Tivnu: Building Justice



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By Steve Eisenbach-Budner

Tivnu: Building Justice is a new organization based in Portland, Oregon. Tivnu is proud to partner with URJ’s Mitzvah Corps Portland this summer, and, this fall Tivnu is launching the first stateside Jewish gap year program.  Both our summer and gap year programs combine social advocacy, Jewish learning and living, and construction work and training with affordable-housing organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

We believe that it is important for Jews to engage in social justice work not just as individuals, but as representatives of the Jewish community in partnership with other communities. For us, creating meaningful social justice initiatives involves:

  • Integration. Our program combines body, mind, and heart. Different modes will speak to different participants, but we believe that every participant should be exposed to them all. Something special happens when thoughts, feelings, and physical effort are all working together.
  • Relationships. Our participants will work at direct-service organizations alongside people who are currently experiencing homelessness. By “acting with” instead of “doing for,” our teens will come to understand these individuals’ humanity and gain a visceral appreciation of their life experiences.
  • Real stakes. In addition to building their own two- or three-unit dwelling at a Habitat development site, our participants will engage in genuine legislative and other  initiatives with nonprofits that are working on local and national issues on the ground here in Portland. They will learn first-hand about a number of such organizations from activists who are actually involved in leading them.

Tivnu draws from many wells: both the early Zionist movement and the American labor movement in their respect for physical work, the rich history of American Jewish involvement in a broad variety of progressive causes, and the many Jewish texts that grapple with issues of collective responsibility.

Our programs are designed to capitalize on the value of immersive experiences for deepening learning:

  • immersing our participants in their own communal living experience. As they organize their households, cook meals together, and celebrate Shabbat and the holidays, they are going to be hashing out their ideas of what it means to live a Jewish life.
  • involving our participants with members of the local Jewish community. We will bring in adults to help them learn how to cook. We will be connecting them with Hillel as well as with Jewish young adults from Portland synagogues.
  • Gap year participants will help run our short-term programs as they acquire leadership and construction skills throughout the year.
  • Providing opportunities for participants to engage challenging issues as a group: What responsibility do we have to others in our community? Whom do we see as being in our community, and whom not? How have Jewish communities dealt with these issues before?

Ultimately, we believe all of this will allow our participants to explore and develop their identity as American Jews. For more information about either the Tivnu: Building Justice Mitzvah Corps Portland or Gap Year Program visit tivnu.org.

Steve Eisenbach-Budner is the Founder and Executive Director of Tivnu: Building Justice. Steve won a Joshua Venture Group Fellowship in 2012 that enabled him to channel his three decades of experience as an activist, carpenter, construction trainer and informal Jewish educator into the building of Tivnu. He can be reached at Steve@tivnu.org.

Journal of Youth Engagement

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