Post 2: Pencils, history, and Avodah

Do you have a pencil nearby? Take a look at it.

What Makes a No. 2 Pencil Different?
It’s probably orange or yellow, with a friendly pink eraser and a sharp black tip. It’s one of the most ordinary objects imaginable. And yet, it’s also a bit of a miracle. Assuming the rubber in that eraser is not synthetic, it contains material from rubber trees, which are grown in tropical regions with heavy rainfall and high temperatures. Much like maple trees, rubber trees are “tapped” for their sap, which in this case is latex. The wood in the pencil usually comes from softwoods (like cedars) that grow thousands of miles away from the rubber trees. Pencil lead is made by pulverizing chunks of graphite and clay, then mixing the resulting powder with water in a big rotating drum for up to three days. That’s not even getting into the complexities of the metal band connecting the pencil with the eraser, or the manufacturing of the bright paint coating the wood.

All of this is to say, the modern world is almost unimaginably complex, and even something as basic and a pencil relies upon the specialized knowledge of countless people around the world. As a history major, I would say I’ve spent less time than most people would assume studying names and dates (although those are also important) and more time studying the growth of all these systems we take for granted. Not so much the pencil system, admittedly, but the development of methods of governing, taxation, child-rearing, religion, science and many other aspects of our world. I find studying history to be an incredibly humbling experience, a little like the off-kilter feeling you get when you look at a night sky full of stars. It’s the realization that you are a very small part of something very big, something you will never be able to understand all of but might, with any luck, someday understand a little piece of.

For seven weeks, I’ve been lucky to be a Development Intern at Avodah; I’ve met so many wonderful people, and learned a huge amount about the nonprofit world. One especially interesting part of the job is being able to sit in on all-staff meetings and see the nitty gritty of how a nonprofit functions. Development, communications, recruitment, operations, technology – seeing all these different departments work together to form a greater whole really does remind me of the kind of systems I studied in class. My tasks as an intern include researching prospective major donors, updating the Salesforce database, and writing newsletters, among other things. So much of the satisfaction I’ve derived from all of this has come from seeing how the small contributions I make can be used by others in the organization to work towards Avodah’s goals. No matter what I go on to do, I think this realization of the importance of a sense of shared workplace community and purpose will be relevant.

Since I started my internship, I’ve noticed myself perceiving the world differently. When I walk down the street and see a billboard, a car, a volunteer group picking up litter, I find myself thinking about all the teams of people behind what’s visible on the surface, and all the planning and coordination that had to happen for what I see to become a reality. When I’m looking at the world through this lens, even a humble pencil is a remarkable testament to the power of human collaboration.

Post 1: My First Month at Avodah

Apply to the Jewish Service Corps [Avodah]

This summer, I am thrilled to be interning with Avodah. Avodah is a nonprofit that aims to develop Jewish social justice leaders through programs like the Jewish Service Corps, the Avodah Fellowship, and a wide variety of community engagement. Avodah’s Jewish Service Corps allows young people to contribute to leading anti-poverty nonprofits across America while living communally. Much like Brandeis, Avodah exists at the intersection of Judaism and social justice, emphasizing the importance of concepts like tikkun olam in today’s world. These elements combine to form a truly unique and valuable environment for young aspiring social and economic justice advocates. 

Salesforce - WikipediaAt Avodah, I am the Development Intern, which means I work with the development team to nurture relationships with current and potential donors. My primary task is to research potential major donors in order to ascertain whether they would be interested in supporting Avodah’s mission. Additionally, I update Avodah’s synagogue database, compile comments from former corps members and fellows for future use, and I’m also helping create a newsletter that will be sent out to major donors in late July. While I only started the internship a few short weeks ago, I’ve already become much more comfortable with Salesforce, a software I use to research donors and update records. I’ve also learned about NOZA, a very useful database that helps with prospect research. I’m lucky that the bulk of my work is not dependent on in-person interaction; I am able to do so much remotely, and I’ve been continually impressed at how streamlined and organized Avodah has made my internship is despite the obvious difficulties caused by COVID. 

Development is an absolutely essential component of any nonprofit. After all, without funding there’s no way for nonprofits to do all their incredible work! I was interested in this internship because I am deeply concerned about America’s ever-widening economic inequality, and because I love doing research. Development for an organization like Avodah seemed like the perfect way to combine those interests. What I couldn’t have predicted was how warm and friendly absolutely everyone at Avodah would be, and how fascinating it would be to observe how a major nonprofit functions. 

While it’s early days yet, something I’ve already learned at Avodah is how incredibly complex a nonprofit is. Seeing all the teams of people that have to coordinate (now though Zoom calls, no less!) and use their particular talents to contribute to a greater whole is pretty amazing. This dynamic, I think, reflects a greater truth about social justice work in general: it’s the result of the collaboration of many individuals doing their part, not a burden to be shouldered by any one individual. Sometimes the problems in the world can seem overwhelming, but this more realistic, down-to-earth view of what progress looks like is heartening to me. To do real good in the world, you don’t have to be some superhero from a Hollywood movie; there are countless hardworking people around the world using their particular skills to contribute to a brighter future.