Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah
By Alexa Maltby
It isn’t every day that you have a life-changing experience, so to say I had a life-changing summer is a blessing. Urban Mitzvah Corps could easily be described as a six-week Jewish social action summer program. But life changing experiences aren’t that easy to describe.
For the past two summers I took the long 15-minute drive from my average hometown to the city of New Brunswick, NJ. I lived in a sorority house on the Rutgers campus and worked in the New Brunswick area. What made the experience unique was working with groups of people who I never would have interacted with before. But that is the beauty of Mitzvah Corps. It is an organization that pushes its participants to be brave and kind hearted.
The difference a 15-minute drive can make is amazing. My stereotypical suburban hometown is a whole different world than New Brunswick. I worked at a camp run by the city of New Brunswick that serves people of all backgrounds. I went in expecting an average summer camp, and left knowing that I was a long way from home. My campers, 6- and 7-year-old girls, were being held back in school and having behavioral difficulties. Before working at Play S.A.F.E., I didn’t know a single person held back in school, but half of my campers were enrolled in summer school. Some of them had language barriers, and others didn’t have the resources at home to get extra academic help. I didn’t start my summer expecting to witness real-life urban problems, but I did.
Mitzvah Corps isn’t just about volunteering at a nursing home or summer camp. It is an organization that sets out to inspire teens to change the world. As Jews, we are raised knowing that tikkun olam (repairing the world) is important. After “shalom,” tikkun olam was the first Hebrew phrase I really understood. We grow up knowing that we have a duty to repair the world, but where is our real chance to do it? Mitzvah Corps gives teens that chance. We spend our summers repairing ourselves and the world around us. For me, I’m repairing in “my own backyard,” but there are participants from all over the United States making a difference in places they’ve never been. This past summer we had eight high school students from the west coast who dedicated their time to servicing New Brunswick. I think that is something special.
Urban Mitzvah Corps is also something special. It offers programs that helps make teenagers mature and humble. Participants leave with a new sense of purpose. I left Urban Mitzvah Corps knowing that I had taken part in performing tikkun olam. I formed friendships with the ‘bingo girls’ at the nursing home, the ‘regulars’ at Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen, and the ‘jump rope girls’ at Play S.A.F.E. I’ve formed countless other relationships over the three summers I have spent with Mitzvah Corps. My life has changed, as we continue to work to change others’ lives.
The impact on my life of Mitzvah Corps will last beyond the summer. Later this year, I am heading off to college, and I will be choosing my major based on my experience. While at Play S.A.F.E., I learned about communities very different from mine. Majoring in Human Development and Family Studies will allow me to learn how to help people like my campers. I want to learn about human dynamics because I loved working with people from different backgrounds. I didn’t just get a great summer experience out of Urban Mitzvah Corps; I got a future out of it.
Alexa Maltby, a high school senior, serves as NFTY Garden Empire Region’s Programming Vice President. This past summer she served as the Urban Mitzvah Corps Student Coordinator. Throughout high school Alexa has also served on AETY, her Temple Youth Group’s executive board.
We are grateful to Women of Reform Judaism who have supported NFTY for 75 years and continue their generosity as Inaugural Donors to the Campaign for Youth Engagement.