Urban Mitzvah Corps

Against the backdrop of the safe and culturally rich environment of Rutgers University, Urban Mitzvah Corps (UMC) offers exciting social justice opportunities in and around New Brunswick, NJ. UMC provides participants with an authentic opportunity to explore their Jewish identities through the lens of social justice and engagement with new communities.

Take advantage of our longstanding relationships with local organizations through volunteer efforts and intense hands-on learning. Each participant will have the opportunity to select which volunteer experience best suites their interests, in areas of focus such as engaging in food and economic justice, making a difference in the lives of people with mental and physical disabilities, the underprivileged, and the elderly. Evenings are devoted to strengthening the community and deepening the program's connection to Jewish values through social and educational learning.

Issue Focus: Community Empowerment

For more than 40 years, Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey has connected Jewish teens with opportunities to serve alongside incredible organizations and community leaders making a real difference in the lives of individuals throughout the greater New Brunswick area.

Today we maintain strong relationships with our three core partners. Throughout the course of the summer, participants will have the chance to select two of the following issues to focus on, and corresponding organizations to work with:

  • Care for the Elderly. Our partnership with Regency Jewish Heritage gives Mitzvah Corps participants the ability to connect with the incredible stories and narratives of our older Jewish community members, and maintain the strong legacy of l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. With a collective goal to enrich the lives entrusted to Regency, participants engage the residents in various activities, infusing joy and energy into their daily routine.
  • Food Justice. Founded with the intention of sharing not only our own food with others, but the tools for people to feed themselves, Elijah’s Promise provides both direct meal service, and culinary skills training to those in need of work experience and employment. Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey participants have the chance to work alongside these individuals as they harvest, prepare, and serve, and gain a comprehensive understanding of the holistic approach that Elijah’s Promise takes toward food justice.
  • At-Risk Youth. The City of New Brunswick offers a fully subsidized summer program for children from low-income households who would otherwise lack direction, and sustenance, while school is out for the summer. Mitzvah Corps New Jersey participants have the opportunity to be junior counselors at PLAY SAFE (Summer Activities For Everyone), engaging these children in a variety of activities like swimming, sports, music, reading, and dance, making an indelible impact on their summers and lives.

Social Justice

We have built long-lasting relationships with the following sites based on their demonstrated success in providing authentic hands-on, meaningful experiences that allow participants to see the direct effects that their dedication have on the community. Participants will have the opportunity select two of the sites to work with during each summer:

  • Elijah's Promise fights to end hunger through promoting good food for all, providing education and job training for the food industry, and creating social enterprise food businesses that help build a better world.
  • Regency Heritage Nursing strives to enrich the lives of the elderly, and provides a variety of social, medical, and educational programs for its residents to create an environment of compassionate care.
  • Play SAFE is a fully subsidized summer day camp for children from New Brunswick, and provides them with not only a variety of fun daily activities, but also nutritious meals, throughout the summer free of charge.

Communal Living 

Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey participants are housed together in a sorority house next to the Rutgers University campus, where together they will:

  • Share in the responsibility of maintaining a healthy and clean living environment
  • Learn to cook and prepare daily meals for the entire group
  • Have access to acres of outdoor space at Rutgers University
  • Explore Jewish life on campus

Vibrant Daily Life

When not at their job sites, preparing meals, or engaging in meaningful learning, participants have access to a wide range of activities accessible throughout New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and plenty of time is given to building community and relationships each summer. Typical activities include:

  • Taking in a baseball game
  • Visit to the local county fair
  • Watching the sunrise on the beach
  • Spending a day at the lake
  • Participating in the annual Kite Festival

Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey operates on a regular schedule, with participants spending each weekday at their worksites, with afternoons to relax or cook dinner, and evenings to engage in learning or explore activities around New Brunswick. Over the course of the program, a routine becomes well established, and participants are given the independence to create their own schedules within the framework of the program at large. Below is a sample of a typical day at UMC.

7:30am - Wake up! Use the kitchen in the house to make breakfast and pack a lunch.

8:30am - Depart for volunteer site (either walking or being driven by a staff member): Elijah's Promise, Camp Daisy, Regency Heritage, or Elijah's Promise.

9:00am - Spend the majority of the day immersed in volunteering. Build meaningful relationships with the community, and engage with them for an extended period of time. Each Mitzvah Corps participants has the opportunity to work with two sites, for two weeks each. Lunch is eaten on site.

3:30pm - Return to the house.

4:00pm - Free time. Relax around the house, do laundry, plan some programs, or enjoy the New Brunswick community and head into town for a snack. Participant groups rotate through the responsibility of cooking dinner, and this time is spent preparing the meal.

6:00pm - Dinner as a group.

7:30pm - Evening activities. A Jewish prayer experience, meeting with a local leader or member of the clergy, interactive group program, field trip, social activity, or combination! This is the time to delve into the issues that are addressed during the day at the worksites, and develop a new skill set and perspective. Its also time to build strong friendships with fellow UMC participants!

10:00pm - Evening ritual. Time to conclude the day, and prepare for tomorrow.

11:30pm - Lights out!

How will teens get to and from New Jersey?Participants who do not live within driving distance of New Brunswick, New Jersey should plan to either fly or take the train to Newark International Airport (EWR), where they will be greeted by Mitzvah Corps staff and accompanied back to the program. Detailed instructions on booking travel will be provided upon registration. Travel to and from New Jersey is not included in the program tuition.

