were all interested in who we were and eager to engage us in conversation, and we also enjoyed ourselves playing with the little children who were running around the social hall.

Making a connection with another Jewish community in the area is something that I think is very important for Moral Voices and Tufts Hillel. Whether we pair up for events in the future, or are just there to support each other, I am very happy to have been able to be a part of establishing this relationship. In fact, three freshman(Simmone Seymour, Ariel Bronstein and myself) went back to help out on December 5th for the Temple Shalom Hannukah party. After being offered copious amounts for delicious latkes and sufganiyot, we headed to our stations. The three of us helped in running the children’s games. “Bowl to Knock over the Greeks,” “Dreidel Darts,” and “Pin the Candle on the Menorah” were all featured activities and the kids would play turn after turn, eager to beat their score from the previous round. At one point,a blind lady asked to bowl and Ariel guided her through the game time after time as the lady smiled, laughed, and told us how much fun she was having. Around the same time, and older man came up to us and asked if we were Tufts students. He introduced himself as Herb, class of 1958, his wife (who was also there) also a Tufts graduate. He is very involved with both Temple Shalom and the Tufts community,and was definitely a valuable, interesting person to meet when trying to bridge the two.

Overall, these two events were fun experiences that were valuable for Moral Voices as a group, and for everyone on an individual level. We had fun, baked pies, played with adorable children, ate good food, and helped out the community in which we live, connecting Jewish groups in the Medford-Somerville area.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Interfaith Thanksgiving: Shauna Pierson '13

My name is Shauna Pierson, and I am one of the interfaith co-chairs at Tufts Hillel.  I am a strong believer in the power of common ground, in strengthening the ties that bind us together in order to achieve great things. That was the goal of our Interfaith Thanksgiving dinner, and when I looked around at a room filled with people of different backgrounds, religions, cultures, and creeds coming together to give thanks in multiple ways, I realized it was a success.
As Hillel’s Interfaith Committee co-chairs, Ben Jaye and I spent months preparing for Interfaith Thanksgiving. We joined up with most of the other religious organizations on campus, namely the Catholic Community at Tufts, the Hindu Students Council, the Baha’i Association, CAFÉ, the Protestant Student Fellowship, and the Muslim Students’ Association; it was a meaningful and productive experience to plan this interfaith event with the other leaders of religious groups on campus, and we made a ton of new contacts and friends.
We also decided to cosponsor the event with Tufts Chaplaincy, thereby adding an inclusive and interactive “Thanks-for-Giving” portion. Organized by Father O’Leary, the religious groups were each partnered with a service organization on campus—such as TUPD, dining services, or the athletic department. Seeing representatives from each respective religious group give thanks to their chosen behind-the-scenes workers at Tufts was an immensely powerful moment.
The most incredible part of the evening was the service portion. Like last year, we decided to devote our efforts to an organization called “Hugs and Hope”, which works toward bringing smiles and kind words to terminally ill children and their families. Each participant was given the name of a terminally ill child, some of their hobbies, their favorite colors, the names of their brothers and sisters, etc. We had a plethora of arts supplies, and within minutes everyone in the room had snatched up construction paper and colored pencils, and was totally absorbed in making the most beautiful and inspiring card for a child in need. I heard squeals of joy when people realized that their assigned kid loves the same comic books as they do, laughter as people recalled their own days of childhood arts and crafts projects, and sadness when we all realized that they are far too young and innocent to be suffering so much. But it was the feeling in the room—the unity, the collective desire to help—that was truly indescribable.
Looking back, I know that there were definitely some roadblocks along the way—and we realized that dedication and perseverance were key in producing a successful event that would bring so many diverse people in the same room at the same time. But this is what we did, and the spirit of that evening stayed with each of us as we went our separate ways to celebrate Thanksgiving with our own family, friends, and customs. Because no matter what, we are all thankful for this life that we have been given, and it is an amazing thing when we realize that we can do great things when we forget our differences.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Taking Action in Somerville: Alon Slutzky '13

