by Jonah Freelander
Mitzvah Corps Director of Strategic Partnerships & Development
Throughout and because of our history, Jews have fought and served on the front lines of justice, advocating for the rights of those who have little or no voice or access to resources, and influencing real change. For nearly 50 years, the URJ’s Mitzvah Corps partnered with local organizations around the globe who make a real difference in the lives of those they serve, and connect our youth with direct, meaningful action around the issues that matter most.
There is no such thing as a “typical” Mitzvah Corps teen. Some are already champions of social justice, some are interested in learning how to become stronger advocates for the things they care about, and others might be looking for a different way to spend their summer after years at the same camp with the same friends. What binds these geographically and cause-diverse groups together each summer is purpose; Their desire to come together and create, build, and change something in their world.
In 2014, Mitzvah Corps began a new partnership with the Seattle, WA branch of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC in Seattle provides support and resources to refugees from Syria, Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and many others. During the summer months, many children who rely on extra-curricular services provided through their local schools are left with voids in safe, engaging activities. Our goal was to create an experience that exposed our teens to the hardships and realities of refugee resettlement in this country, and to allow them to form relationships with the refugee population, humanizing an issue that continues to polarize. In the summer of 2015, Mitzvah Corps Pacific Northwest was created, launching a two-week summer camp for refugee children ages 6-12 in Tukwila, WA.
Since 2015, the IRC and Mitzvah Corps Pacific Northwest summer camp has engaged over 120 Jewish teens and 150 refugees in the greater Seattle area. As our work together continues to blossom, so have the needs of the local refugee community, leading to the creation of a second summer camp location in Kent, WA this past 2017 summer. The piece below, which aired on Q13 Fox in King County, WA, offers a brief glimpse into a day at our camp.