(1) Igniting Social Change with Avodah, One Spreadsheet at a Time

Avodah’s tagline is “Sparking Jewish Leaders, Igniting Social Change.” The crux of Avodah–the internship site where I am working this summer–is in that statement. 

Avodah is a nonprofit organization working towards economic, racial, and social justice through their Jewish Service Corps program, Justice Fellowship, and Community Engagement work and workshop curricula. The entire mission of the organization is to provide resources, support, empowerment, and sustainability for young Jewish leaders to engage in social justice work for their long-term futures. Through their three programs, Avodah aims to build Jewish social justice leaders up, while providing the funds and professional development for their Corps Members and Fellows. I am lucky to get to add to their programs during my summer as their Recruitment Intern.

Avodah’s flagship program, the Jewish Service Corps, is where I am helping the recruitment team during my internship this summer. Service Corps is a year-long service program which provides subsidized, communal housing (or as Avodah calls the housing, Bayits, the Hebrew word for home) in different cities in the United States, including New York City, New Orleans, Washington D.C., Chicago, and most recently, San Diego. Corps members are matched with job placements that directly partner with Avodah, which all engage in anti-poverty work in different fields: legal aid, immigration advocacy, health services, housing aid, food support, and many others. A placement that stands out to me is Brave House, an NYC organization that supports young immigrant women who are survivors of gender-based violence. Corps members are integral to these organizations. Rather than being treated like temporary interns or volunteers, they have full-time jobs with their organization, but are placed through Avodah and receive monthly stipends according to their city. 

Picture of four Corps Members reading together, with a text over them that says, “Find your place in justice movements.”

The program is much more than just working at Corps members’ placements, which already has members engaging in social justice work every day for a year. Corps members live with each other in their Bayits and cook, clean, support, and learn with one another. They plan Shabbat meals together, have weekly Bayit meetings, and get to participate in different social justice, adulting, and community workshops with Avodah staff. Currently, Avodah is creating a JOC Bayit, a Bayit specifically for Jews of Color, in order to foster an empowering and safe space for Jews of Color who may not have had safe experiences in Jewish spaces in the past. In sum, Service Corps is a year of working, living, and learning altogether, while simultaneously building the tools for sustainable, long-term social justice activism. 

Avodah’s two other programs, Justice Fellowship and Community Engagement, also provide tools to build long-term activism for people already engaged in social justice work, as well as for community leaders who seek guidance in building Jewish workshop curricula. Avodah’s Fellowship occurs during evenings and weekends, and the Community Engagement work includes resources that can be accessed asynchronously. Regardless of time, Avodah will support and help social justice leaders, as well as leaders-in-the-making.

I was immediately drawn to Avodah for their clear stance on social justice, professional development, and joy along the journey. When I think of social justice work, I often think about activist burnout and compassion-fatigue. I want to engage in this work, but I fear that I may do it in an unsustainable way, which will negatively impact my long-term ability to stay in the activist world. However, Avodah proactively understands this reality for many activists, and they created an entire program to teach young leaders the steps to engage in social justice work sustainably and with excitement, rather than burnout. A significant part of their Service Corps program is to laugh, debrief, and learn with other members, including on topics of Jewish values, money tips, and other meaningful subjects. I can see the incredible work Avodah does to promote joy in social justice, as well as empower young people to change the world.

My tasks this summer include telling everyone I know about Avodah by reaching into my own personal network and getting the word out. I work on the behind-the-scenes of recruitment: building databases of San Diego congregations, sending out surveys to applicants and recording responses in spreadsheets, writing and posting job descriptions on Handshake, and messaging recent alumni on LinkedIn, along with many other tasks that need to get done, but often get pushed to the back-burner. Interns, I’m learning, are the perfect people to take on that back-burner work that makes the entire recruitment process run more smoothly. Without the technical side of recruitment work, people would not know about Avodah, and Avodah would not be able to continue their mission (and tagline) of sparking Jewish leaders and igniting social change. My small steps create the change, one spreadsheet at a time, while I also learn valuable technical skills that will aid me in my future career.

My work station! Pretzels on the side are a need.

I am really excited about continuing my work with Avodah and seeing how my little but very important tasks make solid change within an organization that does such good in the world. And hey, if you know anyone between the ages of 21-26 who wants to engage in social justice work for a year, and wants a job this year (August 2021-August 2022), please let me know! Avodah still has some spots open in this year’s cohort of Corps members.

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