What if a participant needs to travel as an unaccompanied minor?Domestic carriers have varying regulations regarding unaccompanied minors (read specific policies and fees of major domestic carriers Southwest, United, Delta, American, and JetBlue). Please refer to the protocol of the chosen airline, and notify Mitzvah Corps in advance of the program so that we can provide the contact information for the staff member who will greet the teen upon their arrival, and coordinate a smooth travel experience.

Are vaccinations required for participation on Mitzvah Corps?The Union for Reform Judaism requires that all camp and travel program participants, staff and faculty must be immunized. Medical exemptions are granted in rare cases; please contact us regarding any potential exemptions prior to registration. For more information, please refer to the URJ Policy Statement on Vaccine Status.

What are the physical requirements for participation on this program?Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey (UMC) requires light physical activity (walking/jogging with kids, spending long periods of time standing, etc). While, as with all Mitzvah Corps programs, participants are expected to be independent and not require one-on-one supervision, this program does not have any specific physical requirements. Currently, UMC is not ADA compliant.

Will participants receive documentation of community service?Yes! Upon completion, participants will receive documentation for 160 hours of community service. Please note that this number is inclusive of all social justice community engagement; participants who are looking to document specific, traditional direct service hours should contact Mitzvah Corps in advance with any questions.

What are the housing accommodations like in New Jersey?Participants and staff reside in the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority house next to Rutgers University's New Brunswick campus during the program. This three-story house is air conditioned, and includes an industrial kitchen, smaller kitchenette, large dining room, and common room space, as well as numerous bedrooms that sleep from 2-8 participants, and bathrooms on each floor. Bed linens and pillows are provided, and there are laundry facilities available for use free of charge.

What kind of clothing should participants pack for Mitzvah Corps?Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey participants should pack clothes that are informal, comfortable, and allow them the ability to be physically active; this includes close-toed shoes. They will spend time both in air conditioned indoor locations, as well as in the outdoor heat and humidity. Many of the volunteering locations involve moving around, playing games, cooking, and more! Additionally, each participant should also bring at least one "nice/professional" outfit for Shabbat at a local congregation, or meetings with legislative professionals.

The Phi Sigma Sigma house is air conditioned, so participants can dress comfortably while at home. Bedding is provided, but participants should bring their own toiletries and personal items. Laundry facilities are available for use, free of charge.

How will laundry get done?The house has several washing machines and dryers that are available to the participants free of charge, and laundry detergent is provided.

Do teens need spending money?The tuition covers all meals, trips and special programs. Some families may wish to send extra money with their teen to cover laundry, meals or snacks eaten at non-meal times, gifts purchased while on trips, and other discretionary items. Anywhere from $30 to $40 per week should be sufficient. The participants will be responsible for their own money. There are ATM machines on campus.

Are visitors permitted at Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey?Yes, we do permit visitors at specific, pre-determined times, and the information is available prior to each summer. In order to take a teen off site, any non parent or guardian visitors must be 21 years or older, and a parent must have pre-designated that person as being allowed to do so. If a participant’s family wishes to take their teen offsite at any other time, they must get approval in advance from an Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey Program Leader, in consultation with the Mitzvah Corps Directors.

How does Mitzvah Corps handle teens who become ill or injured?The participants’ health and safety is our primary concern during the summer. In all instances where the health of a teen is in question, parents/guardians will be contacted.

The Mitzvah Corps staff are First Aid/AED and CPR certified, and will carry a variety of supplies and over-the-counter medications at all times; parents/guardians have the option to give permission for the staff to administer these medications while completing the health history forms.

If a teen needs medical attention beyond what can be provided by the staff, or there in event of an emergency, the group always has access to quality professional care.

Do teens have to be affiliated with NFTY-GER to participate in Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey?No! Though UMC's history is rooted in NFTY-GER (the North American Federation of Temple Youth's Garden Empire Region, or Reform Jewish youth group in the New Jersey area), we are very excited to be a part of the international suite of Mitzvah Corps programs. We have found over the years, that having participants from across North America only brings new perspectives and a broader outlook to the participants.

How do meals work?We keep a fully stocked kitchen with plenty of options for meals and snacks. There are cold breakfast options available to the participants each morning, and each teens is responsible for preparing and packing themselves a bagged lunch to each on their job site during the day.  Dinners are eaten as hot meals together as a community, and prepared by the professional kitchen staff at the house.

"It’s already clear that this is one of the most rewarding programs we’ll ever be a part of. The kids we work with have grown up in a completely different way than we have, and getting to know them has made us realize the privilege we’ve had our entire lives." – Abby, TX

"Urban Mitzvah Corps has changed my life by showing me the profound impact service can have on our communities." Josh, NJ

"The residents at Regency [Heritage Nursing Home] feel a connection to us, just as people all over New Brunswick have felt connections to Mitzvah Corps participants every summer for the past 47 years. Mitzvah Corps is about that personal connection. It's not just about helping people, but about getting to know them."Adam, NJ

At A Glance

Dates: TBA
Length: 29 days
Issue Focus: Community Empowerment
Community Service Hours: 160
Cost: TBA
Mitzvah Corps is open to all rising 10th - graduating 12th graders.