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.