Carolyn Gerecht on March 14, 2017
This Sunday, for the 12th consecutive year in Pittsburgh, more than 300 Jewish teens in 6th-12th grade will join together at the JCC for a day of community service, learning and fun, as part of J-Serve: International Day of Youth Service. Over six powerful hours, these inspiring teens will engage in Jewish values of tikkun olam, gemilut chasidim and meaningful Jewish reflection. (J-Serve Pittsburgh 2017 is already the largest one ever, with more than 295 teens already registered!)
Beyond Pittsburgh, more than 13,000 teens living in 90 cities and 20 countries around the world this spring will also join together to support local organizations and help to address their communities’ greatest challenges by participating in J-Serve. Truly, this event is an international “rising up” of Jewish teens from every corner of the globe, designed to serve as a jumping-off platform for future, ongoing service experiences in every community.
Every year, the magic in the room at J-Serve can be both seen and felt. It is contagious. As the morning begins, hundreds of excited, nervous and passionate teens gather at breakfast tables and begin to look for their teen Group Leaders, as check-in and registration kicks off in the gym. Finally, the J-Serve Steering Committee welcomes everyone to the teen event of the year. Then, before you know it, the volunteers are off to the busses with their leaders, chaperones and snacks to head to their project sites.
After arriving at 18 different locations across the city (including 2 sites at the JCC), teens will learn briefly about their organizations’ mission and role. And then the main component of the day starts: volunteering!
Projects range from sorting medical supplies, to creating craft kits for children in the hospital, to gardening, to bingo with the elderly – and much, much more. While they’re volunteering all over Oakland, Squirrel Hill, East Liberty, and Lawrenceville, teens find new friends at their sites, striking up conversations with new and friendly faces coming to J-Serve from diverse affiliations, geographic locations, and programs. Jewish teens who might be accustomed to seeing familiar faces at their synagogues and youth programs just might learn something new about a different denomination or organization – all while giving back to the community together.
Before returning to the JCC by bus, teens will wrap up their volunteer projects with time set aside to connect their service experiences to our shared values, histories, and traditions. While understanding their project more deeply by placing it in the context of a larger issue facing the community (such as poverty), teens identify connections between Jewish texts and their sense of obligation to take care of others in need, to treat others with dignity and respect, and to serve the greater good.
Finally, at the end of the day, all 300 teens return to the JCC for lunch (pizza – of course!), a celebration, and closing ceremonies. Teens head home exhausted, but rewarded and inspired by their volunteer experiences, new bonds, and a strong sense of pride in their community – both Jewish and geographic. For the rest of the day, these inspiring volunteers can be seen throughout our city in their colorful J-Serve t-shirts, role modeling their commitment to justice and social action.
It’s an event not to be missed. And whether this might be your first year coming to J-Serve or your 7th – we hope to see you at the big event!
J-Serve Pittsburgh is a partnership of the Jewish Community Center, Repair the World Pittsburgh, the Volunteer Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and BBYO. It is also sponsored by more than 20 youth groups and organizations across greater Pittsburgh. For more information or to register, please contact Carolyn Gerecht, email@example.com or visit www.jccpgh.org/jserve.