When Jon Cohen was in college a decade ago studying biology and chemistry with plans for medical school, he knew he wanted to make a difference in the world beyond the Florida State University campus in Tallahassee.
So he and some friends decided to launch a community project teaching science to children from low-income households living nearby. Every Friday, they’d conduct experiments with the kids designed to spark excitement and curiosity about the world around them in a way that would leave an impact on them beyond school.
The idea of service was something Cohen had grown up with in his more affluent Miami suburb, and he wanted to take some time off between college and medical school to devote to it. When, as a college senior, Cohen saw an email about a Jewish service fellowship with Repair the World, he applied.
“I was really interested in seeing what justice-minded Judaism was like,” Cohen recalls.
His family didn’t practice Judaism framed through the lens of morals and values, he said, but rather through rituals like Sabbath observances and attending synagogue. He didn’t go to a Jewish day school or summer camp, he didn’t know Hebrew, and when his parents divorced, they stopped observing Shabbat, leaving Cohen with few pathways for Jewish connection.
When Cohen started his fellowship in New York for Repair the World, he realized he had found a different model for Jewish action — one that felt more meaningful. Cohen worked with Digital Girl, an organization that teaches computer coding to kids of all genders in underfunded schools in neighborhoods like Chinatown, Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York where many people live in poverty.
Cohen is one of over 230 people who have “served” full-time through Repair the World’s fellowship. Another 740 have completed Repair’s service corps, a three-month, part-time Jewish service learning program for young adults. Since 2009, Repair has partnered with approximately 2,880 service organizations, resulting in over 516,000 acts of service and learning. The goal is to reach 1 million by 2026.
This kind of Jewish engagement is indicative of a sea change in the Jewish communal world: Service is now an integral part of American Jewish life and a meaningful form of Jewish expression, especially for younger adults. Service projects increasingly are how American Jews put their faith into practice and find purpose through humanitarian acts.
“Younger generations are deeply passionate about making the world a better place and improving their communities,” said Robb Lippitt, chair of Repair the World’s board of directors. “Connecting this passion to their Jewish values is something that Repair does really well.”
The organization sends Jewish young adults to serve both with Jewish and non-Jewish organizations addressing needs such as food, housing, and other local needs. Repair the World’s activities are structured with an eye toward making them meaningful Jewish experiences.
“Everything we do is done through both a Jewish and a social impact lens,” said Cindy Greenberg, Repair’s president and CEO. “In addition to hands-on service, we look at the issue area at hand and ask: Why is my service needed? What are the underlying societal challenges impacting this issue and how might it be healed? And what does Jewish wisdom have to say about these challenges and our obligation to repair the world?”
Greenberg said expanding the Jewish service movement will lead to a flourishing Jewish community and strengthen society generally.
Repair the World was founded 13 years ago to make service a defining element of Jewish life. Since then, studies have shown that Jewish young adults increasingly express their Jewish identity by caring for the vulnerable.
“Over 13 years, Repair the World has been the driving force of the Jewish service movement, ensuring that these experiences are grounded in serious Jewish learning,” said Barry Finestone, president and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation, one of Repair’s funders. “Repairs organizational partnerships, fellowship programs, and proven best practices define the movement today — and enable so many to find purpose in Jewish life while creating change.”
While most of those who serve with Repair — about three quarters — are Jewish, much of the impact is in non-Jewish communities. About eight years ago, for example, the organization began partnering with St. John’s Bread and Life, a faith-based emergency food provider in Brooklyn that operates a food pantry, serves hot meals and hosts a mobile kitchen.
St. John’s serves approximately 1,000 hot meals a day, according to Sister Marie Sorenson, the chaplain there. The current Repair the World fellow serving with St. John’s has continued volunteer outreach, ensuring that unhoused and food-insecure individuals and families in the neighborhood have their nutritional needs met with compassion and respect. Repair also has organized volunteers to give thousands of toiletries, personal hygiene kits, baby wipes, diapers and baby formula to clients of St. John’s.
“Because we are both faith-based service organizations, we have really connected well with each other,” Sorenson said.
This commitment to food justice is connected to Repair’s service impact nationwide. Repair has mobilized volunteers to donate 200,000 pounds of food and prepared or served more than 100,000 meals to people in need throughout the country.
In the partnership with St. John’s, the Christian participants tend to be locals who have extra time or are retirees, whereas the Repair volunteers are “young people who value service, who value giving back to the community,” Sorenson noted.
Repair is funded by a wide array of supporters, including Jewish federations across the country, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. Repair’s expansive pandemic response, Serve the Moment, drew funding from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and the Jewish Communal Response and Impact Fund, known as JCRIF.
Repair has also invested significantly in partnerships with other Jewish organizations to maximize reach and impact.
“The power of Repair’s model is the opportunity it provides for young adult volunteers to learn from and work in deep partnership with the communities they are serving — while engaging in Jewish life and learning,” said Lisa Eisen, Repair’s founding board chair and co-president of Schusterman Family Philanthropies. “We saw this so clearly through the pandemic, when Repair mobilized tens of thousands of young Jews to support people in need while also providing an avenue for them to stay connected to each other and Jewish community.”
Eric Fingerhut, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, described service programs as a gateway to greater Jewish involvement. “We believe service is a powerful tool for expanding engagement in Jewish life across the system,” Fingerhut said.
Lippitt, Repair’s board chair, noted that Repair’s service work is especially important given the divisions in the country right now.
“It’s a vitally important bridge-building experience with our neighbors in these divided times,” he said. “The benefits that come at this moment in American history of getting out in the community and serving alongside people who may not see the world as you do are just immense for the community and for society.”
Many of the young Jews who work with Repair the World come from cohorts that traditional Jewish organizations have struggled to reach. In the most recent data collected by the organization, Repair found that between 19 and 25% of participants identify as having a disability; 25% of participants and 44% of corps members identify as non-white; and 75% of fellows, 42% of corps members, and 22% of participants identify as LGBTQ.
After Jon Cohen finished his yearlong fellowship with Repair, he went to medical school as planned, but he soon realized it wasn’t the path he wanted. When an opportunity came up to join Repair’s staff in Miami, he jumped at the opportunity, staying for three years. He now is the director of community mobilization at Keshet, the Jewish LGBTQ+ rights organization, and serves on Repair’s board of directors.
“Service has always been something that was important to me but never existed through Judaism until I did the fellowship,” Cohen said of his experience. “It was groundbreaking for me to learn about tikkun olam and all of my Jewish values. It was such an educational experience, and now I feel so proudly and passionately Jewish because of the foundation Repair the World gave me.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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