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Reflections on Summer Service Learning in Beer Sheva

This post was written by Jordana Gilman, an alumna of the 2013 Repair the World Onward Israel/Beer Sheva summer program. The original post appeared on Jordana’s personal blog on December 12, 2013, and as a D'var Torah at Cornell Hillel.

Many of you reading this know me as “Jordana Gilman, Student President of Cornell Hillel.” But I am writing this dvar torah about service to share with you an important part of me that you may not know about, my experience working with victims of domestic violence and their children.

Seeing the reality on domestic abuse on a daily basis completely changed the way I see the world. I began to see these victims of domestic abuse as victims of societies that prioritize honor over everything–including life itself. I saw how common domestic abuse is across cultures and countries.

I befriended many of the women and I adored the children. Because of the nature of the shelter, though, the families came and left unexpectedly. I never knew if my favorite women would be there the next day. I began to understand what it must be like for the ~40 children who spend months of their lives in that shelter.

Working with three 15 year old girls from Ethiopian families had the biggest impact on me, however. We talked about race, racism, Ethiopia, Israel, President Obama, relationships, and regular teenage girl things like The Vampire Diaries. These young women taught me so much about strength and overcoming adversity. Their mothers were victims of domestic abuse, and that is why they were living in the shelter. However, they were determined to not experience the same cycle of abuse. They worked diligently on their English and other skills so they would be able to be financially independent as adults. It was an honor for me to know them and for me to help them for a summer.

The girls have since moved out of the shelter and I keep in touch with them by facebook. My summer of service is over, but it has opened my eyes to service as a way of life. It is a lifestyle that requires sensitivity, humility (not my strong suit, for those of you who know me, but certainly a goal), compassion, and sacrifice to your community.

Now that I am back on the hill, I have turned my attention to what I can give to Cornell, and what I have given over the past three and a half years. I challenge you to reflect as well.

What will be your service to Cornell? What can you offer of yourself that will leave this place a little bit better than you found it?

And for the Jews in the room, how have you contributed to the Jewish community at Cornell? Have you graced us with your presence at events, have you joined a Jewish Student Group, have you served in a leadership position? Are you a regular at Shabbat, did you light the Hannukah candles in your dorm? Have you led a Super Seder, or hosted a holiday meal at your house through Shabbat Across Cornell? Do you serve as a Hillel Big and mentor Jewish freshmen?

Find a service that speaks to you, and live it.

It has been my honor to serve Cornell Hillel for three years, and I thank you all for supporting me and being a part of that incredible journey.

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