Tufts volunteers go "all hands in" at a nursing home in Somerville.
My name is Alon Slutzky, and this is my Repair the World story.  Two weeks ago a friend and I, with the help of about a dozen other students, visited a nearby nursing home in Somerville in order to help some of the residents celebrate their birthdays. The idea to organize the celebration arose out of a simple conversation with my friend Josh Malkin. The conversation started with us recounting the community service that we did during high school and the difficulty of finding constituent meaningful service to participate in at Tufts. We wanted to close that gap and proceeded to browse through some of the campus groups and the volunteer opportunities they offered. We both knew we were looking for something more personal than assisting with a fundraising drive and something more local than helping with an issue taking place half way the around. After a fruitless search for opportunities through existing organizations, a realization dawned on us. Do we need an existing organization to tell us what community service is available for us? Why can’t we organize something ourselves that is tailored specifically to the service we want to partake in? Although it would take some more work on our part, we agreed to do organize a community service project on our own. That is when we decided to visit the elderly community near Tufts.
Choosing a nursing home was not an arbitrary decision. When I was twelve years old my grandparents’ health deteriorated and they moved into a nursing home. Although my opinions have changed now, back then I was far from ecstatic about visiting them there. One day, before we went inside to see my grandparents, my mother sat me down and explained to me how hard her parents have worked in order to raise her and her two sisters. Now that my grandparents were reaching the end of their lives, it was our responsibility as a family to show them we haven’t forgotten them. After a number of visits to their nursing home it became clear to me that there were many residents whose family did indeed forget them. I saw residents who have not seen visitors in years. I understood the travesty of raising your children with love and attention only to be neglecting by your children when you need the love and attention in return. Out of this experience Josh and I decided to visit the elderly in around the Tufts community and remind them that we haven’t forgotten them.
 We reached out to Anchord an a Capella group on campus and asked them to provide the musical entertainment for the celebration. We also asked URAK(cleverly pronounced you-rock), the UnRandom Acts of Kindness club, to make birthday cards for the residents celebrating their birthdays’ that month. By word of mouth, and by spamming some elists we asked students to join us. The response was way more than we expected. What we thought would be a 3-4 person trip to the home for a short visit evolved into over a dozen people spending two hours with a roomful of residents singing songs together and swapping stories about the old days. The residents were happy to see us and we were amazed by how easy and simple it was to brighten their day. The nursing home contacted us the next day and asked us to come again as per the request of the residents. Also many of the students that came to the home asked if we can go back to visit.
The main lesson that I learned from this experience is that we all want to do good for the community, the tough part is figuring out how. As it turns out, all you need is a few like-minded friends and just enough drive to turn words into action. The other important lesson I learned from one of the residents who recently celebrated her 94th birthday is that no matter how old you get it never hurts to laugh.   
Anchord, the Tufts a cappella group, performs as students and residents look on. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Global Jewry Festival: Elizabeth Schrott '12

            My name is Elizabeth Schrott and I am the student chair of the JDCU initiative at the Tufts Hillel. JDCU is a group that focuses on global Jewry, as there are many different Jewish communities all over the world, and we highlight the work that the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee does in these communities. On November 30th, JDC had our Third Annual Global Jewry Festival. The Global Jewry Festival is a night filled with educational posters, student performances, delicious regional specialties, and fun! The goal of this event is to highlight the flourishing Jewish communities all over the world. Students have the opportunity to learn about these communities and to understand how Judaism extends to many countries in Africa, Asia, and South America in addition to those in North America and Europe.
            What makes this event particularly special is that the communities we highlight have positive relationships with the American Joint Distribution Committee, an amazing organization dedicated to rescue, relief and renewal in Jewish and non-sectarian communities all over the world. The JDC works with members of these communities, giving aid and support when needed. Since 1914, the JDC has become one of the leading humanitarian assistance organizations, working in over seventy countries. It is really exciting to learn about the JDC’s projects and the lasting effects that JDC has had on many struggling communities. JDC also has amazing opportunities for students, such as their short-term service trips, where students have the opportunity to experience working in some of these Jewish communities while learning about the importance of tikkun olam.
            JDCU is looking forward to our Fourth Annual Global Jewry Festival next fall! It is a really wonderful event that is eye opening for those who were unaware of the plethora of diverse and beautiful Jewish communities all over the world.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Repair the World: A Poem by Asher Rosenfeld, '12

