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Meet Jess and Sophie: Jewish Do-Gooders of the Week

Want to nominate your amazing Jewish friend to be featured on GatherDC? Send his/her name, brief blurb, and contact info to info@gatherdc.org.

Sophie and Jess are Do-Gooders. In their spare time, they do things like volunteer at local soup kitchens, give back to Jewish non-profit organizations, and plan community-wide days of service. Get to know these two mensches as we chat about french fries, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and giving back.

From left: Jess Sher and Sophie Buslik

Allie: Describe each other in one word.

Jess: Radiant, giving off good, positive vibes. Sorry, that’s more than one word!

Sophie: Dedicated, driven.

Allie: Where does your passion for volunteering come from?

Jess: Volunteering – whether serving on a board or helping with a one time event – was really important in my household growing up. Learning this from my grandparents and parents is what led me into the social action world.  Community service is for others, but it also feels really good to make small changes and small positive impacts.

So, when I moved to DC, I started volunteering for The Jewish Federation and ADL (the Anti-Defamation League). I also enjoy volunteering at places like N Street Village, or helping build homes where you can get your hands dirty and know that you’re making someone’s home a happy place.

Sophie: I love being a part of making our community better and engaging other people to do that. When I started working after college, I felt like I had a lot of free time outside of work so I started volunteering with my company (Booz Allen Hamilton) at places like SOME and Miriam’s KitchenLater on, my husband (then boyfriend) introduced me to Federation, and I wound up getting involved with the volunteer aspects of the organization. I love the idea that even if you don’t have money to give, you can give in other ways to help those who can’t help themselves.

Allie: I hear that you’re volunteering to make Good Deeds Day happen this year. Tell me about that!

Sophie: Good Deeds Day (which is Sunday, April 29) is DC-area’s day to give back, and is part of the global day of service where millions around the world volunteer to help their community.

Allie: What Good Deeds Day service project should our GatherDC readers sign up for?

Jess: I’d say the project with N Street Village, to prepare/serve meals to homeless and low-income women. There’s also an opportunity to make meals for those facing homelessness at DC Central Kitchen.

Sophie: There’s a service project specifically for young adults to help out at Covenant House, which provides resources to homeless, disconnected, and exploited youth.

Allie: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Sophie: “Be where your feet are.”

Jess: I really like that! So important to be present, be in the moment.

Allie: If you could have dinner with any celebrity, who would it be?

Jess: Taylor Kitsch, but only if he came as his character Tim Riggins from “Friday Night Lights”.

Sophie: JTT. Jonathan Taylor Thomas circa 1997.

Allie: If you could eat only 3 things for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Jess: My mom’s challah. Summer strawberries. Chicago Giordano’s deep dish pizza.

Sophie: Crabs. French fries. I really only have two.

Allie: Who is the biggest Do-Gooder you know?

Sophie: Jose Andres – I always see him giving back locally and around the world. I love how he uses his work and passion for food to help others.

Jess: My parents. They give a lot of their time, talents, and treasures to make an impact in St. Petersburg, FL (where I grew up). I’d be lucky if I could make just part of the impact that they’ve made.

Allie: Complete the sentence: When Jews of DC Gather…

Sophie/Jess: They Do Good!

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Do Good this Chanukah and Winter Season: Ways to Give Back

Know of more opportunities to help out in DC this season?  Or looking to organize a group to do service together? E-mail RGildiner@gatherdc.org. 

images-2In this season of Chanukah, winter cheer, and rededicating ourselves to what we care most about, here are some ways to consider giving back to those who could use some warmth, kindness, and extra blessings in their own lives:

Coats for Kids:  Help provide new winter coats to more than 6,500 children from (30) thirty local charities and community organizations in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. 

Volunteer on Christmas Day:   NOVA Tribe Series is working with The Holiday Project this year and visiting patients at the Washington Hospital Center in DC. We will sing songs, pass out presents, and visit with patients.

D25: Join the DCJCC Day of Service on Christmas Day. Projects range from 2-4 hours in length and include serving meals, preparing food for the homeless, visiting seniors, painting and throwing Christmas parties.

Donate Blood and Give the Gift of Life:  There is always a need for blood and platelet donations, but there is an increase during the holiday season.  Find the closest donation site to give or to volunteer your time.

JScreen: JScreen at Emory University is a public health initiative dedicated to preventing Jewish genetic diseases through carrier screening.

