Tag Archives: FJSE

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Adoption for All

Social justice. Everyone has a different idea of what this term means, and no single definition can fully express its meaning. Helping those in need, pursuing equality, seeking fairness, and working to make the world a better place can all be considered aspects of social justice. During our orientation for the Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship, Dean Aliyah Vinikoor presented this definition, from the Social Justice Symposium at the University of California, Berkeley:

Social Justice is a process, not an outcome, which (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; (4) and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action.

This semester, all of us in the Fellowship are interning at organizations that do some form of social justice work, and I’m hoping that we all learn and grow from contributing to this process.

I am interning at Helpsusadopt.org, whose mission statement reads:

HelpUsAdopt.org is a national non-profit 501(c)(3) financial assistance grant program providing qualified couples and individuals -regardless of race, ethnicity, marital status, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability- with grants of up to $15,000 towards their domestic, international, foster, or special needs adoption expenses.

The costs of adoption are staggering, ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 if not more, including but not limited to the costs of a home study, travel fees, legal fees, agency fees, and placement fees. HelpUsAdopt.org raises the funds for grants from donations, events, and the sale of jewelry and tote bags; all of the profits from the sale of merchandise go to HelpUsAdopt.org. This organization’s work creates families, helping children in need find homes and helping adults who long to become parents, and they are the only organization that provides grants without discrimination and does not charge a fee to apply. Providing families with the resources to adopt without discrimination, advocating for adoption reform, and promoting awareness of the problems and needs of potential adoptive parents are some of the ways that HelpUsAdopt.org is a part of the social justice process, as defined above.

Adoption is an issue personally important to me. My little brother is adopted, and now I cannot imagine life without him. He’s four, and I love spending time with him. His sense of humor, his love of sports and superheroes, and his love of Harry Potter (my personal favorite) are some of his special characteristics but I still cannot explain what he means to me. Although my family was fortunate enough to be able to afford adoption, others are not, and it saddens me that they cannot experience the joy that I do simply because of financial obstacles.

HelpUsAdopt.org represents a way for these families to get something like what I have. And it represents a way to provide a better life for children in need. To date, HelpUsAdopt.org has helped 81 families adopt. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to work with an organization that makes such a difference in people’s lives.

If you would like to know more about HelpUsAdopt.org, please visit http://HelpUsAdopt.org/testimonials.html. Here are two more great articles about HelpUsAdopt.org: http://HelpUsAdopt.org/Word/People_Sept2011.pdf and http://edition.cnn.com/2011/US/05/19/cnnheroes.becky.fawcett/

Thanks for a Great Year!

The 2012-2013 Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship has come to a close. We wish this year’s fellows – Sara, Ari, Deborah, Sam A, Mirit, Dafna, Ariela, David, Sam S, and Allison – the best of luck on the next leg of their social change journeys! Please return here in the fall to celebrate the work and learning of next year’s fellows. In the meantime, below are some photos from our environmental justice tour of the South Bronx for your enjoyment. We spent a wonderful day hearing from local activists from The Point about their experience greening their community – and helped out on their urban farm.

To learn more about environmental justice issues in the South Bronx, visit The Point - a grassroots organization dedicated to youth development and the cultural and economic revitalization of Hunts Point. Sustainable South Bronx and Rocking the Boat are two other local powerhouses working to advance environmental justice while empowering young people to take a lead in their own community.

 

Participatory Budgeting

Ever wish YOU could decide how your tax dollars were spent? Increasingly, communities across the country are getting the chance to do just that through new “participatory budgeting” initiatives.

Improving communities on a hyper-local level, participatory budgeting efforts are usually spearheaded by a city-legislator to increase civic engagement and help self-direct community development. New York City residents in eight different council districts are able to vote on how their tax dollars should be put to use. This year, 13,000 New Yorkers have already used the opportunity to reinvigorate democracy through this hands-on budgetary process - so far, 45 winning projects have been awarded $9.4 million.

For more information, watch this new video from the Participatory Budgeting Project:

http://vimeo.com/65169312#

WHAT We Do and HOW We Do It

How do you build effective, innovative, and sustainable organizations? Our friend Nigel Savage, Executive Director of Hazon, outlines what he’s learned in the Jewish food justice organization’s first thirteen years. It may seem obvious, but he says the key to success is WHAT we do and HOW we do it.

I founded Hazon as someone who was – and still is – fundamentally an idealist. The word hazon means “vision,” and I continue to believe that vision counts for a great deal in changing the world for good. But as each year has gone by I have become steadily more interested in a wide range of organizational issues: a series of internal cultural attributes that have gradually become true of Hazon and that I believe account for some of our success, such as it is, these last thirteen years. As we continue to plan for the future sustainability of the organization, I have outlined a few factors that have helped Hazon advance organizationally.

His tips for other idealists hoping to maximize organizational impact:

  • Connect a large vision with incremental steps
  • Leverage key partnerships and relationships
  • Focus on systems
  • Deeply commit to iterative excellence
  • Engage in learning, of all sorts

What do you think? Do you know of other organizations that have developed best practices to connect their vision and internal operations?

