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.