“The first step to starting my future.” A look at Nathan Brodsky and his work with AVODAH Jewish Service Corps

Approaching my last semester at Tulane, I realized that I wanted real-world experience in the field.  Even though I did not understand what the experience would amount to or which field I wanted to work in, I decided that starting this process was the first step to starting my future.  I am very involved in my Judaism, here in New Orleans, home in Sarasota, Florida and in Israel during my time studying abroad and I wanted to continue to apply my knowledge and experience from my education and Jewish background into an internship.

I initially found AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps through the Center for Public Service’s website and believed that I had found my ideal internship- one that combined service with Judaism.  AVODAH is part of Americorps and has a requirement that all participants identify as being Jewish and be open to volunteering and learning through a Jewish mindset, but no strong Jewish background is required.

AVODAH, which means ‘service’ in Hebrew, focuses on decreasing poverty levels by means of volunteering at a variety of nonprofit organizations.  AVODAH was started in 1998 in New York and has since expanded to Chicago, Washington D.C., and most recently in 2008 to New Orleans.  Corp members live together in a ‘bayit’ (house in Hebrew), learn and experience Jewish and secular New Orleans, and work at one of a variety of organizations, such as Juvenile Regional Services, Liberty’s Kitchen, and the Alliance for Affordable Energy.

Two women staff AVODAH in New Orleans by supervising the corps members throughout their individual companies, fundraising, and organizing educational program.  Currently, the director is on maternity leave and she just recently had her baby!  When I work in the building, which used to be a house and is now split into offices for several different organizations, my ‘office’ is at her desk and I have a nice window-view that I was not expecting as the new intern.

I focus my work on AVODAH’s 2nd annual summer fundraiser called Partners In Justice.  Last year, the honoree was very active within AVODAH, but this year the organization wants to honor community members who have fought for freedom and equality.  One of the honorees is a lawyer who enabled fishermen to receive their proper compensation during the BP spill.  The other is a Holocaust survivor who disproved Holocaust deniers and continues to tell her story to groups within the community.  I research individuals within the community in order to find donors for Partners In Justice.  Through my role, I have become adept at researching community member’s previous donations, involvements, and service throughout the Jewish and secular New Orleans.

Presently, my supervisor has been contacting and meeting with the individuals that I have researched.  My supervisor uses my research to learn about the community members in order to properly prepare for her meetings.  By determining past donations to AVODAH and other organizations, AVODAH is able to ask for an appropriate donation to Partners in Justice.  I always feel proud when my work is used to contribute to the organization and further the fundraiser.

I also am in charge of organizing the catering for the event.  We are hiring a local, green, and kosher caterer who works within the Jewish and uptown New Orleans communities and can often be seen riding her bicycle to deliver food, acting as a modern example of the food truck.  I was initially tasked with finding a location for the event, but I realized that I did not know enough about this city to properly perform this task.  Through these two activities, I have become more confident in my abilities to contact strangers and ask them the right questions.  These tasks also help me to persevere and keep contacting people especially when certain companies are very difficult to reach or even find current phone numbers or email addresses.

Through my time working at AVODAH, I have become comfortable working in an office and have gained a greater understanding of how my role supports the corp members, my supervisor, and AVODAH.  I am becoming more involved in the organization and gaining a strong understanding of how it works at a national level.  Working at AVODAH has given me a greater understanding for what I want to do with my future.  I am currently interviewing for several positions for next year and feel that I am able to use the skills that I have learned to confidently portray myself as a potential employee.  I appreciate being able to work with AVODAH and know that I will be able to apply the skills that I have learned this semester towards my future.

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