Monday, February 28, 2011

Gateways Shabbat: Lauren Stanzler '14

This semester several students from Tufts are volunteering with a program called Gateways as the start of a new partnership with Hillel. Gateways is an organization based in Boston that provides access to Jewish education for children and young adults with special needs. With this organization, we are hosting several students with special needs to our Shabbat services at Hillel. The participants, mostly from the Boston area, are around college-aged and they are extremely enthusiastic to be part of this program.

I got involved with Gateways because I thought it would make my Shabbat experience very special. I think everyone deserves a chance to celebrate Shabbat with their community. I wanted to grant this opportunity to members of my faith who may not always have access to a Shabbat service. I also hope to form friendships with the young adults with special needs. Although I don’t have much experience working with people with special needs, I thought it would be rewarding to interact with them, especially on Shabbat.

Before the first Shabbat service with Gateways, the Tufts students involved in the program attended a training session. During this session we discussed how to interact with the participants and how to make them feel comfortable in a new environment. We also went over the schedule for the program and simulated situations that might occur during the service. The training was a great experience that made me feel prepared and excited for my interactions with the participants.

The first Shabbat was a success. My friend and I were paired with our “buddy,” a girl from Boston who was excited to be at Hillel. Before services began, we discussed the meaning of Shabbat. Both the volunteers from Tufts and the participants from Gateways agreed Shabbat stands out form the rest of the week because it is a time for relaxation and reflection. It was easy to connect with the participants, as they were thrilled to be at services and amongst such warm and supportive college students. I particularly enjoyed eating dinner with my “buddy,” who joked around with me because I am not familiar with the geography of my hometown, Boston. Overall, the Gateways program made my Shabbat a very special experience. I look forward to the next one!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Storytelling: Rebecca Matyas ‘13

Once upon a time, there was a quiet village. Then, one terrible day, a fearsome dragon began to terrorize the villagers. Luckily, a brave hero stepped in to slay the dragon and return peace to the countryside…

Last week, I attended community organizing training focusing on storytelling by the Jewish Organizing Initiative (JOI). Two professionals from JOI spent the afternoon us, a group of Jewish student leaders, both board members and others, who wanted to learn tools to make a difference in the world. We learned about structuring our personal stories in the most effective way to express ourselves, with a clear beginning, middle, and end like the story of dragon and the village. Then, we discussed ways that storytelling can be useful in inspiring people to action, making connections with others, and helping others find connections with each other. Finally, we practiced our own stories and gave each other constructive criticism.

Storytelling is a tool that I use a lot as a CEI intern, especially in one on one coffee dates. For instance, many of my engagees are uncomfortable in Jewish settings where they feel they are “not Jewish enough.” I believe that no one should feel inadequate or excluded because of their beliefs or choices, so I will often tell a story about a time that I had doubts about aspects of Judaism, where a certain belief or custom did not seem like something I wanted to incorporate into my own practices. Hearing how I reconciled my personal Judaism within a broader Jewish context has been comforting or validating for several of my engagees because it allows them to see how their doubts or choices contribute richness to their own Judaism without detracting from “how Jewish they are.” With this validation, people can feel more comfortable exploring their options without being deterred contexts outside their comfort zones.

I use my stories to connect with people of all different backgrounds and encourage them to tell me their stories so that I can learn what they are passionate about and help them find opportunities to take ownership of their Judaism in ways that are important to them. While storytelling was a tool I was using regularly, I really enjoyed the workshop because it helped me reexamine the tools that I use every day and will allow me to be more intentional and successful in my own storytelling.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lisa Ling Raising a Moral Voice: Nat Schils '12

This past Tuesday Lisa Ling, an internationally renowned journalist, came to Tufts for the Merrin Distinguished Lecture which is presented annually by Tufts Hillel. Even though I had heard that Lisa Ling had covered fascinating stories around the world, gaining access to previously closed off locations and speaking about ignored or taboo topics, I was blown away by the breadth of her experience. She spoke about her time in Afghanistan, where she saw boys as young as fourteen wielding guns like trained military men. She met with American couples traveling to China to adopt baby girls. She spent time at a maximum-security penitentiary, traveled in North Korea, and explored the disturbing truths of prostitution in the United States.

Apart from her stories, however, what struck me most during her speech was when she talked about the dangers of “American style glasses” through which we often dilute complex issues into black-and-white, wrong vs. right, simplicity. Lisa Ling recounted numerous experiences when her oversimplification of a complex issue was blown apart when she started investigating a story at the ground level, interacting with community members and those who had first-hand knowledge and experience with the issues. One example she used was of a policy in Australia that allows women with children under the age of five to bring their children with them if they are jailed. While this policy may seem akin to child abuse and endangerment at first, Lisa Ling came to see another side of the story through her investigative work. She shared statistics about the increased risk that children with one or more incarcerated parent will themselves end up in jail, as well as the decreased incidents of violence at jails when children are present. While many in the audience may still not have agreed with this policy, it definitely brought to light the importance of complete knowledge before making hasty, and potentially inaccurate, assumptions about the lives and decisions of other people.

In continuation with this theme of knowledge before judgment, Lisa Ling also stressed the importance and power of listening. While many people are surprised by Lisa Ling’s ability to infiltrate seemingly closed-off areas, she attributes her success to her commitment to listening carefully and to spending time with people in order to gain their confidence and trust. Rather than promoting monetary action and donations to support a cause, Lisa Ling encouraged audience members to bring global stories to light and to spread awareness about different conflicts that exist both in our own backyards and around the world. By spreading awareness, we can decrease our dependence on “American style glasses” as we begin to think differently about complex issues like environmental justice, female empowerment, and the rights of children. Perhaps it is a human instinct to simplify what the world presents us, especially in today’s increasingly technology-dependent world in which we are constantly bombarded by information and images. I hope that we can all remember Lisa Ling’s words and the importance of being open as we continue to explore global and domestic stories in Tufts classrooms and in the wider world.