This summer I embarked on a three week journey to New Jersey on a program called NFTY Mitzvah Corps. The Mitzvah Corps program is a URJ volunteer program that also exists in other locations such as Costa Rica, New Orleans, and New York. The New Jersey program, however, is the only Urban Mitzvah Corps (UMC) where we work in a city environment. When I signed up I did not realize that this experience would be a huge life changing event.
When I landed in New Jersey I knew no one, but once I arrived at the dorm I was greeted by the staff and other teens, and became friends with them instantly. The next day we were introduced to our job sites; we got to choose between four different sites for the session. I decided I wanted to work at Regency, which is a Jewish nursing home. Working there not only changed the Residents lives but mine as well. I mainly worked in the Alzheimer and Dementia unit. At first it was weird and I did not think this was right for me, but after meeting Roger, who always forgot peoples names, somehow he remembered me and was excited to see me everyday. There was another woman, Bobbi, she forgot everything about you in 10 minutes, but what was amazing is she knew seven different languages and could speak them fluently. One of my favorite people there was Martin. He was a quiet guy, but was always so happy to see me whenever I went in the the room to talk to him. He got so excited and asked if I could take him outside. All of these Residents changed my life while I was trying to brighten theirs.
It was not just the job sites that created such an impact on me; several programs changed me as well. The best program of my life was who police officers came in and talked about hate crimes. There was a slide show full of graphic images from the KKK to Neo-Nazis. It all became too real when he pulled up a map of all the organized groups in the U.S. and told us the number of groups was rising. Then he proceeded to show images of different attacks, such as James Byrd, Jr. who was dragged behind a pick up truck and gruesomely killed in 1998. After, the police officer told us he was gay and that he was out, and the other cop was his partner. The second officer, however, was not openly gay because he would be scared if he got into a bad situation that no one would help him because of his sexual orientation. This program made me think about what I can do to stop the hatred of others. Those officers told us that it’s the simple steps that can stop hate crimes, such as telling people that saying offensive words are wrong.
Urban MItzvah Corps has changed me by giving me an opportunity to do something to help the larger community. Whether it was brightening the day of an elderly person or helping out at a Sandy victim’s house, I grew tremendously. This program as a whole is the best thing you can do for the summer.
Jacob is not only a great guy, but an 11th grader who completed Confirmation, a URJ Camp Coleman alum, a past participant in the Religious Action Center’s L’taken Seminar, and Temple Beth TIkvah’s youth group’s Membership VP.