MLK DayAs the DC Commission on National and Community Service and the Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism, Serve DC commemorates the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service each year by supporting and promoting service and civic engagement across the city.

House of Ruth:  Make a financial contribution to help end homelessness and life-long abuse.

Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse:  Help support victims of domestic abuse to become empowered and obtain safe environments. 

Eat and Party!:  Check out these culinary organizations and benefit parties that do good in their community:

Sunflower Bakery: They prepare individuals with developmental or other cognitive disabilities for employment in baking and related industries through skilled, on-the-job training.

Falafel Frenzy: Proceeds of the event will go to support hunger action programs, local Holocaust survivors living below the poverty line and many other community programs through the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Know of more opportunities to help out in DC this season?  Or looking to organize a group to do service together? E-mail RGildiner@gatherdc.org. 

AJWS DC Action Team Launch Party

ajws_logo_large15 years ago, I took a chance by using my summer break to travel with American Jewish World Service (AJWS) to the developing world. I only knew about AJWS because the then-new President, Ruth Messinger, was a prominent New York City politician that I greatly respected and I was curious about this organization with which she was involved, but had no idea that it would inspire such passion in global social justice in me.

I ended up spending 7 weeks working side-by-side with community-based organizations on projects that helped build infrastructure and economic sustainability. For 5 weeks in Zimbabwe, I helped the local rural community we lived with construct a dam and reservoir to preserve their water supply during the frequent droughts. While performing this physically laborious work, we also managed to conduct a cultural exchange program, sharing sports, song and dance, and to document the stories of the community members in an area where AIDS was diminishing the population rapidly. Then, for 2 weeks in Israel, we had day projects with various different communities, ranging from Ethiopian children to Druze teenagers and even Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

When I returned, I was determined to stay involved with the organization, as I credited the experience with sparking my own interest in social justice. Over time, I have followed the development of a partnership with AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, engaged the DC community through involvement in its DC City Team, spoke out for food justice as part of its Reverse Hunger campaign at Global Hunger Shabbats, and joined the organization for a White House Community Leaders Briefing Day with the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable. Additionally, I have listed to Ruth Messinger herself and recipients of AJWS grants when they have spoken at local synagogues and community centers about the work of the organization.

While AJWS no longer offers volunteer service programs like the one in which I participated, there are now amazing opportunities to get involved in social justice changemaking with AJWS in DC through its strong advocacy and campaigns and organizing departments. The We Believe campaign has action opportunities to promote passage the International Violence Against Women Act and the International Human Rights Defense Act, and to urge the appointment a special envoy on Global LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights. This campaign calls on the U.S. government to stop violence against women and girls, to stop hate crimes against LGBT people, and to empower girls to end child marriage, in order to help improve the lives of people in the developing world. And you too can be part of this changemaking by joining me and other members of the DC Action Team at our launch party on October 1st!

Timed to fall between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, this party is an open invitation to our local community to attend a party to celebrate both the Jewish New Year of 5775 and our new team. Ruth Messinger will discuss our work and ways for you to take action here in D.C. to advance justice around the world. Nikki Mawanda, an AJWS grantee from Uganda who advocates for transgender rights, will talk about the grassroots activism AJWS supports that is creating lasting change for the most marginalized people. And members of our team will address opportunities for direct involvement in international human rights advocacy!

So, if you are at all interested in enjoying some food and drinks and meeting others in the area who share this passion for international human rights and believe in taking action on its behalf, please join us at the 5th & K Busboys and Poets between 6pm and 8pm on Wednesday, October 1st!

If you would like to RSVP or have any questions, please contact Mike Salamon at either 202-379-4265 or msalamon@ajws.org.

 

Jews United for Justice’s Community Meeting is this Sunday

jufj new color_logoMy deepest connection to the Jewish tradition is through its rich history of involvement in social justice causes. I have found a community of like minded people in Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), a group that organizes progressive Jews in the D.C. area to work on local issues of social and economic justice.

This Sunday, January 26th, I’m attending Jews United for Justice’s Community Meeting—a sort of family reunion, introduction to the organization, and activist training all rolled into one. Community meetings provide a great introduction to JUFJ. There will be plenty of time to meet people, get a sense of what JUFJ is all about and plug into campaigns. Also, if you are interested in learning more about the upcoming elections in D.C., this will be a great opportunity to do so.

JUFJ gives me a chance to learn more about a city I only recently moved to, engage with it on a deeper level, and take action to make the conditions here accord more with my values. If this sounds meaningful to you, then you should definitely come to the community meeting on Sunday.

