Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world" and recently, area religious and community groups realized just how popular the phrase was among West Bloomfield teenagers.
J-Serve, an annual program to facilitate volunteer opportunities worldwide for Jewish youth, began in 2008 in Metro Detroit as teens volunteered at a variety of agencies to build a garden at Since then, the program has grown to accomodate 150 teens from different denominations and affiliations at J-Serve 2010, and has expanded to offer two different days of service in 2011, the first of which begins Thursday with another event scheduled for April 17.
"We're trying to cater to the demand for community service opportunities," said Zack Chutz, youth program director at , one of many area religious organizations sponsoring the event. "We didn't know how popular it would be and we underestimated in a positive way."
The teens will take part in a host of volunteer activities including sorting food at Gleaners Community Food Banks in Pontiac and Detroit, painting and sorting donations at the Baldwin Center in Pontiac and serving dinner at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries in downtown Detroit.
In a special guest column for West Bloomfield Patch, Madison Spalter, 16, of West Bloomfield, writes about a previous J-Serve experience:
Prior to my arrival at , J-Serve was nothing more than an opportunity to fulfill my community service hours. Immediately after I saw over a hundred teens waiting to load the buses to Detroit, I felt as if I was a part of something great.
When we were told that we would be renovating a rundown synagogue in Detroit, I imagined a building that was barely usable. Much to my surprise, as the bus stopped in front of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, I saw what had obviously been a beautiful building. Over the course of the day, we were given a number of tasks to complete. Among these tasks were polishing the multi-colored stained glass windows, rebinding old prayer books, and painting. I chose to polish the stain glass windows with a group of six or seven other Jewish teens. Hundreds of windows later, I had formed irreplaceable friendships.
Before we headed back to Adat Shalom, a congregant from the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue came to see the progress that we had made. He spoke about the once-thriving community that now has trouble getting a minyan (a group of 10 men) for the Sabbath services. He wholeheartedly thanked us for sacrificing our Sunday to help restore the Jewish community.
I speak for all of the J-Serve volunteers when I say that the time we spent was hardly a sacrifice, rather a privilege. After having such a positive experience with J-Serve, I decided to go back for a second year which was equally incredible. This year there will be two volunteer days, the first on Thursday and the second on April 17th. On the upcoming date, we will be going to the Gleaners Food Banks in Detroit and Pontiac, helping children and volunteering at a soup kitchen.
I am really looking forward to being able to interact with the citizens. When we renovated the synagogue, we only got to see how it affected one person (although in reality it affected many more). Now, we will be able to form relationships with the people that we are helping. As my third year of J-Serve approaches, I hope to rekindle many old friendships, acquire many new ones and together impact the community as we allow the community to impact us as well.
Madison is a junior at in West Bloomfield and will participate in J-Serve again Thursday.