Category Archives: New York

Reflecting on the AVODAH Fellowship

By Shana Bloom

rsz_bloomThe AVODAH Fellowship created a fundamental “paradigm shift” in the ways I relate to and understand myself within the context of a Jewish social justice community. It has also  impacted my professional life by deepening my understanding of and ability to contextualize social justice and Judaism within my day to day work.

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How the AVODAH Fellowship Surprised Me

By Sarra Alpert

IMG-0729-002When we first started to envision AVODAH’s expansion through the Fellowship, I was certainly excited by the idea that more people would have the opportunity to experience the kind of justice-driven, intentional, challenging-yet-supportive, creatively Jewishly engaged, critically thinking community that we’ve continued to build and grow in AVODAH. But to be totally honest, I also have to admit that knowing the Service Corps program so well and believing so deeply in its impact, it was hard for me to picture how exactly we were going to transfer the power and depth of such an immersive experience into a format that would be so much more diffuse.

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17 Ways You Might Be An AVODAHnik

1. World cuisines regularly appear on your Shabbat menu.


2. Every time there are leftovers at an event the organizer tries to give them to you because they think you need the food.


3. You’ve had a house meeting just to plan another house meeting (scheduling is difficult as we keep ourselves quite busy!)

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4. NYC: When you know of at least five Shabbat minyans every Friday (and at least three are in Brooklyn).


5. Kale is the only vegetable/food product consistently stocked in your fridge.

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6. NYC: In a city of 8 million people, you still manage to wind up on the same train as a fellow AVODAHnik.


7. A free membership to the JCC means equal parts exercising and schmoozing.

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8. “Who’s going to tweet that?” is a legitimate concern.

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9. Chicago: The only time you’ve left the house in months is to go to work because you’re too scared of freezing.


10. DC/NOLA: When you have a snow day and there is only 1 inch of snow on the ground.


11. Chicago: You have deep dish pizza for program dinners.


12. NOLA: You regularly overhear observant Jews discussing oysters and crawfish boils.


13. NOLA: You spend your Mardi Gras parading with dancing Rabbis (yes, he really is a Rabbi, and yes this really did happen).


14. DC: When the federal government closes but you still have work.

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15. When you have a discussion about how many avocados to buy weekly.

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16. You’ve been truly concerned about alarming the neighbors with uproarious Shabbat singing.


17. You want to slow down time because you love these people!



What I’ve Learned

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.
Elana Gordon

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Communal Self: Love Your Boundaries and Beyond

By Amanda Hoffman

10189552085_eddf4f00cb_mHave you ever been punched in the stomach by twenty people in the space of twenty seconds? Simply said, this metaphor sometimes serves to describe my experience of living in New York City.

I love people. This love may contribute to the daily affront I feel, as I try to keep my eyes and awareness open to the teeming throngs, that I might access individuality among the effluvium. When this effort is thwarted, I suffocate in the muteness of averted eye-contact and cannot claw out of the clear film sucked to my skin that separates me utterly from others, hand heart and breath. I take another leap at connection, and do find a groove of air that supports me and, somehow, another. Connection occurs when I speak bravely, when I trust my voice and thoughts to make meaning, to invite care, and carry each other.

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Building Communities that are More than “Fair”

By Jenn Pollan

jenn pollanI make it a point to try to remember to kiss my roommate Kira on the forehead every morning before I leave for work. Though Kira and I both work for projects run by the Center for Court Innovation, her commute to the Crown Heights Mediation Center is around 20 minutes, while my commute to the utterly inaccessible Red Hook Community Justice Center takes me almost an hour. Every morning at around 8:00 AM, I tiptoe around the mounds of clothes and shoes that cover the small double room we share, trying not to wake a peaceful, sleeping Kira, who will not stumble out of bed for at least another half hour. Unfortunately for Kira, quiet exits aren’t my forte and she almost always wakes up. When we inevitably make eye contact, I open my mouth to utter an apology for once again waking her up, but she always just smiles and mumbles some version of “go get em girl” or “have a great day Jenn.” Recently, we decided it would be cool if we both held up three fingers, a symbol borrowed from one of our favorite movies, The Hunger Games, indicating respect and love (yes we do on some level realize this is quite weird). Despite the fact that we live quite literally on top of each other, lacking storage space, amenities, and any semblance of privacy, Kira and I have built a mini home together brimming with love and support.

