by Jonah Freelander
Director of Strategic Partnerships & Development, Mitzvah Corps
Like many Jews, I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking a lot about this last year and the one to come, considering areas where I could make improvements in character and action. The High Holy Days offer us an incredible opportunity to make a small yet impactful change, but some of our resolutions fizzle over time, because, well, life. We have our routines, our habits, our priorities, and many of the things we want to change are deeply ingrained in our lives, and taking action requires so many nuanced adjustments that we become overwhelmed, or complacent, and lose our spark. Faced with such a challenge, spending these hours in temple, alongside my fellow repentant Jews, reconnects me to the community that grounds me. The strength of a community should be used to support the changes we each choose to strive for. We are, in fact, stronger together.
This high holiday season has run parallel to a particularly volatile presidential election. I watched the first two presidential debates, and like many others, was entertained but unsatisfied, and a bit fearful of the emergence of such a divisive rhetoric. I wanted to do something that helped me reaffirm, not undermine, the power that exists when people come together, so instead of watching the third debate, I went to a concert. Halfway through the show, the singer acknowledged that those in attendance had all made an important choice, one that allowed us to create and foster community, not watch from the sideline as a chasm was widened within one. The 500 or so in attendance were once strangers, but had come together to celebrate life and one another. We were a community of strength, united through choice.
Teens who have spent their summer with Mitzvah Corps understand the power of how choice can lead to positive change. They’ve chosen to spend [part of their] summer away from home, friends, comforts, in order to gain exposure to those whose choices in this world are limited, at best. It’s that choice which creates a new bond with a child whose family fled their native land as refugees. It’s that choice that provides a forum to engage in an elevated conversation with those leading the ongoing fight for racial equality in this country. It’s that choice which enables a teen to understand that their role in creating change must be active, not passive. It’s that choice that helps a young person develop empathy, a necessary tool in one’s attempt to understand the complexity of issues facing global communities.
For the 2017 summer, we’re offering more opportunities than ever before for teens to come together, form new communities, and enact real change. If you, or a teen you know, is up for the challenge, we’re ready for you. The world is ready for you. This is hard yet necessary work, and this year we’re going to do it together. Take a chance. Choose Mitzvah Corps in 2017.
** New for summer 2017 **
** Chicago, Cuba, Ecuador & The Galapagos, Italy and Tanzania **
For a list of all 2017 locations, dates and rate visit us at www.mitzvahcorps.org/programs.