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FTK – For The Kids

Every day is typically the same routine – wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, attend classes and meetings, eat lunch, go to work, do homework, eat dinner, shower and sleep. I find that we are so caught up in our own lives that we don’t necessarily stop to think of others or appreciate the small things in life until a traumatic event or school fundraiser occurs. This is exactly what I have been struggling with all year as I participate in the Fellowship in Social Justice Entrepreneurship, through which I’ve been interning at Kids in Distressed Situations, Inc. (K.I.D.S.) since September.

K.I.D.S. is a non-profit organization that distributes new brand-name products to children and families suffering from abuse, illness, natural disasters, and poverty. We offer partner agencies a 10:1 ratio of product for every dollar donated. This semester my main responsibility at K.I.D.S. involves grants—learning how to write letters of intent and apply for specific grants. I research foundations and the grants they offer, begin establishing a partnership with the foundation, and start working on the grant application process. The grants we receive support our cause and our programs. Since our founding in 1985, K.I.D.S. has donated almost $1 billion worth of new merchandise to 70 million children and families in need across the United States and abroad. This is an extraordinary accomplishment of which I am proud to be a part; however, our efforts and work just doesn’t seem like it’s enough.

According to a report by NPR, fifteen percent of the U.S. population, meaning 46.2 million individuals, live below the federal poverty line. How can I buy a new dress or a cupcake or see a Broadway show when there are millions of people who could use that money for basic necessities such as clothes, food, shelter, education, and baby products? How can I indulge in certain luxuries after I read thank you notes from children and families who received diapers or a new pair of shoes from K.I.D.S.?

To be honest, there’s no real answer. Living a life full of guilt is no life at all, but living a life full of appreciating what you have and helping those in need is a different story. Through my internship with K.I.D.S., I hear and read about stories of young kids who see families and children suffer in the news or in their local community. These kids have then turned to their parents and ask what they can do to help. Many have organized product drives and fundraisers. Others have asked their family and friends to make a donation to K.I.D.S. in honor of their birthday rather than giving them a present. I have been so inspired by these children and my work at K.I.D.S. that I have learned the question to ask is not, “How can I not feel guilty?” but rather “How can I get people involved in our cause?” Organize a fundraiser, hold a product drive, spread the word, or volunteer. Help us expand our partnerships with foundations and local agencies, and help us expand the communities we reach. Support our cause and make a difference in the lives of millions of individuals. After all, it’s for the kids.

In its 28 years, K.I.D.S. has provided nearly $1 billion  to 70 million children. For more information, visit our website at http://www.kidsdonations.org/. Follow @kidsdonations

Ending LGBTQ Youth Homelessness

Did you know that up to 40% of the homeless youth population is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender?

Our friend, Dr. Jama Shelton, outlines her vision for ending LGBTQ youth homelessness on The Huffington Post today. SPOILER ALERT: it involves organizing a national movement.

To learn more, head on over to Forty to None where Dr. Shelton serves as Executive Director. And, yes, it was started by that Cyndi Lauper.

Is the Way We’re Going About Tzedakah “Dead Wrong”?

A new TEDTalk, by activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta, has gone viral this week.

Activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta calls out the double standard that drives our broken relationship to charities. Too many nonprofits, he says, are rewarded for how little they spend — not for what they get done. Instead of equating frugality with morality, he asks us to start rewarding charities for their big goals and big accomplishments (even if that comes with big expenses). In this bold talk, he says: Let’s change the way we think about changing the world.

Everything the donating public has been taught about giving is dysfunctional, says AIDS Ride founder Dan Pallotta. He aims to transform the way society thinks about charity and giving and change.

Over at Tablet Magazine, Marjorie Ingall thinks it’s our culture of giving at a distance that needs to change. This approach to tzedakah is developed from a young age, she asserts in “Doing Mitzvah Projects Right.” Ingall calls on the Jewish community to encourage b’nai mitzvah to forgo meaningless fundraising “mitzvah projects” and really get their hands dirty. “Don’t just ask for donations at your bar or bat mitzvah,” she says. “Do some homework and find a cause with meaning.”

What do you think? Does the Jewish community need to reframe how we view tzedakah?

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Embracing My Intern Diva

Anyone who has ever interned knows that sometimes your day consists mostly of gruntwork – you might spend hours staring at spreadsheets or organizing files, yet you’re still expected to be overjoyed by the opportunity to spend time in the “big leagues.” Luckily for me, I’ve never experienced this in my current internship with Diva Communications. Not only do I get to learn from folks at the forefront of filmmaking for social justice, I’m treated like a bona fide staff-person, rather than just a lowly intern occupying a cubicle for a few months.

Thanks to The Jewish Theological Seminary’s Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship, I have been interning with Diva Communications since September. Diva is a one-of-a-kind, unorthodox, workaholic-natured multi-media company specializing in programming, production and post-production. The staff is dedicated to solving communication puzzles through the creative use of documentaries, news, corporate presentations and new media. They raise awareness of social issues otherwise not reported on in the mainstream media – often focusing on the intersectionality of justice-centered work and faith communities.

