This week, a message from Israel Engagement Program Manager Rachel Goldberg, who is an active volunteer with JCRC’s ReachOut! Program:
When I settled in Boston after college, I was suddenly hit with a dilemma: The convenience of my campus Hillel and my regular Friday college volunteer group was no longer available. I found myself in a new city, searching for opportunities to volunteer, and hoping to find friends who shared this passion.
Service is foundational to my Jewish identity and practice. The constant news of injustice and suffering in our world often overwhelms me, and I feel an obligation to do my small part to help alleviate hardships for those in the community around me.
So I was thrilled to discover ReachOut!, a program that connected me with a community-based non-profit organization where I could volunteer after work with other Jewish young adults. Over the past three years, ReachOut! has provided me with fulfilling ways to give back to the Greater Boston community while enabling me to form deep bonds with a diverse group of incredible volunteers of all ages and backgrounds.
I volunteer at the Tuesday Meals program at the First Church in Cambridge, where ReachOut! volunteers have been helping out for over ten years. The church is only a short walk from my house, and I serve my neighbors a warm meal each Tuesday, some of whom are homeless and others who are experiencing food insecurity. After serving each guest their three-course meal, the volunteers often grab a plate and join them for dinner. I often sit with the Israel enthusiast from Kenya who talks politics with me every week. I complain about the MBTA with Patrick, and sometimes I get singled out by Peter if I look like I’m having a bad day. The best part about serving my community is seeing the guests outside of the meal. I feel more connected with my neighbors, and they are always happy to see a friendly face, whether outside the Cambridge library, near South Station, or on my own street.
Getting to know the guests has also exposed me to the challenges they, and so many in Greater Boston, face, such as the rising cost of living, lack of access to shelters, or drug dependency. Some people are seeking a hearty balanced dinner, and some are looking for a warm place to spend time with friendly people on a cold Boston night. Tuesday Meals provides a welcoming environment for them all, and the team of dedicated volunteers and professionals strives to make our meal a known resource in the community.
The volunteers at each meal are another piece of my community. Whenever I describe them, I refer to them as my “Tuesday Meals family.” ReachOut! introduced me to an amazing group of young adult peers and volunteers outside the Jewish community, many of whom have also been volunteering with the program for years, and who I might not have gotten to know otherwise. Patience, a member of the church who is over 70 years old, has been volunteering at Tuesday Meals for 25 years, and always gives me a hug when I walk in the door. Mike is the warmest meal coordinator you will ever meet and works at Tuesday Meals part time as he finishes Divinity School. Pam was the cook for the first two years of my time volunteering and I considered her a mentor. Originally from Dorchester, she always took interest in our group of Jewish volunteers and asked us about holidays and traditions. I used to work in the kitchen sometimes just to spend time with her and we would add funny videos to her Instagram stories. I was unsure and insecure as a newly-graduated young adult and Pam always told me that I should believe in myself— that I was amazing, and I could accomplish anything. I still miss Pam, her wise words have stayed with me.
By volunteering together each week, I’ve also formed lasting relationships with my ReachOut! cohort and have successfully built a community of Jewish peers who share my values. Not only have our friendships grown while serving food together, but our group often goes out to drinks or dinner after each meal, which always gives us time to swap stories and struggles of the past week. We get together for Shabbat meals as part of the program, which gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate our Judaism and bond outside of a volunteer setting.
Meeting people in the community from all backgrounds, fields, and walks of life has forever changed my perspective on what it means to live a meaningful life. ReachOut! site options range from tutoring in the South End, to volunteering with the elderly in Brookline, to helping people feel more food secure in Dorchester, and many more. Time commitments vary: you can volunteer for a whole volunteer cycle or sign up as a drop-in volunteer and create your own volunteer schedule. Registration is now open and I can’t recommend it enough. ReachOut! has anchored my home in Boston. It has given me the ability to interact with amazing people who I would have never been able to meet otherwise. I hope you’ll consider joining me to volunteer in the fall!