by Elliot Borg, Darian Leib, & Emily Weisberg
Staff, Mitzvah Corps New Orleans 2013
a word from Darian & Emily…
As I pull out my oversized suitcase, I find it hard to believe that it’s been a year since Mitzvah Corps of the South 2012 came to a close. I went into last summer’s program expecting to organize activities and help facilitate conversations that encouraged the participants to grow and learn, but quickly learned that, much to my surprise, I too was going to grow an incredible amount from my time in New Orleans. While we were together, the MCS 2012 family taught me about the importance of living with kavannah, or intention, in all that we do.
As a returning staff member, I’ve seen the Mitzvah Corps programs grow and change a lot in this past year alone, so it’s incredible to think that we are celebrating our 50th anniversary this year! For decades, teens have been gathering together do tikkun olam,
but it’s more than just volunteering. While this hands-on work is an important piece we must do to help better the world, this program is about living intentionally in all that we do, and using our interactions with others as an opportunity to impart change. While the time together in New Orleans will fly by, the goal is for each member of our community to take their experiences and continue to make an impact on those around them once they return back home.
When I think about this idea of kavannah, I have no better example than twenty-four teens sharing their summers, as they leave the comfort of their own communities to become part of something new and unique. Mitzvah Corps isn’t just about spending two weeks restoring homes or planting in a community garden. This is important work, and the organizations we work with are so grateful for what we do, but a life filled with kavannah goes beyond what you do with set-aside chunks of your time. It’s about your actions and choices on a daily basis, and reflecting on them to help guide you in the future.
thoughts from Elliot…
When my plane landed yesterday afternoon, there were many things that surprised me. I couldn’t believe that, after months of preparation and excitement, I had finally arrived in New Orleans! This is my first time here, and I cannot think of a better way to experience this city for the first time. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the reality of New Orleans is much different than what I had imagined. The culture is vibrant, the food is delicious, the people are friendly, and it is clear to me that we have partnered with some amazing organizations to help us make a difference in local communities, while creating a community of our own.
As a Chicago native, the history of the South is incredibly different than what I am used to; this is a good thing. It takes me outside of my comfort zone, something that will happen frequently for the next two weeks. I keep thinking about the Civil Rights tour that will take us through Alabama, when we’ll be visiting the Rosa Parks Museum, visiting the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Civil Rights Institute, and more. Then I think about how our hotel is on Jefferson Highway, most likely named for Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It signals to me that we will encounter many people whose race, finances, histories, and political beliefs will vary profoundly from one another.
This brings me back to what Emily and Darian wrote about. Our community, and the people with whom we will interact, may not all believe the same things or act the same way. But we will draw on our history, and the history of those around us, to make and reflect on choices we’ve made at home and in the South. I hope this process will transform all of us to become more informed people, Jews, and citizens, and I cannot wait to get started.