After learning about AJWS from my Near Eastern & Judaic Studies listserv, I understood that its mission to realize human rights and end poverty in the Global South so resonates with my values and aspirations. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be an Office of the President Intern, and while I knew I would learn a lot, what I have learned far exceeded my expectations- meeting my learning goals and beyond. From my third day at the internship in attending the All-Staff and getting to know the staff members here, I found that there is so much to learn and be inspired by all of the people involved in this mission. I have discovered the paths that people have taken that brought them to this organization. Many of them have histories in activism, social work, and many of them have also been involved with Jewish life in some form. They all have been inspired, they all are extremely passionate about the work that AJWS does, and all of their experiences are so valuable for me to hear about because the atmosphere in the office is one of such enthusiasm and hope that I would love to work in a similar setting one day.
I have thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on meetings with Ruth, hearing how she presents AJWS and the mission to all different audiences. Her ability to constantly appeal to people’s sense of morality is amazing. Having the ability to speak with her on topics such as the concept of “voluntourism” and whether or not can you always respectfully disagree has been incredibly meaningful for me (after hearing a radio show by Eboo Patel). In these conversations, I learned about the difficult decision of whether service trips for college students was truly a part of the mission- while they did accomplish a lot, the trips were designed to benefit the participants more than the people in the developing world who are trying to realize human rights, as AJWS vows to help them do. In talking about respectfully disagreeing, Ruth mentioned a plethora of helpful life tips that she learned as a politician. While there are some issues you should stand up for, if you are trying to work with a person or need that person to accomplish a given task, sometimes it is best to put your differences aside.
Throughout my meetings with other staff members, I also loved learning about navigating decision making in this organization, whether it be whether to fund an organization or not, when to pull out of a country or program, how to present a provocative concept such as sex worker’s rights, or how to create a strategy while maintaining the bottom up, grassrooted approach. I have learned how to research in a professional setting through briefings and reading many articles and dvrei tzedek. I have worked on organizing the ORG system and Ruth’s “Public Appearance” excel sheet, as I mentioned earler. I have also brainstormed with Rachel, my co-intern, a way to bring AJWS to college campuses, we presented them to Joshua and Ruth, so now we hope to implement our ideas this fall. Joshua has taught me so much about working with people in a professional setting as well as organization within a nonprofit. He taught me so much about presentation and how impactful it is, and has given Rachel and me so many wonderful assignments, and is always an encouraging and fun supervisor. This summer at AJWS has been one of immense growth for me, from learning how to be a professional and how a nonprofit works, to learning how to live in Manhattan completely on my own for the first time.
Before this internship, I predicted my career path to be as a college professor. This internship has shown me another world, however, that I definitely would not be closed off to working in in the future. Each day I felt energized by the positive work environment, the driven and enthusiastic atmosphere of people who love and strongly believe in what they are doing. They are making a difference in many lives, and I grew to be passionate about the organization, their causes, as well as the incredible staff who work there.
In terms of learning about myself, I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses, how I feel about working inside an office, and where my interests and passions lie. It was a great opportunity to learn how to complete different tasks (such as research, writing, etc.) in a professional setting.
The American Jewish World Service is an extremely special place and a very fun place to hold an internship. My advice for those interested in an internship at AJWS or at a nonprofit in general would be to really take up all of the opportunities offered. Go to human rights movies with your supervisor if he/she offers, ask a lot of questions (at appropriate times, of course), try to get to know staff members and ask them about how they got to be where they are today. What did they study? What do they love about their job? What is the most challenging? I think while working at a desk all day can be challenging for college students who are used to a much lighter and more flexible schedule, it gives you a great opportunity to read the news, read stories relevant to your organization, and if possible, be creative in what you present in your own work to help the organization. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had this summer with this internship! It has been a truly amazing experience.
-Gabi Hersch ’17