In September of ’00’, teacher Daniel Rothner founded Areyvut, a non-profit Jewish organization dedicated to bringing the values of tzedekah, chesed and making a difference in the world to the daily lives of Jews throughout the United States and Israel.
Sarah Baer and Jessica Berger
"We started out of passion by Daniel Rothner," said Shiri Bernstein, the organization’s marketing and outreach coordinator. "He felt that kindness and justice were taught in the classroom but not implemented outside. It was a way for students to do hands-on interesting projects that they would be passionate about that interested them."
Rothner, who taught sixth- through eighth-graders at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan and at HAFTR Middle School in Lawrence, N.Y., wanted the entire community to bring Judaism to life just as his students did in the classroom. To fill that void, the Bergenfield-based Areyvut, whose name can be translated as "mutual responsibility," was born.
"We’ve worked with hundreds of organizations," Bernstein said of the national non-profit organization. "We’ve worked with roughly 50 day schools, yeshivas, and JCCs directly with their students. We’ve worked in over 13 states. We do a national event that takes place in 11 states plus Israel called Make A Difference Day."
In addition to Make a Difference Day, Areyvut sponsors a number of other activities year ’round, such as helping children decide on and complete community service projects for their b’nai mitzvah and coordinating volunteer opportunities and ways to support Israel, according to its Website, www.areyvut.org. It also puts out "A Kindness-A-Day" calendar, which features one simple but important mitzvah people can do every day.
Areyvut chose five college students for its summer internship program to help run all of these activities and learn about both being leaders and the inner workings of a non-profit organization.
It advertised the program at several Hillel chapters across the country and sent representatives to a career fair at Yeshiva University.
"We personally conducted at least 30 interviews," said Rothner, who said he was looking for highly motivated applicants with past leadership experience, strong organizational skills, and the ability to develop successful educational materials and programs.
The Jewish Standard interviewed two of the five successful applicants. Sarah Baer, who is from Teaneck and entering her sophomore year at Rutgers University, said that she’s excited to apply her prior leadership skills to the internship and also learn a few new things along the way.
"Last year I worked for Friends of the IDF," the Israel Defense Forces, Baer said. "I spent the year in Israel after high school and I worked in food shelters and tutored Ethiopian students in English and other random stuff like that."
Jessica Berger, who lives in Deerfield Beach, Fla., and is entering her junior year at the University of Kentucky, said she is looking forward to applying her experiences at Areyvut both to her personal life as a Jew and to her professional life, as she is majoring in management and marketing.
"We get to do all these really neat seminars about different areas in the non-profit world," Berger said. "Just the experience that I can gain from doing different marketing and outreach is exciting."
Baer is also looking forward to the business aspect of her Areyvut internship.
"You get a feel for a small organization, which is cool, she said. "I hope to do something in business later on," she said. "I’m active in my Hillel and I know how to get things done. You need to apply for grants and there’s all this bureaucratic stuff. I know that now, there’s no getting around that stuff. Knowing how businesses work a little bit more intricately I think will help me."
Rothner and Bernstein are confident that the interns will leave with much more than that kind of knowledge.
"We’re getting them a real feel for what it means to be involved in a Jewish non-profit. They do real things and make a profound difference," said Rothner. "They’re not getting coffee unless it’s for themselves to drink if they like coffee. They’re not filing papers unless it’s pertinent to what they’re doing."
"They’ll be responsible for a lot of their own programs as well as programs we do during the year," said Bernstein. "Let’s say we do a mitzvah fair; the interns [would] have a big role in planning that." Also, she said, "if we do a bnai mitzvah consultation with a family or individual student, the interns will have an opportunity to help with that by researching project ideas and talking to the families. They are developing the ‘008 Kindness-a-Day calendar. They’re very independent. We have a monthly e-newsletter and the one in July they will be responsible for. They’ve seen the June one and they know what they have to do. They’ve already started on a brochure for Make a Difference Day. Starting next week they’ll be sending order forms out about ordering the ‘008 calendar."
Perhaps one day, Rothner says, their internship experience may even lead to a job offer.
"It’s also not just a summer gig. Although that’s what they apply for, it begins a longer relationship," said Rothner. "It’s certainly possible that when they graduate and we’re looking for full-time people, we’ll look to our interns."
But until then, Rothner and Bernstein hope that the interns will bring what they learn back home.
"They’re a national organization. They’re not currently very active in that area but they’re planning more outreach. They do a national mitzvah day and people from my community have been involved, but it’s not as concentrated as it would be in the New York and New Jersey area," said Berger.