Do I Finally Know what Social Justice is: Finishing up at AVODAH

Upon completing my time at AVODAH I began to think about what made me come to this organization in the first place, and beyond that, if I got out of this experience all that I had hoped for. AVODAH is an organization which upholds ideals which are important to me. My father worked in international human rights and refugee law, and my grandparents dedicated their lives to immigrant aid and preventing poverty amongst Jewish immigrants to Canada. Consequently, I grew up imbued with ideas of social justice, helping others, and understanding that my world is affected by all those in it. There was huge emphasis on the importance of ensuring social welfare and justice. That’s why I applied to work at AVODAH. I, as a product of my environment, felt a responsibility for others and valued my Jewish experience: AVODAH looked like the perfect blend of both.

I had two main goals coming into AVODAH: to experience social justice, and to learn about not for profit work. I’d be hard pressed to say that the day-to-day administrative work at a not for profit is exhilarating, but there were constantly valuable learning opportunities. All organisations have different departments that interact with one another, but at AVODAH most of these departments were staffed by one individual. Being present at staff wide meetings, and participating in conversations about strategy and how to proceed was fascinating. Every individual brought to the discussion not only their department’s goals, but their perspectives as unique individuals trying to accomplish those goals. It taught me that differently minded individuals create productive environments.

Aside from the work I did for AVODAH in the office, I was also able to experience firsthand some projects that the organisation undertook. One of my supervisors began to teach at a two week program called JUSTCity which was a project of List College (the joint program between the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Columbia University). Through this program eighteen high school students came together to discuss issues of social justice and inequality in New York City through a Jewish lens. It was first quite empowering to learn about Jewish attitudes to communal service, and the responsibility to contribute to the pursuit of justice. A particularly amazing experience I had in this program was hearing the thoughts and questions asked by the young high school students who participated in this program. I have been conditioned to this larger conversation in my personal upbringing and my time at Brandeis. Hearing this conversation through a different lens was enlightening and refreshing.

As I return to Brandeis I bring with me these conversations, these questions, and most importantly the lack of answers. I think that something that most people hope to get out of a summer internship is a potential career path, or some enlightened view on your life’s goal. I don’t think that’s what I got out of my time at AVODAH, I’m actually unsure if Jewish not for profit work is really for me. I did however garner a profound respect for the work that has to be done. I hope that I can translate that respect into this coming year at Brandeis by observing the world through not a new lenses, but various lenses.

At Brandeis I often hear the question “What does Social Justice really even mean?” asked a lot. Many friends of mine are often frustrated with the answers given or even the lack of any answer at all. I’ve realised that answering this question is not necessary. What’s most important is that we keep asking the question. As long as it’s being asked, we will strive to answer it, and as long as we strive to answer it, we will pursue social justice.

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