This is the first in a series of interviews featuring a handful of the nearly 10,000 awesome teens who are involved with J-Serve – the International Day of Jewish Youth Service coming up on April 22. First up: Rebecca Slatkin of Fairfax, Virginia.
Have you always been passionate about service?
Yes, it has always been important to me – particularly issues around drinking or texting while driving. I started the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) club at my high school, and we have been advocating within our high school about the issue. We focused our activities around dances like homecoming and prom, and worked to demonstrate the potentially horrible effects related to making bad decisions. It’s an issue that everyone can relate to, and I have been really passionate about spreading the word.
How did you first learn about J-SERVE?
I first heard about it through my synagogue, when our youth group did a J-Serve project. We went to a shelter and put together necessities kits with food and medicine for refugees from other countries who had recently moved to America. Many refugees first arrive in Washington DC, where I live, before settling in other places, so it was a very local issue. Many of them were escaping awful experiences in their home countries and had to leave everything behind.
Once I joined BBYO, I began to get more involved with J-Serve and started to understand it from a global perspective. I saw how J-Serve gets teens from all over the world to serve together. Although we live far apart, we all have the common goals of tikkun olam, tzedakah and helping others.
How are you involved with J-Serve today?
I head the international J-Serve committee. Our committee works together throughout the year to help communities around the world plan their projects. The projects are youth led and planned, and we assist them with all aspects. We connect them to people around the world doing similar projects, so they can build greater connections. Another thing our committee has done is hold a monthly call that anyone can listen into that all focus on different topics. The first month was about how to start a J-Serve project. The second month went into greater detail about project ideas. This month is focused on the global perspective and how it connects to Jewish heritage. We have people from all over the country and Canada on the call – and we reach out to the overseas community as well, though it is hard for them to participate on calls because of the time difference.
Which J-Serve event do you personally plan to participate in this year?
I’ll participate in an event in my community in Virginia. BBYO is partnering with the JCC to host a carnival for the whole community. On the one hand it will just be a fun carnival with games, ring toss, darts, and different activities that anyone can do. But we will also have a priority to educate people who come to the event about people with disabilities. We are partnering with a home for people with mental and physical disabilities for the event, and have invited their residents to attend.
What inspires you most about J-Serve?
J-Serve is one of the few opportunities for a ton of Jewish teens to connect with one another and make change. It’s not just about one youth group, synagogue or day school. It’s about everyone together, serving and having fun. There will be thousands of participates doing service at the same time – I don’t know of anywhere else that you get the same experience.