Avodah is structured so that only individuals with privileged backgrounds can succeed in their position. It is basically set up as a year for recent college grads to feel good about themselves while they continue to take money from their parents. For those who participate for different reasons and don't have a safety net, they cannot live off the stipend and keep up with the house social scene leading to burn out due to the onerous work, high demands, poor social support, and no financial pay off. Worse it's represented as something it's not. I'm three years out and still look back at the experience as a waste of time and a poor use of my skills.
AVODAH is by far the most ableist and financial inaccessible "volunteer" experience I've ever had. I had to resign from my position early fpr health related reasons, and the organization promptly kicked me out of my house with two weeks until my next lease started, one day notice (against DC tenant law) and nowhere to go. This was against the expressed wishes of my fellow corps members (whose needs, I think, should be the organization's top priority) and while still mandating that I pay rent for the next three months (after working for a year under the minimum wage and while struggling to cover medical expenses). I am both shocked and disappointed that AVODAH-- as an organization that prizes itself being equitable and social justice oriented -- has no clause in its contract acknowledging mental/ physical disabilities as potential barriers to completion of serve. Throughout my departure process, I was made to feel like my situation was in some way my fault, and was made to compensate AVODAH financially for making a decision that my doctor recommended. I find it hard to fathom that I am now in debt to an organization which I was working for in a stipended position, after leaving for a health issue that I already hold much shame in. As one of the few corp members without the buffer of family support to fall back on, I was constantly made to feel like I was asking for special privileges for not being able to manage the 60+ hours of commitment per week that AVODAH expects from it's corp members (with site placements, programming, house meetings, mandatory community activities, etc), while balancing outside responsibilities that none of the other corps members had. No wonder the organization primarily attracts volunteers from certain socio-economic and familial backgrounds! I loved my corps members and respect my program director and her intentions, but feel strongly that the structure of the program is completely inaccessible to folks who don't identify with certain brands of Judaism and/ or have needs that fall outside the "norm". I therefore couldn't in good faith recommend it to anyone strongly committed to grassroots social justice work.
As a AVODAH corps member, I spent a year living in a communal house and working in a local nonprofit. The AVODAH program and staff were very supportive around the communal living stuff and work stuff, did not push me Jewishly as much as I had hoped.
Through AVODAH I had an incredible year working with low-income seniors in New York City. I was part social worker, part pharmacist, and part advocate on behalf of hundreds of Medicare beneficiaries, and my work during AVODAH led me to attend law school. In addition to being the spark that I hope will develop into a rewarding public interest legal career, I made some incredible friends throughout the year - people who have supported me through tough times and celebrated with me in the good times.
A truly meaningful, life-changing experience. I became more aware of the world I live in while also learning about myself. I met amazing people and connected to a community that inspires and accomplishes incredible things.
AVODAH is amazing! It provides young Jews with an opportunity to expand their Jewish sense of identity at time when we are unstable with who we are and where we stand in the world. An instant community of Jews and like minded individuals are basically served to us on a golden platter, as well as real world experience serving people and communities that are important to us.
My experience with Avodah has been transformative. It has changed my vision of the world and how Judaism and social justice are important in my own life.
Housing Unlimited, Inc. (HUI) is fortunate to have an Avodah participant-- Joshua Neirman-- work full-time this year with HUI. Josh has been an outstanding addition to our staff-- he cares deeply about our mission (HUI provides affordable housing to low income adults with psychiatric disabilities), he is very kind and respectful towards the people we serve, and he is a true team player-- happy to chip in with the large and small tasks that must be completed to keep HUI up and running. The Avodah supervisory staff is very organized and communicate regularly and clearly with HUI to ensure everything is going smoothly.
I have been receiving AVODAH volunteers to help run our legal clinic for seven years. They have been outstanding workers and friends. The quality of people AVODAH gets each year to donate their time to helping the poor with our and other organizations is incredible. AVODAH not only instills a strong sense of Jewish tradition and values in its members, it provides crucial services to this country's poor.
The reason for my ongoing involvement with Avodah is because my participation in this program has helped to amplify multiple songs in my soul and set them into powerful harmony. The song of Jewish community and intentional relationships. The song of social action. The song of taking up the fight against injustice. And the song of doing what’s right, of doing what’s human. I sing these songs loudly now, and with others who know the tune, the words, … the meaning.