Justice, you shall pursue
And in helping others
Help you
And maybe bring
His helping back
To others who in justice lack.
When together you might find
A better home
A better mind
Closer still you two can grow
By making half this world whole
One Jewish life touched each day
Helping others find their way
Justice now for everyone
Pursued by you
By all
Not none

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Trip to the Agohozo Shalom Youth Village: Daphne Amir, '12

My name is Daphne Amir, and this past May, I traveled to Rwanda on a Jewish service and learning trip with Tufts Hillel. Thanks to a generous donation from the Cummings Foundation, twenty of my peers and I had the unique opportunity to volunteer at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village and learn about the Rwandan genocide of 1994. After traveling the rugged, rundown streets of Kigali, we finally arrived at the village. I was astounded; the Rwandan countryside was the most breathtaking landscape I had ever seen. What I could not reconcile, however, was that the beautiful scenery of Rwanda, also known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, completely mismatched the inhumanity and bloodshed that had taken place on its soil.

Little did I know until my arrival at Agahozo Shalom that Anne Heyman, the founder, used Rwanda’s scenery to the advantage of the kids in the village. “If you see far, you will go far” is painted on an impressive mural at the entrance to ASYV. From the top of the hill, a student can gaze at Lake Mugesera embedded in a valley for miles and miles. Although Rwanda witnessed a great tragedy, the village encourages students to take pride in the beauty of their country and to be instilled with a sense of hope and purpose.

The layout of the village was also truly intentional. Agahozo Shalom, which is located on one of Rwanda’s many hills, uses the land formation to delineate its ideology. With housing located at the bottom, the dining hall midway, and the high school at the top, ASYV preaches that education is of the highest priority, followed by community.

I was completely awestruck by the kids at the village upon discovering our shared values of tikun halev and tikun olam—healing the heart and healing the world. The village is committed to helping children who have suffered in their past to heal, which will prepare them to give back to the world. Having attended a Jewish day school, I had never heard these particular phrases used outside of a Jewish context. I was absolutely amazed to hear the kids, from a completely different culture and place, speak the words that had guided me in my Jewish education. The concepts fit seamlessly into the village context, and this commonality made me feel so connected to the kids.
Seeing that the kids were instilled with hope and joy was one of the most empowering experiences I have ever had. It was invaluable to learn about Rwanda’s dark history and then be able to meet the inspirational, young survivors who will carry their country forward. The trip has taught me many precious lessons, among which is my connection and compassion to people across borders. I have experienced the value and importance of contributing to a community whose core values include healing its individual members and so selflessly reaching out to the rest of the world. I send my love and best wishes to the kids in ASYV, and I truly believe that they will do great things.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Repair the World: My Story, Dahlia Norry '12

My name is Dahlia Norry, and I spent this summer in Lurinchincha, Peru with 14 other college students and 3 group leaders. The program, Volunteer Summer, was organized through American Jewish World Service (AJWS), an outstanding organization that acts upon the Jewish obligation to pursue social justice. For seven weeks, we worked to construct a “Ludotecha” recreation center in the mornings and in the afternoons, we studied, discussed and spent time with the community members.
I am still processing what this trip taught me. I feel blessed, and sometimes guilty, to have had this opportunity. AJWS helped and is still supporting me as I try to better understand what my role is as a global citizen. I hope with every fiber of my being that this summer helped me change. I hope that I internalize a new view of our globe and each of our capacities to make a difference.
At Tufts, a globally conscious university there exists an inherent challenge: to make a difference for our larger world by working through an American framework. This struggle is both extremely difficult and extremely well supported here at school . Organizations around this campus inspire me everyday but at the same time, I feel stuck in a bureaucracy and that my efforts will help myself more than they will help others. I wonder if the resources I am utilizing are being put forward in productive ways.
Whether or not I always succeed, AJWS has showed me the importance in trying. We must engage with these questions about how to be active citizens and try to make educated decisions with regards to putting ourselves forward. Lurinchincha taught me humility and the beauty of an intentional community, and I hope to use their model to create spaces in my life where I can walk forward as a global citizen. Thanks AJWS!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Where the Water Meets the Sky: Heather Blonsky, A11

