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.