With a budding partnership already under way, two groups are planning to redefine the role of service in American Jewish life.
In January 2011, Repair the World, a national organization devoted to promoting service among Jewish communities, teamed up with Penn Hillel as part of a broader mission to engage Jewish college students in sustainable and meaningful service projects.
This semester, many new initiatives and programs of the partnership will kick off, including student-run initiatives and educational sessions.
Last spring, Repair and Hillel awarded three fellowships that include financial, technical and managerial support to student-run initiatives. The fourth fellowship was added this semester, according to Debbie Yunker, Penn Hillel’s assistant director for Leadership Development and Operations.
Repair and Hillel hope students will create initiatives that will develop into permanent service programs at Penn. These students applied for fellowships last May and some have been planning their initiatives since as early as last semester.
Repair hopes to cultivate a “hub for campus-based service,” said Jon Rosenberg, chief executive officer and 1988 College graduate.
Rosenberg believes a period of intensive service should become a “rite of passage” for Jewish young adults, and that the college time frame is by nature a “strategically important time in which to work [with students] because behaviors fostered now can last into the rest of their lives.”
“We want service to get so deeply embedded in the Hillel community that it becomes a part of the organization’s DNA,” he said.
College junior Alexis Mayer, who is one of this year’s fellows, is planning an event for the weekend of Mar. 17, held in conjunction with a national initiative called “Sharsheret Pink Shabbat.”
The event is geared toward raising awareness of the various risks of breast cancer and educating the Penn community about the resources available for affected women and their families, Mayer said.
To increase awareness in the Penn community, Mayer plans to distribute “fact and figure” sheets around Hillel, sell pink-colored challah — a traditional braided bread commonly eaten during Jewish holidays — on Locust Walk and invite a breast cancer survivor to share her story.
Mayer added that for Ashkenazi Jews, the genetic descendants of particular medieval Jewish communities in Germany and who make up a large percentage of the Jewish individuals on campus, the likelihood of contracting breast cancer is “nearly 70 percent more likely.”
“We want students and community members also to be aware of their genetic history,” she said.
Another student fellow, College sophomore Shayna Golkow, has launched a high school mentoring initiative called ATID. The program’s goal is to establish one-on-one relationships with juniors at University City High School. Volunteers will provide standardized test preparation and assist students with applying and selecting colleges and future careers, Golkow said.
“Hopefully these students who don’t always have someone helping them out anywhere else will benefit from having mentors on their side,” she added.
Currently, ATID has ten pairings, and ten more are in the process of being matched.
Other initiatives such as a family cooking workshop in West Philadelphia and a program that sends volunteers to a local emergency daycare and to a group home for pregnant teenage girls are still in their developmental stages.
“Ideally, all initiatives are ongoing,” said Greta Deerson, Penn’s Repair coordinator. The early start-up stage of Hillel’s relationship with Repair should serve as “an incubator for new ideas,” she said.
Penn Hillel is one of only seven campus partnerships with Repair. The organization also established partnerships at university Hillel communities at Tufts and Cornell Universities, the Universities of Maryland and Washington and the Universities of California Berkeley and Los Angeles.