To New Beginnings

by Michal Rosenoer, Behrend Builders Coordinator and Avodah Fellow

I’ve picked up a lot of new identities in this past month. Not passports or aliases, but rather identity-markers like “recent graduate” and “young Jewish professional” that are both new and strange to me. Since I moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area just over a month ago, I’ve been in the process of re-writing myself and, incidentally, re-shaping the way I see the world.  

Michal Rosenoer, Avodah Fellow at Behrend BuildersBefore I go further into this note, I would like to not-so-formally introduce myself. My name is Michal Rosenoer and I am the new Program Coordinator for Behrend Builders here at the Washington DC JCC. I took over this position in early September upon my acceptance into AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, which places a fellow in this position each year. As I mentioned earlier, I just moved to the District in late August from California where I was born, raised, and attended the University of California at Berkeley (go Bears!) As I’ve begun to make the transition from one coastline to another and from college-student to professional within the last 30 days, I can honestly say that I’m currently experiencing one of the busiest and most exciting times of my (albeit short) life. So what does it feel like to pick up all these identities at once?

Emotionally exhausting.

In college, I was just your average run-of-the-mill “liberal outdoorsy female.” Now, in a city where nametags, business cards, and even zip codes are defining features of a person, I am those things and so much more. In addition to the identifiers listed above, I have also recently become an AVODAH fellow, a housemate in an intentionally-Jewish communal home, a JCC employee, and a West Coaster (commonly identified by a lack of solid footwear in inclement weather, apparently). Coming to terms with my new life here in D.C. means not only adjusting to the pressures and expectations from each of these new titles, but also asking big questions like, “what does it mean to be doing social justice work in the city’s capital,” or “how is Shabbat a radical practice,” and of course, the ever-ongoing debate, “are these shoes work-appropriate?” Some of these discussions are entirely internal, but some have been facilitated by my peers, the AVODAH staff, and of course, my new colleagues here at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center.

Right now I am struggling to answer many of these questions for myself. Sometimes I even struggle to hold them all in my head at once, but I am quickly learning that responding to these queries is an ongoing process (I think they call this personal growth); just accepting the existence of the questions and all the facets of my new life is a step in the right direction. Baby steps are key, I am told.

Fortunately, I like where these baby steps are getting me thus far. While I am still adjusting to a Hekshered-kosher vegetarian kitchen and working a 40-hour work week, I think the most daunting new identity of them all – “adult” –  is becoming a little less intimidating. I look forward to sharing part of my journey here, with the DC JCC community.

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Volunteer in DC – Unextreme Home Makeover

I think that Randy Bacon and Adam Levine have the best jobs at the Washington DCJCC.  Don’t get me wrong, I like my job. More to the point, I couldn’t do their job. Randy is the director of Behrend Builders, our year-round shelter repair program, and Adam is our Fellow from Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps. Together they run volunteer projects for the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service that perform needed improvements in homeless shelters, schools, low-income housing and community organizations all around the District of Columbia.

I am going to tell the following story, not because it is extraordinary, but because it is very, very ordinary. The kind of story that could be told any day of the week simply by asking Randy and Adam, “So, what are you up to?”

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The referral came from Neighborhood Legal Services.  Peggy turned to them when a city inspector showed up at her house citing her for various code violations, fining her, and giving her seven days to make the repairs. Peggy, a senior who earns less than $12,000 a year, didn’t have the money. And seven days later the inspector would show up once more, and fine her again for the repairs which Peggy was unable to make. The next week, same story. The bill kept getting larger. This went on until Peggy had accrued $9500 in fines. More than 75% of what her total income for the year is.

Once NLS connected Peggy with Behrend Builders, Randy and Adam got to work. After about a month, this is the report.

They got a new inspector assigned to Peggy’s case and with a letter of intent to complete all repairs within 120 days, were able to stop the weekly fines from mounting up. They’ve already brought in several teams of volunteers and performed about $1500 worth of construction on her home, including replacing the stairs (pictured below), removing a crumbling retaining wall and hauling it away. Randy estimates that her property probably needs another $8,000 of repair work including sheet-rock and flooring. At some point, her roof will need to be dealt with as well.

And every week, Randy and Adam bring another group of volunteers out to Southeast and get a little more done.

steps-png-finalIt is literally Tikkun Olam. One step at a time.

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