Monthly Archives: January 2016
By Melissa Kushner
I have been asked the question countless times, “Why aren’t you helping Jews?” And my answer is always the same, “I am!” When we engage in tzedakah or tikkun olam of any kind, we perform a kiddush hashem with a seismic ripple effect of good. Good for you, me, God and we!
Let me explain. Eleven years ago, shortly after marrying my camp sweetheart, I founded goods for good, a non-profit organization working in Malawi, Africa. goods for good builds businesses to help orphans.
Malawi is the seventh poorest country in the world. Out of a population of 14 million people there are about 1.5 million orphans. The majority of these children live in their village and receive services such as school scholarships, feeding programs, medical care and emotional support from local community organizations. The challenge is that in a country where 90% of people are subsistence farmers, it is the poor taking care of the poorer, and that is where goods for good comes in.
We help meet the immediate and long-term needs of orphans. The businesses we build, in partnership with community organizations, generate revenue to provide schooling, medical care and food for children today. Our businesses also create paying jobs, teach business skills and stimulate the local economy, providing for tomorrow.
goods for good has helped over 80,000 children, but it also has also profoundly helped me. Through my work, I have been able to connect with my faith, my community and my family on a much deeper level.
This might sound counterintuitive, but there is no better way to connect with your Jewish values than to be the only Jewish person in an entire country. From having to explain to village leaders that I can’t eat the chicken they cooked in my honor, to throwing a Chrism-ukah (Christmas/Hannukah) party at the Catholic orphanage I was living in, I was a walking dugma (example) for the values and traditions of Judaism. This was a responsibility I took seriously and it deeply enriched my love for our faith.
At goods for good, a big part of my job is fundraising. I don’t think anyone really likes to ask people for money (I know I don’t) but through this part of my work I have been able to build relationships with so many incredible people. I have seen near strangers perform acts of such inspirational generosity. It is goods for goods’ community of supporters that make our work possible and gives me faith in the kindness of others.
And last but not least, my work has made me a better mother. With all of the craziness of raising a young family in New York it can be all too easy to lose perspective on what really matters. Our family’s connection to Malawi helps us to appreciate each other and all that we have. But even more than this, my children have relationships with children their same age across the world. From a young age they have come to understand that, while there are differences, at the end of the day we are all the same.
I feel incredibly fortunate to do what I do. Over the past eleven years, my work has shaped my adult life, just as Camp shaped my adolescence. Each day I appreciate the way these experiences influence me; as a mother, a Jew and a citizen of the world. For that I could never give back enough.
Growing up at Ramah gave both of us a strong sense of community with over twenty collective summers spent in Wingdale. Not only did we meet at Camp, but we both made lifelong friends as campers and staff members. After many years as campers, both of us worked at Camp for three summers – Sara as a bunk counselor and Ben on swim staff.
Working at Camp was a no-brainer for us. We had spent so many years there as campers, becoming part of a Jewish community that we still consider our own today. We had wonderful counselors and staff members who provided us with outstanding, memorable experiences. Their work took what would have been undoubtedly fun times into a collection of summers that shaped us as Jews and as people. We understood the extraordinary impact our staff members had on us, and so we wanted to be sure to give back to the next generation of Ramah chanichim, ensuring that they would have the life-long love of Camp that we do. We loved being on staff, having the opportunities to continue spending summers with Ramah friends, and remaining a part of the precious community we loved so much. Giving back to a place that had always meant so much in our lives, and seeing our own campers make lasting connections to one another and to Camp has been truly rewarding.
Ramah has given us so much and we have both have tried to give back as alumni. Ben has been on the Labor Day committee since 2009 and Sara has been on the Yom Give Back committee for the past two years.
Events like Yom Give Back are really important to us because they provide a connection to Ramah while helping those in need. Sara led the sandwich-making room during Yom Give Back and it was great to see different generations of Ramahnicks (including two of Sara’s former campers) working side by side to make a thousand sandwiches for various shelters throughout the city. We look forward to more opportunities to give back with our Ramah family!
Amalia Safran (Gesher ‘07) and Amy Winiker (Gesher ‘04)
Our year of giving at CRB is well under way with the second editions of the Repackathon & Yom Give Back. On November 17th, Berkshires Alumni and volunteers from across NYC repacked bulk food donations into family-sized packages to be distributed to City Harvest’s network of food pantries and soup kitchens across the five boroughs, to help feed more than 20,000 New Yorkers over the holidays.
We continued our efforts a month later for the 2nd Annual Yom Give Back, a collaboration between Congregation Or Zarua and the CRB Alumni Association. In the spirit of giving back to our community, over 90 Camp Ramah alumni, families and friends, participated in several chesed projects to benefit various organizations. Attendees made sandwiches to be distributed at four homeless shelters, created tray favors for Meals on Wheels, wrote cards for Israeli soldiers, and assembled activity kits for children recently removed from domestic violence situations around New York City. We were amazed with the number of donated coats, clothing, canned goods and toiletries that we received from the community, which we sorted for donation.
As we made our rounds distributing the donated items and the sandwiches that participants made, we were overwhelmed by the gratitude felt by the organizations and the individuals benefiting from the items. It was clear what an impact only one day of chesed had within our community and it reinforced our desire to provide regular volunteer opportunities to CRB Alumni and their families.
The next opportunity for giving back is at Dorot’s Winter Package Delivery on Sunday, January 31st. As a group we will deliver some much-needed items to local NYC seniors and visit with them. To sign-up for the event, please email Amy Winiker.
As Alumni of CRB we should also recognize our responsibility to give back to an institution that has truly shaped our lives. Whether you are giving your time through volunteering as a lay-leader, working at Camp during the Summer, or donating funds for Tuition Assistance – you are ensuring that the wonderful home that nurtured us can do the same for the next generation of campers. Any gift no matter the size can help every camper love Ramah the way that you do. Here’s to a great year of giving back!
Inspirational and productive workshops and presentations captivated us as we were able to bring back several new ideas to be implemented this summer. The hospitality and ruach could not have been better. But, what was truly most valuable was the engagement with staff members in a unencumbered and stress free environment. The unanimous feedback confirmed that everyone had a great time.