So I’m sure many of you are asking…just what is this TELEM program? Well, I’m happy to tell you- it’s a Jewish service learning program. Now I’m sure many of you are asking…just what is service learning? And what makes TELEM Jewish?

Let’s start at the beginning, because really what is service learning? I use the term all the time, but what does it really mean? Well, service learning is an easy way to combine community service or volunteering, with classroom learning. Many people have volunteered at one time or another, and for the most part, the thinking and learning and doing ends when you walk out of your project.

Service learning changes this. It gives students (of all ages- see JCRC’s Reach Out! young adult blog) the chance to learn more about what they see while volunteering, and reflect on their experiences together. It helps put everything in context, by explaining why you may see the same individuals each week at the soup kitchen, or why that elderly man next to you may have so few visitors in his nursing home, or why a third grader from an inner-city school may still have trouble reading. You get to learn about the systemic issues facing different populations- disparities in resources between communities, the overall marginalization of an aging population, and the impact of poverty on education-  and hopefully learn even more about the often very strong individuals within those populations.

Okay, so now that I’ve explained service learning- it’s time to tackle the Jewish part. Being a Jewish service learning program doesn’t actually refer to the community service TELEM students do, but in fact is all about the learning. Let’s face it- Jews have had a lot to say about almost everything- including the issue areas TELEM focuses on (check out for more specifics!). Why re-invent the wheel when the sages have already considered why to care for the poor in a community, how to treat our elderly, or what makes reading fundamental? Looking back into our history, as well as what people have to say around us today, TELEM integrates exceptional Jewish texts into its service learning- making it a very unique program.

That’s why the TELEM programs really speak to me, because while each of our partners may experience our program differently, the same way every student, teacher, adult, or child experiences a volunteer project or text study differently, they all have one thing in common- the desire to learn and build relationships with the people they volunteer for and with.

I know I always feel better about what I’m doing when I actually understand what I’m doing- and that’s what I hope TELEM gives its students- the understanding behind what they’re doing each week at their volunteer sites.

So just what is TELEM? Well, in short, it’s community service and Jewish learning- together. Hopefully, that makes all the difference.

Bryanne Mahoney is the Senior Program Coordinator for TELEM at the JCRC and a passionate advocate of social justice and service learning. Bryanne attended Northeastern University in Boston, where she received her Bachelor’s in History and Jewish Studies, and Master’s degree in Public History. In her spare time she is also an avid reader, a Top Chef fan, and is currently training for a 200-mile relay race.

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