If We Build It, They Will Come: A Case for Developing the Field of Jewish Service Learning in Israel
Dyonna Ginsburg is the Director of Jewish Service Learning at the Jewish Agency. Previously, Dyonna served as the Executive Director of Bema’aglei Tzedek, an Israeli social change organization, and was a founder of Siach: An Environment and Social Justice Conversation, an international network of Jewish social justice and environmental professionals.
Currently, the field of Jewish service-learning in Israel is characterized by a handful of programs that target young North American Jews and that are officially recognized and funded by Repair the World, an organization founded in 2009 to “make service a defining part of American Jewish life.”1
Although these programs are known for their high educational standards, many have struggled to fill their ranks and reach financial sustainability. Alongside these accredited programs are others, often larger and better endowed programs that include some aspects of volunteerism, but have yet to adopt the more stringent Standards of Practice for Immersive Jewish Service-Learning Programs developed by Repair the World (Repair the World, 2011).
Many—myself included—believe that the time has come for a concerted effort to build the field of Jewish service-learning (JSL) in Israel—exploring ways of expanding the smaller, high-quality, service-learning programs; adding necessary depth and authenticity to the larger, volunteer-oriented ones; and identifying additional program areas that can appeal to core concerns of young Jews not addressed by existing program offerings. To Full Post
I was a 10th grader living in New York when Rabin was assassinated. I was already a budding activist, strongly connected to Israel and my local Jewish community. I remember that evening well – experiencing the sinking feeling when rumors spread that the killer was “one of our own”, calling an Israeli teacher at my school in a futile attempt to achieve clarity, reciting Tehillim (psalms), the traditional Jewish response to crisis.
I have always loved Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), the underdog of Jewish holidays.
Few Israelis mark this day, viewing it as sector-specific and pointing to the fact that some of the most public expressions of Yom Yerushalayim assume distinct political undertones. I, however, have always found great meaning in Yom Yerushalayim – enjoying a festive meal with friends, singing Hallel in shul, attending the annual memorial ceremony at Har Herzl for the 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who died walking from Ethiopia to Sudan on the way to the Promised Land, fondly referred to as “Jerusalem” by members of the Ethiopian Jewish community – and, therefore, find it unfortunate that many of my fellow Israelis are unwilling to put aside political differences to celebrate our capital city and all that it stands for.
Where does this feeling for Yom Yerushalayim come from?
Having grown up in a place where people curse the rain and where children sing “rain, rain, go away,” I never cease to marvel at the way native Israelis delight in the rain and truly bless its arrival. The joy Israelis feel for rain is as ancient as the Torah itself – “For the land, which you go to possess, is not as the land of Egypt, from where you came, where you sowed your seed, and watered the land with your foot, as a garden of herbs; but the land, which you go to possess, is a land of hills and valleys, and you shall drink water as the rain of heaven comes down.” Unlike the land of Egypt, where the Nile provides an abundance of water, the land of Israel is often beleaguered by drought and water is a precious resource that cannot be taken for granted.