Heather Blonsky, A11
Last week, Tufts University Moral Voices held a film screening as a kick-off event exploring our topic for the year - Moral Voices on Equity: Raising a Voice for Women Worldwide. We watched “Where the Water Meets the Sky” a film which shows a group of women in Northern Zambia as they learn how to use film equipment and create a documentary about a topic that is both personal and rarely talked about, the plight of women orphaned by AIDS. Camfed is an organization that educates girls and empowers women with a goal of improving the lives of 2 million children by 2013 and achieving that goal in a variety of ways. Camfed brought the cameras to Samfya, Zambia and taught a diverse group of women, including women enrolled in school, women living in a remote fishing village and women who make a living selling products at the market, how to make a documentary, giving them a voice they didn’t have before.

Through the progression of the film, we watched the joy among the women as they successfully learned how to direct the documentary and use the camera and sound equipment, finding happiness in learning a new skill, having the opportunity to speak about important issues and, finally, presenting their hard work to hundreds of viewers throughout their community. After the film ended, everyone in attendance held a short but lively discussion of what we had just seen. As privileged American students at a private university, it is difficult to even comprehend the conditions in which these women from Zambia live. While we could all agree that empowerment is something positive, especially for women, we recognized that it is also something intangible for us, something that doesn’t appear in our daily lives. Most everyone expressed a feeling of being uplifted, proud to see such a project in action, lifting up and empowering the women involved to speak, share and be a part of something worthwhile. “Where the Water Meets the Sky” gave us a window into one story of empowering African women providing us with both a feeling of hope and initiative for the future.

As an idealist with an interest in ‘saving the world’ and a confusion with regard to how to do it, watching this film helped me to see one way in which individuals are making strides to empower others. As I think about how I can make a difference, the documentary reminded me that if you influence one life, you change the world because change cannot be made in one fell swoop but instead must be made one person at a time.

To read more about the documentary or Camfed, watch the trailer, or have a film screening, visit the website:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Repair the World: My Story, Kira Mikityanskaya, A11

Ask those currently involved in social justice and community service work why it is that they do what they do and how they got involved in the first place and their response will more often than not have something to do with their parents and how they were raised. Tikkun Olam and tzedakah were words that many of my friends heard repeatedly from their parents or in their synagogues from an early age. I, however, was not one of them.

My family and I immigrated to the United States when I was six years old and at the time, I did not know that my family was Jewish. Growing up as an immigrant, I had different priorities than many of my fellow friends whose families were well established in this country. My time, effort, and intellectual abilities were spent on assimilating and learning how to succeed in this country. I was the one in need of help, not the one doing the helping.

As time went on and my family found its place in this country, I was able to gain a deeper understanding for the forces that allowed me to end up where I am today. I learned how much the Jewish community helped us when we first came to the U.S. and how many resources they invested in our family. As I learned more and more about Judaism and what it meant to be Jewish, I found the value of tikkun olam to be the most powerful and prevalent in my life. As my involvement in the Jewish community grew throughout the years, so did my dedication to ensuring that I would eventually ‘ pay it forward.’ If the community had faith in me and helped me when I needed it most, then it was my duty to return the favor.

Upon coming to Tufts, I naturally became very involved with the Hillel on campus and took advantage of the many available opportunities to continue on a path of social justice. I started planning programs that raised awareness about important issues, educated others on campus, traveled oversees on several service trips, and took the time to participate in Jewish learning.

