Texas Hillel’s Social Justice Fellowship Inspires Future Leaders

Texas Hillel’s Social Justice Fellowship Inspires Future Leaders

The Texas Hillel Bella Abzug Social Justice Fellowship is a yearlong fellowship dedicated to helping students learn about and act on social justice values through a Jewish lens. Created by two Texas Hillel students, the fellowship is a new social justice and leadership development program featuring Jewish social justice education and volunteering opportunities. Participants meet weekly to discuss social issues in the community or to volunteer and build an ongoing relationship with a local nonprofit, Posada Esperanza.

Current co-leader Eileen Wolfowicz said, “The Abzug Fellowship has given me the opportunity to form relationships with local Austin organizations that are doing incredible work for central Texas. Through the fellowship, I’ve gained invaluable leadership and outreach experience all while learning about the social justice issues that are relevant today.”                                                                 

Bella Abzug Fellows meet once a week to learn about important social justice issues, volunteer with grassroots nonprofits, and explore their Jewish identities. Twice a month, fellows volunteer at Posada Esperanza, a full-service transitional housing program for immigrant, refugee and asylum-seeking mothers and their children. Fellows help out at Posada Esperanza in whatever capacity is needed, such as helping children with homework or working on building improvements.

Fellow Gabe Sperling said, “I applied to the Bella Abzug Social Justice Fellowship to further explore my profound interest in and curiosity about social justice issues. My favorite part of the fellowship was volunteering at Posada Esperanza, where I developed relationships with families that were fleeing from domestic violence.”

Twice a month, on the weeks the students do not go to Posada Esperanza, fellows meet at Texas Hillel to wrestle with important social justice issues and how they relate to Judaism. Topics have included food and environmental justice, reproductive justice, immigration and detention, and refugee crises. Often, speakers from local and national nonprofits such as Urban Roots, Mama Sana Vibrant Woman and Grassroots Leadership, Texas Hillel staff members, lay leaders from local organizations or UT professors come to Texas Hillel to meet with students. The discussion topics, speakers and hands-on volunteering are designed to give students wide exposure to current social justice issues.

Co-founder and current co-leader Ally Karpel said, “I really like that the fellowship it's a mixture between constantly learning about new issues and new nonprofits and volunteering with the same organization twice a month.”

Yana Maskov, a UT graduate and former Texas Hillel student and Karpel co-founded the Bella Abzug Social Justice Fellowship at Texas Hillel because of their interests in social justice through Judaism.

Karpel explained, “I co-founded the fellowship in the spring of 2016 because in high school I found that I made the most meaningful connections to my Judaism when I was volunteering or engaging in some type of social justice education or advocacy. For me, Judaism really is all about repairing the world, and I wanted to bring the passion I had for social justice to college. However, I didn't really know where to start, as I didn't know anything about the nonprofit scene in Austin and was overwhelmed by where I should be spending my time and which causes I should dedicate my energy to. I figured there had to be like-minded students who wanted to engage in tikkun olam but didn't know where to start, so I created a group where we could both learn and act together.”

The fellowship has been a tremendous success, with 10 students participating in the fellowship this year to learn more about social justice issues, volunteer and build relationships in the community, and develop into future Jewish leaders. ■

To learn more about the Bella Abzug Social Justice Fellowship, contact Rebecca Mather, Texas Hillel social justice coordinator, at rmather@texashillel.org.

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