Building Faith through Volunteer Power: The Values of a Jewish Home Repair Organization
Exodus 38: 21-40 is about sanctifying time and space through building the Mishkan—aka the tabernacle aka the portable sanctuary for G-D to dwell in. The work on the Mishkan follows an architectural blueprint provided by G-D. Once the people start working on the Mishkan, they are incredibly inspired. They provide more and more resources and more and more volunteer power… They are SOOO excited to be building this portable sanctuary that Moses actually has to tell the people to calm down. Moses tells the volunteers to stop making donations because they have more than they need for the project.
Could you imagine if we could inspire people in our community in that way??!
When we do creative work for the good of others we allow G-D into our lives, by connecting the physical and the divine. This is especially true for my organization, Yachad. At Yachad, we invite G-D into our lives by repairing the homes of low-income families throughout DC.
Yachad is a long-term home repair program. Our work focuses on long term health and safety repairs—plumbing, electrical, roofing, drywall, and accessibility modifications. Yachad means together and that is how we do our work—through partnerships with synagogues, Hillels, churches, other organizations, professional contractors, and YOU!
We work on 30 houses per year—this spring we’re working on 16 projects with over 20 different volunteer groups and for the first time, we are focusing the work in two neighborhoods.
We all know that affordable housing and the crisis in homelessness in DC is an issue that threatens the safety, security, and success of families in DC. Yachad’s answer for the past 23 years is to preserve existing housing owned by lower income families who don’t have the resources to keep up with costly repairs and to help them get back on their feet. These homes provide critically needed housing for multiple generations of family and family members. These are the families that fall below the radar screen of public policy and dollars.
How many of you have heard the parable of the starfish? The story goes that there was a man walking up and down the beach, where hundreds of starfish had washed to shore and were dying. He picked them up one by one and threw them back to safety. A woman walked over and said, “What difference are you going to make? You can’t help all of those starfish!.” The man picked up another starfish, threw it in the water, and responded, “Well, I helped that starfish!”
Just the other day, we met with a woman who has MS, is recently in a wheel chair, and is need of a ramp. She has 5 of her own children living in the home and took in 5 grandchildren; the youngest is 2 years old—just so that they didn’t have to go into the foster care system. When we told this woman that we could build a ramp for her AND that it would come at no cost, she said: “Why would you help me? I’m no one.”
I immediately thought of the starfish parable…we know that the work we do will transform lives… one family at a time, and that’s enough for us. These families are our starfish.
Now, lets go back to the Torah portion…
In modern times, we know that G-D doesn’t dwell in the holy tabernacle, or mishkan. G-D is with us wherever we want G-D to be. Now the home is often the center of Jewish ritual. We no longer do temple sacrifice or old ritual practices, but we do celebrate Shabbat around the dining room table. We light candles, we do motzi, and Kiddush…
This is all centered on the family and the table we share our meals around. We tell the families we work with that their homes should be like a sanctuary too… that the home is a holy place.
Just like in the building of the tabernacle, and to make sure that every home can remain a sanctuary, we want you to be SO excited to repair the homes of these amazing families, b’yachad (together!!).
For volunteer opportunities with Yachad, make sure you visit our website at yachad-dc.org or call 202-296-8563.
Written by Kaety Ritchie, an Avodah Corps member (2014-2015) and Program Associate for Yachad.