J-Serve Re-Imagined

April 29, 2021 — JHV article By JUDY BLUESTEIN-LEVIN

There is still time for teens interested in service and supporting different community causes to take part in J-Serve. The final sessions will take place May 2, via Zoom, and will cover the topics of Environmental Sustainability, 1 p.m., and Period Poverty and Public Health, 2 p.m. To sign up for the Zoom sessions, go to houstonjewish.org/jserve.

Re-imagined to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, J-Serve provides opportunities for teens to learn about community causes and take action to make a difference. Every year, Jewish teens around the world join one another throughout the spring to make their community and the world a better place. Once again, teens can redefine what service looks like, making a direct impact on the issues that affect our communities in new and exciting ways.

This year’s regional cohort of 27 teen leaders came from communities in Houston, Austin and San Antonio to develop the program. Previous topics included Tools to be Anti-Racist, Homelessness, Food Insecurity, Let’s Talk Mental Health and Disaster Relief.

J-Serve is supported by Sarah Yonas, BBYO Lonestar Region; Danielle Alexander, Kehilla High; McKenzie Sigle, URJ Greene Family Camp; Lauren Kaufman Blachman, Evelyn Rubenstein JCC; and Sacha Bodner, Jewish Federation of Greater Houston.

“It has been such an inspiring journey working with the professionals and teens to build this year’s J-Serve,” Bodner, director of Social Action at the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, told the JHV. “Our goal has been to deepen the understanding and commitment to community service in a meaningful, ongoing and sustainable way. And, this team has really stepped up to create something impactful, whose ripples will undoubtedly continue to spread.”

Tali Kalmins helped lead the session on Food Insecurity, which included a panel of speakers from Second Servings of Houston, the Houston Food Bank, Finca Tres Robles and ERJCC’s Meals on Wheels.

“The most significant thing that I took away from this afternoon’s session was that with my generation’s use of social media, if we remind our friends to be mindful of the food insecurity that surrounds our community and if we volunteer together, we can make an impact,” Kalmins told the JHV.

Nathan Abrahams helped lead the session on Homelessness, a topic that has captured Abrahams since volunteering at Mobile Loaves and Fishes Community First! Village in Austin for his Bar Mitzvah project. He so loved his work there that he continues to make survival kits/blessings bags and works to create awareness.

“My most significant takeaway from the session was how, even though there are so many homeless people in America, when you help even just one, to that person it made a difference,” Abrahams told the JHV.

One thing that really resonates with Abrahams was how the staff really listens to those experiencing homelessness and asks them what would be the most helpful.

“We are able to provide help based on what people in our community really need, not just what we assume they need,” said Abrahams. “It is hard to see homeless people struggling on the streets, and is not enough to be grateful for our own privileges. It is our obligation to help. When you take time to learn about each journey, the lives that they have lived, and the happiness that they can bring, you are given a whole new perspective. Homelessness does not define them, it’s just a thing that is happening to them.”

Since 2005, J-Serve has provided teens with a unique opportunity to band together through service as a united global network committed to fulfilling the Jewish values of gemilut chasidim, acts of loving kindness; tzedakah, just and charitable giving; and tikkun olam, the responsibility to repair the world.