Thankful for Ethiopia: A Foreign Lens on an American Holiday

I have always thought of Thanksgiving as an American holiday with a Jewish theme. Eating and giving thanks is what we Jews do best, proven by the fact that many years after graduating from Jewish day school, I can still recite the blessing of Grace after Meals by heart, without giving it a second thought. “Hakarat Hatov,” literally translated as “recognizing the good,” and usually interpreted as “giving thanks where thanks is due,” is a concept that is prevalent in the Jewish tradition. The Rabbis tell us to thank God for every little thing we have and do, a list that ranges from waking up to going to sleep and everything in between. Whether or not you are the kind of Jew who says or thinks the words of gratitude daily, we are all happy to celebrate a holiday to remind us to appreciate what we have, and gives us an excuse to eat pumpkin pie.

Every year, at my family’s Thanksgiving table, I make a foolish attempt to get my family to play the “I am thankful for…” game. As everyone else in the family becomes immediately and intentionally distracted by everything but the game, I am left thinking about my own sentimental answers: my supportive friends and family, my job, my apartment (and my roommates!), my Jewish community, etc. I never forget to voice how thankful I am for my Mother’s delicious cooking.

This year, my answers and perspective are slightly different than they have been for the last 20 or so years. For example, this year I am also thankful for every pencil I have ever laid my hands on. Why? Because I recently returned from a service trip to Ethiopia with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).  If anyone can teach you about what it means to be thankful, it would be an impoverished Ethiopian child whose face lights up just because you gave him something as simple as a pencil.

While in Ethiopia, I listened to a first-hand account of the history of JDC’S involvement in transporting Ethiopia’s Jews to Israel on massive airlifts during Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991). Committed to the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, JDC continues to engage in long-term humanitarian efforts for the poorest Ethiopians. I was privileged to contribute to their projects of construction of a rural school and medical treatment for children. I also learned about other JDC projects, including scholarships for university and nursing degrees, water well construction to provide rural villages with potable water, and life-saving heart and spinal surgeries, and treatments for curable forms of cancer. This was truly a life-changing and unforgettable opportunity.

So, some other things included on my “I am thankful for…” list this year:

  1. Thankful that…I can drink water from the tap. It may taste nasty before it runs through a Brita filter, but it doesn’t contain parasites and bacteria that make me ill. I don’t have to walk for miles to get to the water, and carry a heavy water-filled jerry can back home, only to get sick from drinking it later on. I watched some women in Ethiopia do all this with babies on their backs, at a certain stream near a village in Gondar (see picture!). I am thankful that, within the next year, JDC will build a water well in that same area, to make clean and safe water accessible to the villagers.
  2. Thankful for…living in a city where my higher education is encouraged. We met with JDC scholarship recipients, all female, most of who were the first in their family to attend university, some of who were considered rebellious because most women do not attend university in Ethiopia.
  3. Thankful for…the lack of parasites in my body. Ethiopians are chronically infected with worms, which can negatively affect health, nutrition, and cognitive development. We spent a day at a school, deworming over 150 children, many of whom had never swallowed a pill before in their lives. We then went on to distribute school supplies to those children, which were donated back in the United States, hence the excitement associated with the pencil.
  4. Thankful for…my straight back. “Zokef Kefufim,” the daily prayer said to thank God for “straightening those who are bent,” takes on a whole new meaning after spending a few days with a doctor who has made this his life’s mission. A Jewish man originally from the United States, Dr. Rick Hodes has lived in Ethiopia for over 20 years, treating patients with spine disease, as well as cardiac disease and cancer. He fundraises to save the lives of children who require surgery but cannot afford to pay for the procedure. I was privileged to meet some of his patients at a Shabbat meal at Dr. Hodes’s house. Some of his patients live in his house, while he adopts others to send them to the United States to receive a proper education. All of his patients have been inspired by him, and some have even claimed that they would like to be medical doctors when they grow up. The HBO documentary “Making the Crooked Straight” delves into Dr. Hodes’s work in Ethiopia, and the miraculous encounters of his everyday life.
  5. Thankful that…I can bring the experience home. The group of young professionals that I traveled with to Ethiopia is currently fundraising for spine surgery for three of the children who we met at Dr. Hodes’s house. If you are in the position to give, please click here to donate and learn about his patients.

Amisagenalo (thank you) and happy Thanksgiving!