(Cross-posted from the RAC Blog.)
As if I needed another reason to love Amy Poehler. But here she is, spotlighting the intersection of activism and relationship-building, a topic very dear to my heart. Poehler was honored recently for her work with the Worldwide Orphans Foundation and, among other things, spoke about the power of “meeting like-minded people who become your travelers in life.” She goes on to express her realization that “I want to be around people who do things. I don’t want to be around people any more who judge, or talk, or talk about what people do. I want to be around people who dream and support and do things.” I consider myself very lucky to spend a great deal of time around exactly these fellow travelers, and especially to be a part of building those communities through my work with AVODAH’s service corps and our new AVODAH Fellowship, starting this year in NYC.
Who we spend our time with impacts the conversations we have, the questions we are asked, the activities we pursue. Like Poehler, I want to be around people who are my teachers and partners, people whose dedication puts up a good fight against the skepticism and inertia that may sometimes feel inevitable but are certainly not useful to the world or to the life I want to live. These are the people with whom I can share my struggles and both seek and offer support. That doesn’t mean we don’t also talk about TV and maybe even gossip — it means there is space to be my full self, with shallowness, depth, pain and celebration all mixed together. And, as Poehler so rightly points to, it is no coincidence that these people are the ones I consider partners in the larger movement for justice. One AVODAH friend likes to call us co-conspirators, and at our best, it’s true – these are the people I dream with, work with, build with.
However, it isn’t enough for us to invest in these spaces just to feel happier and more fulfilled. Ultimately, Poehler arrives at the essential issue of privilege and “currency” and what we do with it when we have it. When she speaks of children who do not have any support or resources, she poses the question: “Who are we to be in this room and to be living this life without helping them?” It is so easy to not ask that question of ourselves. And it is also easy to do a little bit and then let ourselves off the hook. And that’s why I need people whose examples inspire me to try harder and who hold me accountable, difficult as that work may be. As one corps member put it in her end-of-year remarks to her cohort, “All at the same time I hated you for making me challenge the beliefs and assumptions that I have held my entire life… and I loved you for making me feel safe enough to do so.” When I think back to my AVODAH year, I remember conversations that opened up new ways of thinking about gender, consumption, gentrification, power and privilege. And I remember then meeting the rest of the AVODAH alumni community and starting to see myself as part of a movement of young Jews asking these questions and working towards change.
At AVODAH, we want to make sure that as many people as possible are having the meaningful interactions that Amy Poehler says she had to wait until her 40’s to find. The AVODAH Fellowship will provide a space where that can happen more easily and more often. Early-career professionals working to fight poverty will come together to deepen their skills and learn from leaders in the field, ultimately becoming more effective in their work for change. And best of all, AVODAH Fellows will build these essential relationships, with the people who will travel down this path together.
To request an application for the AVODAH Fellowship, visit http://www.avodah.net/fellowship/. Application deadline is November 12th.
Sarra Alpert is the New York Director of AVODAH and was an AVODAH corps member in New York City from 2002-2003.