“Helping out…for heaven’s sake” is the motto of the Va'ad Gemilut Hasadim: Susan and Jack Rudin Center for Community Outreach. By facilitating opportunities for volunteerism and community service, the Va’ad helps JTS students, faculty, and staff fulfill the mitzvot of tzedakah and tikkun ‘olam.
The Va’ad provides diverse opportunities to do good in the world, from partnering with local organizations that feed the hungry and shelter homeless men to visiting Jewish senior citizens to helping the campus become more environmentally friendly, and much more.
At a nearby elementary school, JTS students read with children every week for the entire school year, modeling a love of learning and a comfort with reading. Here at JTS, an undergraduate wanted to increase knowledge of autism-spectrum disorder in the Jewish community. With the help of the Va’ad, that desire resulted in the spring 2008 Conference on Autism Awareness and Inclusion in the Jewish Community, a weeklong educational program to prepare future cantors, rabbis, educators, and lay leaders to build more aware and inclusive Jewish communities and institutions.
The conference highlights two fundamental aspects of the Va’ad’s mission, according to Tani Schwartz, JTS coordinator of community outreach. “We love it when a program is initiated by a student. The conference was well-attended and reached a lot of the JTS population,” Tani says.
“But it goes farther than that. What’s special about JTS is that the student population is made up of future Jewish leaders. Future rabbis, cantors, educators, lay leaders—they’re here for a few years, and then they go off to affect and create other communities. Our goal is to teach them to replicate this kind of programming, so they can create social-action projects after they’ve graduated from JTS. What we do here creates a ripple effect and touches many other communities around the country and the rest of the world.”
One new project for this year is an expansion of an existing program to help feed the hungry. Volunteers already bring leftover food from the JTS Dining Hall to the Broadway Community, Inc. (BCI) soup kitchen, the famed “four-star soup kitchen” featured in the New York Times and on CBS, and they also help prepare and serve meals for the soup kitchen’s clientele. “After Chancellor Eisen and Dr. Burt Visotzky initiated a relationship with the 96th Street Mosque, we thought a good way to strengthen that bond would be to do something together,” Tani notes. “Not just talking, but getting to know each other through action and good deeds. On July 9, we had our first shift at the soup kitchen volunteering with congregants from the mosque. It was a success, and we’re planning to offer other joint volunteer opportunities with them throughout the year. It’s another way to do good deeds and educate at the same time.” The next joint JTS–96th Street Mosque volunteer shift at the BCI soup kitchen is on August 13, and of course all members of the JTS community are invited to pitch in.
For more information about the Va’ad or to get involved in volunteering or creating new volunteer opportunities, get in touch at email@example.com or (212) 678-8916, or visit the Va’ad office at Unterberg 212.
JTS community members working with Muslims and Christians to feed hungry New Yorkers.
The Va'ad Gemilut Hasadim: Susan and Jack Rudin Center for Community Outreach organizes a variety of both one-time and ongoing volunteer opportunities, special programming, and fundraising activities, including the Annual Tzedakah Campaign. Some highlights of this past year are: