As a Jewish teenager growing up in New York City, there are few opportunities to do physical community service. Sure, i've spent hours at nursing homes and tutoring centers, but I wanted to do something that would use my physical strength and energy to help people, after all, i'm young and willing to help. I signed up because I wasn't in the mood to sit and chat with someone, I wanted to work. When I arrived in Tucson, Arizona with the 20 other people on my program, I really got the best of both worlds. We worked at a transitional housing shelter for homeless veterans. Our physical labor involved fixing up living quarters and storage sheds for the veterans. We worked with the veterans, and the work was like occupational therapy for the veterans. While we were there, we got one of the veterans to go to college, another in touch with his family, and a third moved into his own apartment. It was a life changing experience to do the work and watch these veterans get back on their feet. I am normally not the type of person who writes a lot about anything, but even three months after it was over, I am still talking about it. I would recommend this program to anyone who is physically capable of manual labor.
Last summer, I spent the summer working with AJSS in Tucson, Arizona, and I must say that it changed my life. I learned a lot about the people that we were working for and about Jews from all over the country. Never have I had such a meaningful experience. I took pride in my work, and came to a new understanding of the country.
AJSS changed my life when I was 16 and participated in a summer work project with the organization in Madisonville, Kentucky. I worked hard, helped others, learned about America, and had a remarkable social experience. Weekends with the group included camping and trips to St. Louis and Nashville. And never did I wear my Judaism so proudly. It is difficult to overstate how profound an experience it was for a Jewish urban teenager such as myself.
AJSS was and continues to be instrumental in shaping my identity, both as a Jew and as a responsible citizen. When I was 17, I joined other Jewish teens in Escanaba, Michigan where we worked building homes with Bay de Noc Habitat for Humanity. Although we came from a range of backgrounds, we came together that summer to form a vibrant Jewish community that truly made a difference in our lives and in the lives of those we served. I grew up secular, without exposure to Jewish youth groups or Jewish camps. AJSS was one of the first positive Jewishly-oriented experiences of my life. Ten years later, I returned to AJSS as the Assistant Director on a trip to San Juan, Texas. There we worked with Proyecto Azteca, a non-profit organization building affordable housing for low-income families. I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude towards AJSS for helping me realize my goals in the field of Jewish Education, and for being an experience that combines the best elements of Jewish camping with Tikkun Olam, the service work at the heart of the Jewish value system. Now in my first year of Rabbinical School, I am proud to say that I hope to make AJSS a part of my life for many summers to come.
I was a volunteer in Jeanerette, LA, with 12 other teens and we built houses for low income families. AJSS is a great organization and for 60 years has been giving teenagers the chance to put their Jewish values into action by serving others.