What does Jewish service look like? Turns out, the answer to that question is as varied as the people engaging in the service itself.

For some, it’s about digging their hands in the dirt and literally repairing the world by planting a community garden; for others, it’s about helping under-served Jewish populations connect to their faith; and for others still, it’s about deepening their understanding of an important – and sometimes painful – global issue, and then acting on what they’ve learned. Below the jump, you’ll find quotes from participants of three recent service trips. Their inspiring words and stories help to illuminate the many diverse faces and experiences of Jewish service today.

By: HS, who participated on the IKAR teen service trip to New Orleans, and helped build a community garden in the Lower Ninth Ward. Read the full post and find out more here. HERE.

“Today was filled with dirt, worms, cockroaches, dirt, hoards of red fire ants and more dirt. However, regardless of the many multi-legged animals and the wheelbarrows and pitchforks full of dirt, we truly learned the ins and outs of sustainable farm life.

Our School at Blair Grocery is the only sign of daily life in the lower ninth ward. The school provides teenagers who have been lost in the New Orleans education system a place to learn about ways to escape poverty that we saw that was so prevalent in and around the lower ninth ward. Our School at Blair Grocery supplies the surrounding neighborhood with the only fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables for miles. The school sells their vegetables to surrounding restaurants and families who would otherwise have to travel 2 miles to the local Wal-Mart. Today we helped the school prepare compost by sifting, drying and shoveling mounds of compost provided by the local Whole Foods and markets. We ended out day by building our own dirt sifter wich we used to separate worms into breeding boxes.

By: Margot Reinstein, who participated on Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future’s (CJF) trip to Kharkov, Ukraine, and interacted with the Jewish community there. Read the full post and find out more HERE.

The CJF joined with the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) in bringing 20 college age students, like myself, together, for a service mission, to do repair work and learn about the Jewish community that remains in Ukraine. Although much of the trip was pre-planned, the powerful connections that we made, with the Holocaust survivors and Ukrainian peers, could not have been anticipated…

There was one man who, when we started to bench [reciting the blessing said after eating] out loud, began to choke up. He quietly hummed the tune and sang most of the words to the first paragraph. Afterwards, I asked him what it was about benching made him so emotional. He explained to me that when he was a young child, he used to sing this with his parents. It had been years since he recalled the beautiful medley and words of Birchat Hamazon. “It’s not much”, he said, “but this is the only connection I have to Judaism today” he said. Every day of the trip thereafter, he passionately sang Birchat Hamazon with devoted focus and concentration.

By Talya Curtis who is a participant at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. Read the full post and find out more HERE.

Arriving at the clinic was a big shock for me. The clinic was made up of a few dark and rundown buildings, some made of mud. There was nothing inside the clinic that resembled a medical center, no electrical medical equipment, no real waiting rooms and hardly any medical supplies…We were given a tour around the clinic, but during the tour I couldn’t help but get distracted by the background noise. My eyes couldn’t focus on the doctor talking to us. All that my eyes were drawn to were the mothers outside trying to cradle their sick and crying babies. As we were told later, the babies scream with pain because they have not eaten or drunk water for days, often weeks.

This for me was painful to be around but the children of ASYV didn’t seem fazed by it, and I couldn’t understand why. It was only until later that day that I realized why. The children of ASYV used to be like those children I saw in the clinic, stricken by poverty and often sickness, and it made me so grateful for the work that this Village does for the children. They have been given a life-changing opportunity: an education, medical treatment, support system and most importantly hope, and I am deeply honored to be a part of this.