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Following the formal conclusion of the URJ Biennial, a group of attendees spent Sunday volunteering with congregants from Northland Church, a large, interdenominational Christian community north of Orlando. During the course of four hours, dozens of us worked together to rehabilitate the facilities at Seminole Work Opportunity Program (SWOP), a local nonprofit that provides vocational, educational, and community-based employment training to adults with developmental disabilities.
As an interfaith cadre of volunteers, we recognized that it was our job to address the long-term neglect that had SWOP’s building in shambles. Although different teachings brought us to the work site, all were rooted in the idea that it is our responsibility to create a more just world.
Together we scrubbed walls, vacuumed, dusted, painted hallways, and replaced a fence – tasks that anyone could do, but that no one had done for years. Although there were days – weeks even – of work that needed to be done, we were reminded of the words of Pirkei Avot: “It is not your job to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
None of us chose this work because we wanted to create a shiny exterior or a glamorous interior. Just as hundreds of synagogues – and thousands of other houses of worship – do every day, we worked to restore dignity and a sense of value to the human spirit. The clients who joined us were thrilled to have outside support, and their words and actions of thanks – from the handshakes to the smiles and the goodbye waves – reaffirmed the importance of building relationships through shared experiences.
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism and all the volunteer participants, thank you to the volunteers from Northland Church and the clients at SWOP for guiding us and making our experience a great one.