More than 200 Jewish teenagers from Pittsburgh and surrounding communities will lend a collective helping hand this weekend as they join forces for a day of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
Sunday, April 3, is J-Serve, the national day of Jewish youth service. Since 2005, J-Serve has been a part of Youth Service America’s Global Youth Service Day, a day when Jewish teens join their peers in other faith communities, other cities and other countries to give their time to serve their communities.
This is the sixth year that Pittsburgh’s Jewish youth have participated in J-Serve.
“The theme of the day is yad vi yad, literally volunteering from your hand to the hands of others,” said Taylor Landay, a senior at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School who co-chaired the J-Serve steering committee along with Elena Leib.
Landay and Leib have been planning this year’s J-Serve since last September, and have been meeting with their committee regularly since December. They have worked hard to ensure that the service sites selected provide an opportunity to personally affect the volunteers, as well as help the community at large, Landay said.
“We want the volunteers to see the power of what Jewish teens can accomplish when they get together,” she added.
Participating teenagers come from various local youth groups and school culture clubs, said Shoshana Kraus, assistant director of teen programs at the Agency for Jewish Learning. Other teens, unaffiliated with specific Jewish groups, are also welcome to participate.
The teens will arrive in buses from Temple David in Monroeville, Beth El of the South Hills, Adat Shalom in Fox Chapel, and Temple Ohav Shalom in Allison Park to join their Squirrel Hills peers at the Jewish Community Center for student-led learning sessions about Jewish values, examining how community service correlates to different Jewish texts, according to Kraus.
The teens will then travel to selected sites throughout the community for hands-on projects ranging from preparing lunch for residents at the Ronald McDonald House, to gardening with special needs kids through the Friendship Circle, to picking up litter in Squirrel Hill.
They will return to the JCC later that afternoon to talk about how their experiences volunteering related to their morning learning sessions, and socialize over pizza and dessert.
“This is a chance for teens from all over the area to see each other,” said Kraus.
J-Serve is funded by a grant from Panim, a part of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s teen engagement initiative.
More than 10,000 teenagers from 70 communities across North America participate in J-Serve.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)