Blog  How Mitzvah Corps Ignited my Flame

How Mitzvah Corps Ignited my Flame

Barb Taubes just completed her junior year of high school. She was a participant on the Urban Mitzvah Corps program in New Jersey during the 2017 summer and was elected by her peers to return for the 2018 summer to serve in a leadership role called the Student Coordinator.

Since entering high school, I’ve tried to remain as active as possible in Jewish life. As a Freshman, I joined my local Temple Youth Group (TYG) board and soon after, began attending regional NFTY events in the Garden Empire Region (GER). I was drawn to NFTY both because of how caring and open the community was, and because it gave me the opportunity to strengthen my Jewish identity alongside my peers. As a sophomore, I applied to be on NFTY-GER’s cabinet and volunteered to lead group sessions and programs at events. I even read some Torah at NFTY-GER’s fall event! Later, I spoke with some seniors who encouraged me to take the next step in my leadership journey and sign up for Urban Mitzvah Corps (UMC) that summer. I was really drawn to the idea of living with my NFTY friends and spending an entire month serving and enriching the lives of those in the community. When I came home and told my Mom that I wanted to participate in UMC last summer, she was thrilled for me.

My family situation is unique. My mother raises three daughters by herself while working multiple jobs to support and provide for us. My 16-year-old sister Alexis has autism and my other sister Claudia was adopted when she was two weeks old. Since my mom works so much, I have a lot of responsibility when it comes to taking care of our home and our family. Unfortunately, after looking at the cost of the summer, we realized that without significant support, all bets were off. Over the course of a few months, I worked closely with a wide support system to try and make my UMC dream a reality, and because of the generosity of so many, I received significant scholarship and my dream came true.

Being given the opportunity to join UMC gave me the chance to touch so many lives, build new incredible relationships and exposed me to things I could never have imagined. I learned the importance of hard work, teamwork and communication. I learned what it meant to build and support a community, through thick and thin. I gained skills and built relationships that will last a lifetime.

UMC provided me with so many opportunities to enhance my leadership and program development skills. I had never created a program for my peers, partly because I’ve never been drawn to public speaking, and I was nervous to try. My roommate and new friend, Mia, challenged me to get over my fears, find a topic that I was passionate about, and write a program about it. I did just that – I chose to create a program about autism inclusion because I’ve watched over the years as my sister has been excluded from opportunities and even ignored by people because of her autism. The process of developing this program, and gaining support from my peers, taught me to have more confidence in myself. It even made me realize how much I love talking about social action and challenging others to make a change in the world.

Every UMC program has an elected student coordinator who is chosen by their fellow UMC participants to go back the next summer and lead in recruitment, fundraising and programming efforts. At first, I was a bit hesitant to run for this position, mostly because of the time commitment and my ability to balance it with everything I need to do at home. A good friend of mine from NFTY and UMC, Brooke, helped me realize if there is something you want in life, you have to go for it. In the past, she has seen me be a wallflower and not go for things I want even though I was very qualified, but this time, she convinced me to believe in myself and run for the position. With the support of Brooke, and others on my trip, I was elected to be student coordinator! Brooke’s advice has stuck with me beyond my time at UMC and has helped me gain the confidence necessary to conquer other fears and hesitations, as well as pass on the gift that was given to me in being able to recruit the next cohort of UMC teens who will change the world.

My experience with UMC also inspired me to run for the position of Social Action Vice President in NFTY-GER – and I won! This position has allowed me to do even more inclusion work in the region and beyond. I even led a walkout at my school in support of gun violence prevention.

UMC ignited the flame in me to work on tikkun olam and change the world we live in, and it wouldn’t have happened without the support and generosity of those who contribute to the UMC scholarship fund, helping to make not only my dreams, but the dreams of so many, a reality.