Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My City Year Journey

Students visiting residents at the Miami Jewish Health System

Written by Sydney Gross
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

At first, I was slightly apprehensive about coming to Miami for the City Year trip because I had no idea what City Year was and the idea of using winter break to relax at home sounded incredible! I came after talking about the trip with Sheila Katz, Hillel staff. She explained that City Year is an organization commited to serving in low-income cities and that this opportunity was not to be missed. We are now in the afternoon of the second full day here, and the lack of regret is overwhelming. This is an amazing experience. We are interacting with others all the time - with our fellow Hillel members from across North America, with local Jews, with local non-Jews, and the feeling that we made a difference at the end of the day is priceless.

Not only have we been volunteering, but we get to hear about the experiences of others directly from them. For instance, last night after dinner three formerly homeless community members each spoke to us about his or her experience being homeless and, more importantly, what led them to it. Kenneth, Angie, and Anita were so honest and open to questions, and the three of them calmly relayed to us countless life experiences which, quite honestly, were beyond imagination for me. After the Faces of Homelessness panel, I became much more aware of how fickle opportunity is and how, had I been put in any of their shoes, I may have died trying to get to where they are now (they almost did.)

This trip is quickly bringing to the forefront the idea that Judaism advocates for helping everybody, not only Jews. We care that others suffer, and we want to hear about it and learn how to fix it. We want to feel some of what others feel, if only for a little bit, in order to understand why we are all different and why that is special and beautiful. Mostly, I am learning that vounteer work may be the most efficient way to teach these values. Volunteering is doing good simply for the sake of doing good. This is the second full day! We'll see what the rest of the week holds.

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