In my current role as a Student Coordinator overseeing the newly formed partnership with Repair The World, I am not only able to continue doing all of the things I have done in the past, but I have the ability to empower others to do the same. I am able to use my passion for social justice to ensure that students find their reason for being active in their community, to match their interests with the community’ s needs, and to strengthen Hillel’s commitment to tikkun olam.

On the Rise: Simmone Seymour, A14

On Monday I, along with two other students at Tufts, volunteered at an organization called On the Rise located in Cambridge, MA.  The organization works to restore confidence in women that are homeless via a transitional day program. We were given a tour of the home and then introduced to the program.  As part of the introduction we were shown video footage of women from the home give their personal accounts of what led to them becoming homeless.  The stories that they wove together were mind-boggling and I could never have imagined someone enduring what these women have gone through. These women were not lazy people who had chosen not to work or had willingly chosen to do drugs that had led them to the streets. They were strong women that had survived a lot and had been placed in situations I do not know what I would have done in. The stories changed my perspective on homelessness. No longer do I believe that homelessness is a condition that somebody can be blamed for getting himself or herself into; I now believe that it is a condition that results from unfortunate events in one’s life.  The footage also showcased the work of On The Rise. The organization has no formal structure, such as other transitional programs. There is no stack of intake forms or private therapy sessions; instead you are merely offered a warm shower and a chance to open up when you are ready. This approach created a trusting relationship among the women and staff, and restored responsibility and confidence in the women. They were allowed to feel human again and felt like they had someplace to belong – both invaluable gifts.

Myself and the two other students ended up sorting through clothes for the women. Though a simple task, volunteering at the organization reshaped my outlook on homelessness. It felt good to know that I was supporting such a worthy cause and there was no doubt that I will be back.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Repair the World: My Story, Julie Kalt, A12

If nothing else, Tikun Olam teaches us how to try – how to try to make the world a better place and how to connect ourselves with the larger society we are serving. My name is Julie Kalt. I am a Junior here at Tufts and I never knew what it meant to be part of a Jewish community outside of my nuclear family before coming to Tufts. I walked earnestly into Hillel my freshman year hoping to find something, and low and behold, I didn’t just find something, but everything. When I say everything, I mean a place where I found some of my best friends, a place to grow intellectually and spiritually, a place where I could focus my efforts and never get tired of the countless projects, and a place where I’ve fostered a sense of self I didn’t have before. I was bat mitzvahed my freshman year, served on the Executive Board as Cultural Vice President my sophomore year, and am now one of the student coordinators for this new and exciting Repair the World Partnership.

Growing up, social justice wasn’t necessarily emphasized in my immediate surroundings. However, when I was three years old, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. This more than anything, alerted me to the realities of life. But instead of solely focusing inward on the sadness I felt or on the problems that manifested within my family, I chose to focus my energy outside – on school, on public service, on choosing to use the emotional baggage from the hardship I faced in a constructive way. I am so excited about Repair the World because social justice is something that all Jews can relate to and feel comfortable relating to. To be able to infuse Hillel’s existing (already amazing) programming with social justice oriented action, advocacy, and education excites students and speaks to Tufts Hillel as a truly Tzedek institution. They say that you must repair yourself before you can start repairing the world, but I propose that there is a reciprocal relationship between these two ideas. In my case, focusing outward has allowed me a certain level of healing inside. We should not limit the significance of Tikkun Olam simply to “Repair the World,” but let our own experiences and personal context speak to, enhance, and enrich its meaning.

Tufts Hillel Repairs the World

Tufts Hillel is excited to announce its new partnership with a national organization called Repair the World (, an organization committed to inspiring American Jews and their communities to give their time and effort to serve those in need. By working with Repair the World, Hillel will be able to take its current programming to a new level and better fulfill its role as a Tzedek Hillel. Challenged with engaging more students than ever in long term service work, Hillel and Repair the World are looking to empower young people everywhere to pursue their passion, raise awareness for what’s important, and make volunteering a priority in their lives. This blog will feature regular and guest contributors reflecting on issues of social justice, community service and engagement from a Jewish perspective.