Diva Communications just released a documentary titled “Divine Prescription.” The film documents how people of faith can bring healing and wholeness to the lives of others through ministries of health care.  Though I missed the films debut while away on winter break, I returned to work  this semester to help promote the film’s airing on ABC network channels around the United States.

I love interning at Diva Communication because I feel as though I have the opportunity to learn something new every time I go into the office. For example, one Wednesday I was given a long list of local stations to call and ask when “Divine Prescription” would be aired – unfortunately, like many truth-tellers, our films are often relegated to the bottom of the TV schedule and air in the middle of the night. Though this task may sound like monotonous work, it certainly was not. I practiced my persuasive communication skills and learned how to advocate with a variety of different people, and was even able to get some stations to air the documentary earlier!

I am truly thankful for the time I have spent at Diva Communications thus far. It’s been incredible to see from the ground up how we can use media to raise awareness around various justice issues and build movements to address them, especially in faith communities. I look forward to continuing to learn and grow from the staff there.

What have your intern experiences been like? Leave us a comment below!

Want to learn how to leverage your creativity for the social good? Check out the Center for Artistic Activism and Paper Tiger TV, two NYC collectives that connect social activism and artistic practice. The Human Rights Watch Film Festival premiers international films on justice issues every summer. Also great is Kids Creative, an organization started by List College alum Adam Jacobs, that offers arts-based, peace education programs to students throughout the city.

Daring to Dream

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’ve had the conversation thousands of times, with family, with friends, classmates, mentors. But never before had I had the conversation with a group of men whose lives had not been as privileged as mine has, men who have been incarcerated, homeless, and hopeless at one point or another in their lives.

There were many firsts I have found myself encountering in my internship position at Times Square Ink of Midtown Community Court.

Times Square Ink is a job training and placement assistance program that “helps participants improve decision-making skills and identity how their actions, feelings, and thoughts affect their behavior in everyday life” with the goal of presenting them with comprehensive programming that will provide them the necessary tools to enter the workforce and provide for themselves and their families.

Every six weeks we welcome a new group of men into our program, to help them process their pasts, build social support, and develop the skills needed to re-enter society with strength and healing. During the first session of each cycle, the men are posed with this question: what did you want to be when you were a child? It is such a simple answer for me. My earliest memories have me announcing to anyone who would listen that one day I was going to be the Prime Minister of Israel. Not just any Prime Minister, I was going to be like Golda Meir. Even as a young child, I saw in her the ideal of a strong and admirable woman, a determined woman who was able to create change against all odds. These were traits that at I was unable to articulate at the time, but held a power over me that lasts to this day. Yet as I sat in class with these men, sharing my own childhood dream and listening to theirs, my childhood aspiration seemed naïve and grandiose.

Participant after participant have spoken about their boyhood dreams of becoming the neighborhood pimp or the biggest drug dealer in Bronx.  One man said that all his life he wanted to be like his uncle, the neighborhood pimp, while another man spoke of always wanting to be like his father, a car mechanic, until he died from a drug overdose. Each man has his own story, and in relation my goal seemed to be somewhat silly.

Times Square Ink has given me the opportunity to work with a sector of the community that I previously had very few, if any, interactions with. Each session brings out new stories, traumas, jokes, and opportunities to learn between the men and myself, all of which force me to understand the deep-rooted complexities of their current situations.  The time I have spent at the Court has given me a larger understanding of the complexities of homelessness, the criminal justice system, and experiences of trauma.

But more importantly, my work at Midtown Community court has given me an opportunity to explore the inequalities that exist within our own communities. My experiences have forced me to question the relationship between power and privilege and how these two factors effect the communities in which we live in. It is only by understanding the roots of these issues that we can question how to break this cycle of injustice. These solutions demand that we are innovative and attempt not the easy path but rather the alternative path, and I am fortunate to have been given an opportunity to learn daily from those working on the ground how this path is forged.

Interested in hearing how other Columbia students are grappling with the Criminal Justice system? Check out information about the Beyond Bars, Moving Forward Conference happening on April 5th and 6th and featuring activists Angela Davis, Marc Lamont Hill, and  Soffiyah Elijah!

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Welcome!

Welcome to JTS Changemakers, the home of the Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship (FJSE) at List College of The Jewish Theological Seminary. The FJSE is a year-long intensive designed to help students develop and strengthen the skills needed to become effective changemakers. We are a group of nine List College juniors and seniors working with leading social-change agencies throughout New York City. Through on-the-ground training and service we help tackle a range of issues such as environmentalism, education, hunger, criminal justice, Jewish service, and interfaith collaboration. As Fellows we also participate in a seminar designed to help cultivate connections between Judaism, activism, and professional achievements. Through reflection, peer learning, team building, and project planning, we are developing concrete ways to put our passion for Jewish social justice into action.