Blog Post 3: Completing My Internship at AJWS

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

Rachel, my co-intern and I, pose with our supervisor, Joshua, for a quick picture at his desk.
Rachel, my co-intern and I, pose with our supervisor, Joshua, for a quick picture at his desk.
President of American Jewish World Service, Ruth Messinger, tweets about her interns on our last day of the internship.
President of American Jewish World Service, Ruth Messinger, tweets about her interns on our last day of the internship.

Midpoint Blog Post

Here at the American Jewish World Service New York Office, everybody has an exceedingly impressive positive attitude. I say “exceedingly impressive” because every day the staff members here are grappling with social justice issues around the globe that make life extremely difficult for some people. In addition, because of the nonprofit nature of the organization, the only way they are able to help these issues is with the help of donors, and so the work here is constantly appealing to peoples’ sense of morality. I would think that with all of these difficult realizations, to persevere for these causes and for peoples’ lack of immediate willingness to help sometimes, the work would get discouraging. The attitude of the staff at AJWS, however, truly reflects the opposite. The work environment is very energetic and very friendly. Everyone is inspired and hardworking, intelligent with a good story to tell of how they decided to work for this organization.

Even out of the workplace, I have noticed an effort to reach out with us as interns to get to know us as individuals and people. There are many opportunities to do activities around New York as suggested by the staff- some relevant to AJWS and some not.

The World of Work really does differ from university/academic life drastically- although this may partially be due to the fact that I grew up in a smaller suburban type of area, then went to Brandeis which is on a campus, and then was placed in the large city of New York to live on my own for the first time.

In the World of Work, as I work in an office in New York, the hours are 9am to 5pm with an hour lunch break. This is very different from university life, as my schedules of classes since I have been at Brandeis have really had many breaks throughout the day that sometimes even amounted to three hours at a time.

Also, in the office, we (my co-intern and I) have our own space to work all day, so while we are usually scheduled in meetings, we always return to our spot afterwards to complete our work, which is very different from university life, as people complete their work in all different areas. Because you are working in the same office space on a common mission with others every day, your working relationships are closer than I would say of people who simply have the same class as you.

I stand between two of the five total interns in the AJWS New York office.
I stand between two of the five total interns in the AJWS New York office.

Although, as an intern, I am not in a really high position with a heavy amount of very crucial work for the organizations with hard deadlines, I can imagine that the work in a nonprofit organization is far different from the work we experience as students. There are decisions that matter more, so meetings and planning are more important. Trying to get others involved in what you are doing is a huge component of the work world, similar to how clubs want students to get involved, but at much higher stakes so the process in trying is far more thoughtful.

I am building many skills as a result of this internship from as little as learning what is appropriate behavior and dress in a work environment to as big as learning how to conduct research in a professional setting. I have met and had the privilege and opportunity to get to know many upper-staff and learned about the way that their paths have all led them to their jobs now, and what they see as their trajectory for the future. It has helped me realize how my path in finding a career may be more of lattice than ladder route. Many of the conversations I have had with upper-staff have been about struggles I have experienced in my extracurricular leadership roles and how to proceed, and I received a lot of good advice that I intend on taking back to campus. In addition, I have been exposed to many more nonprofit organizations, programs, and issues around the globe and nation so I can take my knowledge and put it to good use in my academic career and in my life in general.

My co-intern and I used this AJWS image in our presentation to the group of high school students to educate them on Early Child Marriage.
My co-intern and I used this AJWS image in our presentation to the group of high school students to educate them on Early Child Marriage.

Recently, I was able, with my co-intern and supervisor, to present about AJWS to a group of high school students. I learned how to inform people of ways to get involved through the presentation- to be interactive, and provide some good programming in this informational type of presentation. We showed them exactly how to get involved on the AJWS website, and included AJWS made graphics. It was an incredible experience, with the ability to answer questions and learn from how my supervisor, Joshua, and Executive Vice President, Robert Bank, answers [sometimes very difficult] questions posed by the high school students.

 

-Gabi Hersch ’17

My First Week at AJWS

Goals for the Summer

This summer I intend on taking up all of the opportunities I am offered during my time at American Jewish World Services (AJWS) in terms of work, nonprofit organizations, and myself in order to accomplish my goals for my future career, academic journey, as well as my personal goals for the summer.

In terms of my career, this summer through the internship I hope to learn as much as I can about how a successful nonprofit organization functions. Through my experience at Brandeis in furthering good causes, I have encountered a lot of politics involved. I am looking forward to seeing how such a remarkable and successful organization such as AJWS deals with the politics of furthering good causes and how it organizes itself to be successful. I also hope to get to know the employees at AJWS to hear how they ended up getting involved and their stories, both for networking and for personal causes.

For my academic journey, I hope to learn more about specific human rights causes and which ones in particular I might hope to further pursue. I hope to learn more about “experiential education” and programming. I aim to apply what I have learned in my classes dealing with anthropology, conflict, dialogue, and Judaism to the work I do at AJWS.

My personal goals for this summer align with the others as I hope to make the most out of the opportunity to work for these incredible causes with inspiring people. I hope to explore my particular interests and the ways I prefer to work, and to get to know the fascinating people who are dedicated to the work that AJWS does.

 

My Work So Far

This first week interning at the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) has been absolutely incredible! The mission of AJWS is: “Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world. Rooted in our mission, AJWS was founded in 1985 by American Jews who wanted to join together as global citizens to help some of the poorest and most oppressed people around the globe. Today, AJWS is the only Jewish organization dedicated solely to ending poverty and promoting human rights in the developing world.” (ajws.org). I am working in the New York office in the Office of the President Intern position, where my supervisor is the executive assistant to the president of the organization.

There have been so many fascinating parts, and also many surprises.

Some interesting parts were sitting in on an executive board meeting where I learned all about the ways that AJWS forms their goals and how they plan to accomplish them. The main goal of AJWS is to help marginalized people in the developing world realize their human rights. There are different subject areas that AJWS works in within the developing world: civil and political rights, land and water rights, and sexual health rights. AJWS also deals with disaster relief. I have had a wonderful opportunity to sit in on many meetings with the organization, as well as converse with Ruth Messinger, the president of AJWS, about her work. Also, on June 10th, I attended something called an “All-Staff” which was a staff retreat for all of the workers for AJWS in the United States. We discussed how much of the “J” (Jewish) should be involved in the organization, as well as many other interesting topics.

My work has included a lot of administrative work such as writing out dictations, reading a lot of articles/Dvrei Torah to find topics/quotes of relevance/interest, and other tasks of organization that will help move the flow of AJWS along. I have loved the reading and learning as well as sitting in on meetings and getting to meet with executive board members.

I have been surprised a few times throughout this first experience. The first day, Ruth Messinger, the president of the organization, paid my fellow Office of the President intern and me an unexpected visit, surprising me. Also, the organization is going through some structural changes, so the staff are in an interesting emotional place. These experiences have taught me a lot about how to maintain oneself in a professional setting. I have also been experiencing living in a big city for the first time as well as living by myself for the first time.

The start of my internship has been inspiring and I have learned so much so far. I look forward to the rest of the summer!

At the "All-Staff" retreat, each table was tasked with using random art materials to demonstrate what the "Jewish" aspect of the organization is.
At the “All-Staff” retreat, each table was tasked with using random art materials to demonstrate what the “Jewish” aspect of the organization is.
This is my office area where I work every day.
This is my office area where I work every day.

 

-Gabi Hersch ’17