As our 2013-2014 program year draws to a close, we reached out to some of our corps members and Fellows and asked them to share what they’re taking away from the experience.
Although the world is a big place, all people have the same needs. Each and every human being deserves to be treated with care and respect. Everyone you meet has something to teach; it is a gift to be able to share your knowledge with them. and in return have them trust you enough to share their stories with you. Social justice has become a foundation to my Judaism and to my Jewish practice. We are called on to care for our neighbors and I have been able to find spirituality in connecting with and helping clients from all over the world.
By Julia Spiegel
“I don’t care. That’s not the question I asked you. Please answer the question that I asked you,” my client’s attorney aggressively requested. The statement doubled in intensity when the translator repeated it in Spanish. I am a legal advocate at Apna Ghar, Inc., an agency that serves immigrant survivors of domestic violence and I was accompanying my client to a consultation with a family law attorney for an order of protection and representation. Shocked and a little awed by the lawyer’s harsh method of asking questions and obtaining answers, I imprinted this moment in my memory.
By Michal David
Michal spoke about her experience with AVODAH at the Chicago Partners in Justice event honoring Steven H. Cohen, Rabbi Shoshanah Conover, and Julie Chizewer Weill. Her remarks follow below.
My name is Michal David and I am from Sunnyvale, California. My AVODAH placement is at Heartland Human Care Services, where I work as a housing case manager in a permanent supportive housing program for individuals who have previously experienced homelessness and have a disability.
I remember a meeting soon after I arrived in Chicago with my supervisor, my program manager, and one of my participants in one of the large meeting rooms in our office. This participant was fairly new to our program. In the two years prior to entering our program, he had experienced the foreclosure of his home, ended his relationship with his partner of over a decade, and been diagnosed with a highly advanced stage of HIV. This particular meeting stands out for me because my participant was quite upset throughout the course of the meeting—he was visibly agitated, his voice was elevated and he was adamantly expressing his frustration about how his rent for his unit had been calculated. As I observed the exchange between my participant and my program supervisor and manager, two things were particularly striking to me. The first was the level of compassion and understanding with which my supervisors listened and responded to the concerns of my participant. This unwavering commitment to respectfully engaging with participants, no matter their demeanor or concerns, has continuously impressed me about my colleagues at Heartland.
By Benjamin Altshuler
With preparations for Passover underway at this time of year, my thoughts turn to the elements that underpin community. During our AVODAH house meetings these last few weeks, one topic has been of primary focus. This subject is found at the centerpiece of Passover Seders, as well as other Jewish holidays, and the festivals of every faith and community. I am referring to food, of course.
Not everyone has a direct path to the Jewish Social Justice world – some people end up there through a simple twist of fate. Julie Chizewer Weill’s story is a perfect example of how the right moment of connection can lead to a career fighting for social change. As the outgoing chair of AVODAH Chicago’s Advisory Council, Julie brings a wealth of experience and strong roots in the Jewish community to serve as a leader within our network. She has a deep sense of what it means to be an effective changemaker, and draws on that knowledge to advance AVODAH’s mission in the Chicagoland area.
By Michal David
Sitting on my client’s couch, I am nearly brought to tears as I listen to him share his experience of visiting the Social Security Office. He tells me about sitting in the office for hours, about watching other more “official” looking people pass him in line, and about being treated “like a criminal” by the staff at the office. As a housing case manager at Heartland Alliance, the leading anti-poverty organization in the Midwest, I am often witness to such instances of institutional discrimination. I am painfully aware of the difference in responses that my clients and I receive rom landlords when calling to inquire about an available apartment and of the stigma that my clients feel when they go to seek care at a clinic that is predominantly for HIV/AIDS positive patients. In the face of such everyday injustices, I often find myself feeling overwhelmed by the idea of seriously affecting change.