Youngsters across the Southland and beyond banded together April 17 to participate in J-Serve 2005, the first-ever national day of service for Jewish teens. J-Serve, designed to correspond with Youth Service America's National Youth Service Day, offers Jewish teens a way to get involved in tikkun olam projects in their local communities.
United Synagogue Youth's (USY) Far West Region put more than 100 teens to work in food pantries and soup kitchens in Los Angeles, Redondo Beach, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Tayla Silver, a Palos Verdes high school senior and the region's social action vice president, researched and coordinated numerous volunteer opportunities for USY members in order to give them a more personal experience with this year's educational theme of homelessness and hunger.
"It's important for us to have hands-on experience in ... projects to see how organizations work, and why our participation makes a difference for the people we're helping," Silver said.
She donated her time at Project Chicken Soup in Los Angeles, a Federation program that provides kosher meals and groceries to homebound AIDS patients. The volunteers started at dawn preparing meals, and then spent the afternoon delivering food and groceries, in addition to visiting with the recipients.
"I think it was incredibly valuable for us to help people face to face," Silver said. "Meeting the people we were serving raised our awareness to a much higher level."
In Redondo Beach, USY joined forces with the South Bay Federation's Arachim, a program that provides eight- and ninth-graders with a series of opportunities to perform mitzvot. Fifty teens from five South Bay synagogues worked with SOVA packing Passover boxes and stocking shelves at a local food pantry.
Ami Berlin, youth activities director at Congregation Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, was delighted to have her USY chapter participate.
"Our kids need to see that there are people who need help in their own communities," she said. "This project made that a reality."