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Sharing Stories of Jewish Service in Advance of “Service Matters”

This story was published in eJewish Philanthropy

Author: EJP

Just three cans, and I, a small Jewish teen, had made a real difference.

On September 15, Repair the World, and more than 30 partners in Jewish service, social justice, leadership development, and communal engagement, will convene Service Matters: A Summit on Jewish Service. The nearly 200 expected participants who help engage people, especially Jewish millennials, in authentic Jewish service will uncover existing breakthroughs and generate new ideas to make meaningful service a central part of American Jewish life.

In advance of the Summit – and to spark conversation – three Service Matters partners are sharing service initiatives that are integral to their Jewish engagement efforts, or that will be field tested. By highlighting lessons learned, successes, and challenges, these pieces offer valuable insights for anyone looking to engage Jewish young adults in meaningful action toward social change.

*****

By Nicci Mowszowski

I am a 17-year-old Jewish teen. I am just 5 feet tall, but I know that my voice far exceeds my stature.

That’s not something I always believed. My world was flipped upside down when my family moved from Australia to Denver in middle school; I had few Jewish friends (or friends at all), and was unaware of any opportunities within my reach. I didn’t know about the potential BBYO had to change my life, nor the changes I could make in others’ lives as a BBYO member. I didn’t know the impact that a 5ft tall Jewish teen could make in the world.

I was empowered by Stand UP, BBYO’s grassroots service, advocacy and philanthropy initiative that connects teens with issue they care most about.

My first Stand UP experience was before I was even a member of BBYO. I had heard about a pre-screening of the upcoming Hunger Games event and, as an avid fan of the novels, decided to go. The movie was basically free. All we had to bring was three cans of food for donation.

Three cans.

Three cans were easy for me. I stood (on my tip toes) and grabbed the first ones I could find from the top shelf of my pantry, carelessly piling them in a bag to take to the movie that night. I didn’t think much of it. I wouldn’t miss these cans at all and I had plenty other food and belongings to mull over. I didn’t know the sheer caliber of the impact I was making when I took those cans from my top shelf.

But when I arrived at the film, I realized it was extraordinary.

For around the world, at that very same time, thousands of other Jewish teenagers were doing just that. Thousands, just like me, were collecting three cans to bring to their movie prescreening, thinking very little of the impact that those three cans could have.

As I sat, eagerly awaiting the movie to start and chatting away to my new friends, the staff turned their attention towards the front, where teen leaders announced that BBYO had collected 500,000 cans of food to support those in need.

I thought to myself, 500,000 cans? My peers did that?

I was in awe. I turned to my new friends and they were in awe, too. Three cans. Three cans carelessly taken from my top shelf. Three cans that were piled among the many on my kitchen pantry. Three cans that I didn’t even know I had until now.

Just three cans, and I, a small Jewish teen, had made a real difference.

Since then, I have never underestimated the impact that one person, let alone thousands, could have in this world. Since then, I have never grappled with the idea that one person could be a game changer. For BBYO teens do just that every day.

BBYO empowers teens to change the world.

This past year, I ran for International Sh’licha, BBYO’s Vice President of Jewish Heritage because BBYO empowered me to make a difference. When I stood at the podium in front hundreds of my peers, I asked the group to open their eyes to the world around them. I thought back to that one day mid-November where I carelessly grabbed three cans of food off of my shelf before knowing the sheer impact of a movement so large. For me, BBYO has opened my eyes to everything – to the injustice, to the oppression, to the struggles of contemporary society – and, through it, instituted a powerful and potent desire to Stand UP against it all.

And here’s the best part: I am one of many.

I am one of many BBYO teens who writes letters to IDF soldiers. I am one of many BBYO teens who makes sandwiches for the homeless or collects school supplies for students in need. I am one of more than 11,000 that participate in J-Serve, the global day of Jewish youth service in partnership with Repair the World. And when we packed backpacks full of care items for refugees who were recently moved to Colorado during J-Serve 2016, I was inspired to work harder knowing that thousands of teens around the world were giving back at the same time.

I am one of many teens who, because of organizations like BBYO and Repair the World, truly cares about the world around me.

And yes, we are millennials. But we are not lazy, apathetic or even procrastinators.

We are the Jewish leaders, the movement makers, the Game Changers. We are shaping the future by acting upon injustices in the present and we will Stand UP, Speak UP and listen up to any cry for help.

For we are the Jewish teens of BBYO, and we will not be silent.

Nicci Mowszowski is the 28th International Sh’licha of B’nai B’rith Girls.

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