Serve the Bay — Using Service to Work Towards Justice

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lilla Watson

This summer, 10 Serve the Moment Bay Area Corps Members did just this. They recognized the enormous need in this moment and contributed 578 hours of volunteering at 10 partner organizations across the Bay Area to address the COVID-19 pandemic, its economic impacts, and the current movement for racial justice. This service was complemented by weekly Jewish learning webinars where Corps Members heard from Jewish social justice leaders on topics such as unconscious bias, cultural competency, and the intersection of Jewish responsibility and service.

In the Bay Area, this looked like building tiny houses for homeless youth, weeding urban gardens, calling seniors, and delivering and packing food for at-risk families.

Beatrice Aronson, a Corps Member placed at Urban Adamah, an educational farm and community center in Berkeley, shared “We really just spent the first couple of weeks weeding. It took awhile for me to realize how this connected to serving my community’s needs in this moment of crisis. The areas being weeded are full of native plants that attract pollinators to the area, which in turn help the farm’s produce grow. In the weeks since, we moved on to more traditional farming tasks — assisting with harvesting crops and turning over beds. The learning webinars really helped me to connect my work back to the bigger picture. As Ruth Messinger (Global Ambassador and Past President of American Jewish World Service) instructed us, you have to constantly be asking why, and I’ve found that this really makes all the difference.” Urban Adamah donates nearly ninety percent of the produce grown on the farm to those who don’t otherwise have access to fresh produce through a free farm stand and community partners. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the farm to reduce their staff and limit the number of volunteers coming to help out.

Beatrice Aronson dries flowers at Urban Adamah

“Why?” is a question that fellow Corps Member Schuyler Ross also found himself asking, as he volunteered with Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA) in tackling the issue of Bay Area homelessness. “You start to wonder why there are so many thousands of people living in our streets, why our lofty empowerment rhetoric coexists alongside neglectful/punitive policies, why it takes so much effort to make such a small change” Ross reflects. YSA has undertaken the monumental task of building the nation’s first “tiny house village for homeless youth” to provide shelter and community to homeless East Bay youth. When completed, it will be located in East Oakland near the Coliseum. Ross worked with YSA at their weekly Saturday builds, dabbling in various construction tasks as the site was slowly erected. Ross recounted, “This experience has connected me with a vibrant group of passionate people...volunteers from all walks of life eager to spend their Saturdays helping the community. It feels like this beautiful positive response to a very ugly, negative problem. I plan to continue participating after the Corps program ends.”

L to R: Schuyler Ross, Natalie Guthie, and Jordan Rowe volunteering at the colorful Tiny House Village for Homeless Youth

Aliza Herzberg, a Corps Member on the Peninsula, volunteered with three of Jewish Family and Children’s Services programs that are responding to COVID-19. She created food packages, delivered food for their food insecurity initiatives, and worked with the Skyview Day Club, a social program for older folks with dementia, that has gone virtual on Zoom since the COVID-19 pandemic. From the learning sessions and her diverse service experiences with Serve the Moment, Aliza has reflected on the “collective Jewish responsibility to respond in this time of unparalleled injustice, but also to do the work with sensitivity, intention and humility.”

Aliza Herzberg driving to JFCS client homes to drop off groceries

What's next?

The Jewish Service Alliance is seeking to mobilize an even larger cohort of Corps Members for this upcoming Fall 2020. The Serve the Moment Fall Service Corps will connect twenty Corps Members (18-29 years old) with local nonprofit partners throughout the Bay Area to complete 12 hours a week of service and learning rooted in justice and Jewish values. The program is currently accepting applications for the Fall cohort until September 14.

Serve the Moment, a program of Repair the World, is mobilizing thousands of young adults and college students in 100,000 acts of service and learning this year. Repair the World, in partnership with the Federation, is actively recruiting Serve the Moment Fall Corps Members in the Bay Area.

For questions or more information on Serve the Moment, contact Bay Area City Coordinator Hannah Trumbull.

Read more about the Summer Service Corps.


August 24, 2020


Aliza Herzberg