Jewish Service Learning

PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, founded by Rabbi Sid in 1988, was one of the pioneers in the field of Jewish service learning. In the organization’s early years the focus was almost exclusively on politics, social justice and advocacy. However with the growing interest in community service among youth spurred on by legislation during the Clinton Administration that launched Americorps, PANIM began to explore community service with a Jewish twist.

Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation (Bethesda, MD) adopted the New Christian School of Leogane (NICL) in 2011. The school, founded and led by Pastor Johnny Felix, now serves approximately 200 children, grades K-6. Adat Shalom provides approximately 20% of the school’s budget.

The evolution of PANIM’s program and the rationale behind it was described in an article appearing in Zeek (Winter 2010) entitled: Tzedek and Chesed: Re-Thinking The Relationship Between Advocacy and Service

By the mid-1990’s PANIM was running the largest Jewish service learning program in the country called the Jewish Civics Initiative (JCI). Co-sponsored by the Jewish Education Service of North America, at its height, 21 communities were in the network. The year-round program for high school students included a curriculum, a trip to Washington programmed by PANIM staff and a locally based, class community service project. Teachers of JCI attended a professional development seminar every summer to be trained in the most effective use of the educational materials developed by PANIM.

Adat Shalom has sponsored four service missions to Haiti since 2011. Service participants on the 2015 and 2017 missions raised enough money to build the third structure on the NICL campus. Much of the labor was also done by mission participants as was the paint job and new logo on the school’s original building. In the back left of the photo are the solar panels funded by Adat Shalom which, for the first time, provided 24/7 electricity to the school. Previously, power was available only for a few hours each day.

As more Jewish organizations realized the power of Jewish service learning programs and began to incorporate such experiences into their respective program mix, efforts were made to support the field as a whole. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation was a key funder of these efforts. The first umbrella agency to support the field was called the Jewish Coalition for Service. PANIM was one of the charter organizations of the Coalition. That organization later morphed into Repair the World.

PANIM produced three curricula that helped to define the field of Jewish Service Learning. The first came out in 1996 and was called Jewish Civics: A Tikkun Olam/World Repair Manual. It was co-published by the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE). This was the curriculum that served as the centerpiece for the Jewish Civics Initiative. As more Jewish day schools expressed interest in building out a community service program, PANIM developed a more text-centric counterpart curriculum called Jews, Judaism and Civic Responsibility (1998).

School founder, Pastor Johnny Felix with Rabbi Sid

PANIM’s most ambitious curriculum came out in 2007. It was called Just: Judaism. Action. Social Change, edited by Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block and Geoffrey Menkowitz. The curriculum was co-published with National Hillel, which had developed one of the largest community service programs in the Jewish world, sending hundreds of colleges students to New Orleans in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. In addition to the print edition, Just also had a web format which allowed thousands to access its content.  Those interested in finding excellent source material for Jewish service learning experiences should take advantage of the Just curriculum.

Some of the youth participants from Adat Shalom with the students of the NICL School.

After stepping down as President/CEO of PANIM, Rabbi Sid continued his work in the field of community service. Pursuant to a visit to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010, he spearheaded the Haiti Project at Adat Shalom. He has since led four synagogue service missions to Haiti with over 75 members of the congregation, ranging in age from 15 to 75. He also serves on the Board of Yahel, which sponsors long term community service programs in Israel based in at-risk communities. These programs are designed primarily for post-college Jews from North America.

Behind the Adat Shalom mission participants and a few of the parents from the NICL School is the Gan HaMazon, the vegetable garden created on one of the missions to provide food for the mostly food-insecure students of the school.