The Jewish Real World

After graduating from Brandeis, I joined AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps which proved to be one of the best experiences of my life.  I moved into a house on the border of Carroll Gardens and Red Hook at the end of August.  I vividly remember sitting in the cab with my sister.  She was doing what she does best, giving me a pep talk.  We walked into the house and two of my roommates were already there and speaking with the then program director.  We took a quick tour.  My sister was immediately put off by the blessing hanging outside the bathroom door.  I couldn’t imagine what I got myself into and I couldn’t believe my luck as more of my future roommates, there were nine of us in total had opportunity to go grocery shopping for the first time together and begin to set up our community.

Our house had three levels, it really was a building with three railroad style apartments.  There were enough rooms for all of us and because of the railroad nature everyone either had to walk through someone’s room or have someone walk through their room to get to the hallway.  Our first task was to figure out who would get which room.  We assigned each room a letter and then would draw numbers which would decide who got to pick first.  I always thought what would come next would be emblematic of the entire experience.  I was the ninth pick.  I still got my first choice room.

As AVODAHniks we all worked in non-profit agencies throughout New York City serving low-income populations.  In order to understand our clients lifestyle, we lived in voluntary poverty.  Receiving a monthly metro pass from our employers, we needed to determine how to spend our minimal income.  On Monday evenings we met at the AVODAH office and had programs based upon our interests that included Jewish content, social justice and social change issues, and always a dinner.  Wednesday nights were either house meetings, community meetings, mandatory fun nights, or something else I can’t seem to remember after all these years.

At my house we had Shabbat dinner every week.  The work wheel assigned who would be taking care of the meal and together we created the most incredible, festive, song-filled evenings I ever experienced.  We built a Sukkah in the rain, we cleaned the entire house for Pesach, and we laughed a lot.  We also brought one another comfort after September 11th changed our world, and the closeness we felt with one another, though now we hardly ever see or hear from one another, is very special. There are so many hilarious stories, so many fun memories and I am grateful that I got the expeirence.

Now, among the 16 of us there are teachers, social workers, attorneys, non-profit managers, rabbis, partners and children, too.

AVODAH now has programs for recent college graduates in New York, Washington, Chicago, and New Orleans.  As a partnership in the 4th year in 2001 I am now part of a growing alumni network.  If you know someone who is graduating from university and is interested in participating in Jewish life and social justice and perhaps not entirely sure how, I strongly recommend you send them in the direction of AVODAH.  I promise they will always thank you.

About rabbisteinman

I am a rabbi living in North America. I was ordained from HUC-JIR. This is my blog.
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1 Response to The Jewish Real World

  1. Mollie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your AVODAH memories. Anyone out there interested in applying, we’re now accepting applications on a rolling basis, so go ahead and fill one out!
    – Mollie
    AVODAH Alum 2008-2009
    Recruitment and Communications Coordinator

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