From Houston to White Plains: The Travelling Social Justice Coach

My Beginnings With J-Teen Leadership

Me and teens from J-Teen working on rebuilding project in Houston, TX.

My work began with J-Teen Leadership when I staffed a trip to Houston, TX to help communities affected by Hurricane Harvey. The activities and personal accounts evoked action and urgency, enriched the communities that we visited and ensured continued support for disaster relief projects.  This trip inspired me to continue working with J-Teen Leadership and learn more about the organization.

 

J-Teen: Service projects planned and led by teens

J-Teen Leadership connects Jewish teens to the Jewish community through acts of service, philanthropy, advocacy, and listening and sharing personal narratives. The members of J-Teen make up the Leadership Circle. As members of the Leadership Circle, the teens take initiative in planning and leading events and volunteer with organizations that align with their interests. They also arrange and attend skills development training  and Jewish learning sessions.  They encourage other teens to join the Leadership Circle and promote and participate in service trips. Once teens join the Leadership Circle, they  become part of one of the four committees which spread light on social justice issues within Westchester County. These committees are Local projects, Advocacy, Membership and Philanthropy. 

 

The Northern Leadership Circle

Social Justice Coach

My position at J-Teen is the Social Justice Coach. I work with Leadership Circle members on the Advocacy Committee each week to plan meetings, discuss the social justice issues they want to focus on and actions to take to achieve the intentions set for the year. For the Southern Westchester Circle, for example, the Advocacy Committee plans to focus on climate change and homelessness.

Some of the Jewish values relating to these social justice issues are Protect animals Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim, Protect nature Sh’mirat Ha-teva, Honor humanity K’vod HaB’riot,  Learn from everyone Lomed M’kol Adam,  and Act with loving kindness G’milut Chasadim. During the next meeting with the Northern Westchester Circle, we will discuss the social justice issues they want to focus on and compile a list of Jewish values relating to them.

As Social Justice Coach, I also reach out to youth, environmental, and Jewish organizations and local government agencies to further promote interfaith work to enhance the state of affairs in Westchester County. My first goal is to connect Jewish organizations around the environment and environmental issues through service, advocacy and education. My second goal is to connect Westchester County organizations and the communities they serve by advocating, educating and volunteering in the environmental field. 

 

Memorial piece at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Learning about Interfaith Support of the Jewish Community

The weekend of October 26, 2017 was the commemoration of the Pittsburgh shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue. People of all faiths participated in #ShowUpForShabbat to support the American Jewish Community and speak against hatred and antisemitism.  J-Teen not only #ShowedUpForShabbat, but also went to Pittsburgh for the Tree of Life Synagogue memorial ceremony, learned about the interfaith support for the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and volunteered with a Jewish organization.

The Imam and some of the brothers of the Islamic Center in Pittsburgh told me and the J-Teen group about the fundraiser, Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue that provided monetary and physical support for the Jewish community in Pittsburgh. Members of the Calvary Episcopal Church opened their doors and hearts to the Jewish community and provided a space to host Shabbat services and convene as a spiritual community. 

 

Me and a teen from J-Teen preparing garden beds for winter

Interfaith Collaboration around the Environment 

Next on our trip was volunteering with Repair the World, where I met Nate, a current fellow with Repair the World. Nate is Christian and decided to work at Repair the World because of its focus on community, the incorporation of Jewish values and small scale impacts. He is learning about the Jewish community while helping the local community.

One of his assignments is to volunteer at the local garden. At this local garden, the teens and I helped to prepare the garden beds for the winter season and learned more about each other and the community of Pittsburgh. This is just one example of how the Jewish values of Community Kehillah, Justice and charity Tzedakah, Be inclusive Lifnei Aver, and Repair the world Tikkun Olam encourage people of different faiths to collaborate with each other around social justice and the environment. 

As the Social Justice Coach at J-Teen Leadership, it is my goal to model this on a larger scale with the youth, environmental, and Jewish organizations and local government agencies of Westchester County. The next step is meeting with members of these organizations and asking them how they will contribute to this effort. The questions for these interviews will focus on the organization’s values, its contribution to the county, and its potential role in interfaith work around the environment.

About kadijahspence

Gardening is my specialty and I love doing it. writing about it and learning about it. As a result of this, I focus on where our food come from and how we can plant and get locally-sourced foods. My goal is to work on food and environmental justice issues.