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Refusing Medicaid Expansion: Leaving the Poorest Behind

By Emily Unger

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A few months ago, I was having Shabbat lunch at a friend’s house, and the topic of health reform came up.  Some of the other guests were opposed to the Affordable Care Act, arguing that costs would go down more in a competitive, free-market system.  As I defended the expansion of health insurance, one of the guests who had been arguing against it stopped me.  “Maybe it’s just my ignorance,” he said, “but why aren’t all these low-income uninsured people covered under Medicaid already?”

Many people know of Medicaid as a health insurance program for the poor, but few people realize just how poor you had to be, before the Affordable Care Act, to qualify.  In New York State, a single, childless adult had to make less than $750 per month in order to qualify for Medicaid — just 78% of the federal poverty line, and rarely enough to even pay rent in New York City.  Elderly and disabled people, and parents of minor children, were permitted a slightly higher income, but still well below the poverty line.

Yet in the rest of the country, the state of affairs was even worse.  Nationwide, the average Medicaid eligibility level was an unbelievably low 47% of the federal poverty line — for those who were even eligible to be covered at all.  In many states, only parents, children, and elderly or disabled people were permitted to enroll in Medicaid, meaning that childless adults could have no income, live in abject poverty, and still not be eligible for public health insurance.

The Affordable Care Act revolutionized health insurance in America by putting into practice the not-so-radical idea that everyone, regardless of income or family status, should have access to health care.  While most media attention has focused on the insurance exchanges and new regulations placed on the insurance industry, the changes to Medicaid have largely slipped under the radar.  Yet, for low-income Americans, the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act is life-changing. While before, even those well below the federal poverty line might not have been eligible for Medicaid, now anyone up to 138% of the federal poverty line who isn’t already covered by Medicare should be eligible for Medicaid.

The operative word, of course, is “should.”  For although the Affordable Care Act raises the Medicaid eligibility level to 138% of the federal poverty line, the Supreme Court ruled that states have the option to ignore this part of the law and keep their Medicaid programs at the pre-ACA levels.  So far, 25 states are choosing to do exactly that.  Although these state governments, generally led by Republicans, claim budgetary concerns for not expanding Medicaid coverage, the federal government would actually pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years, and 90% of the cost after that.  In reality, the state governments that are refusing to expand Medicaid are doing so out of a desire to stop the Affordable Care Act at every turn, no matter how much its programs might benefit the state’s residents.

These states’ refusal to expand their Medicaid program will leave over eight million poor Americans without public health insurance.  Even more perversely, these people will not only be ineligible for Medicaid — they’ll also be ineligible to buy subsidized plans on the health insurance exchanges.  The Affordable Care Act makes no provision for government subsidies for people below 138% of the federal poverty line to buy insurance on the exchanges, because it was written with the expectation that those people would be covered by Medicaid.  Thus, for these people living under or barely over the federal poverty line, the only option available to them will be full-price private health insurance — insurance that could easily cost more than their entire monthly income.  This means that millions of people will continue to have no health care coverage of any kind.

These numbers — percentages of the federal poverty line, millions of people — may sound abstract.  Yet every day in my job, I see that when clients can barely pay for rent, food, and utilities, basic health care becomes an unaffordable luxury.  These clients often have backlogs of unpaid medical bills worth many times their monthly income, or need surgery but can’t pay for it, or haven’t seen a dentist in years.  For them, Medicaid is often their only salvation — the only way they can see their doctor, the only thing standing between them and mountains of debt.

Being forced to decide between food, rent, and health care has a real impact.  Before the Affordable Care Act, according to a Harvard Medical School study, about 45,000 people died every year due to a lack of health insurance coverage.  This coming year, as over 3.3 million people have already signed up for private insurance on the exchanges and over 6.3 million people have been determined newly eligible for Medicaid, many of these tragic deaths will hopefully be prevented.  Luckily for my clients, they live in a state where they can rely on having health care, even if they are struggling to make ends meet.  Yet in half the states in our country, some of these most vulnerable people will still be left behind.

Emily Unger is a current AVODAH corps member in New York City.  She works as a paralegal in the Evelyn Frank Legal Resources Program at the New York Legal Assistance Group.