Israel, Justice, Mishegas, Uncategorized

Introducing RepairLabs

I’m a big fan of Jewschool, though until today my name hasn’t graced it’s fine pages. Back in 2005, when I was working for B’nai Jeshurun, reading it made me feel connected to a rising cohort of committed activists in the Jewish world. Secret agent activists, working to change what they could with an inside/outside strategy. Sure, y’all were a bit clannish, and I still didn’t get all the UWS or Park Slope references, but I remember feeling part of something important.
That’s one of the ways that online communities function when they work –  they create strong bonds and lasting impact even among participants who aren’t even contributing or making themselves known. Jewschool might have a smaller readership at this moment than at its peak, but the foundations laid by Mobius/Orthodox Anarchist/Daniel Sieradski have led to great things.
Enter RepairLabs. Created by Repair the World, it represents a particular kind of online community in formation; a community of practice. Where Repair’s overall mission is to support and expand the role of service in Jewish life, RepairLabs is to support the staff at Jewish nonprofits that actually operate service programs. As editor of the site, my job is to contribute to the formation of what might be a new identity: the Jewish Service or Jewish Service Learning professional.
To accomplish this, a little bit of identity surgery is required. In my years interacting with the Jewish world, I’ve met many staff members who only identified with a particular organization, not with employment in the Jewish ‘sector.’ Contrast that with many Federation executives who move around with some frequency, and know full well that they are ‘Federation executives.’
A similar instance might be with Jews doing environmental work (Adama, Hazon, COEJL, Teva, etc.) My impression is that they see themselves as working in the Jewish environmental world, a somewhat developed niche. Many of those staff people engage in Jewish Service Learning, or Immersive Jewish Service Learning. Do they see themselves as ‘JSL professionals’ who might someday be working for another JSL program?
I hope that someday RepairLabs can function as a community hub for a sector of the Jewish professional world. We’re trying to entice folks with resources, articles, and info about upcoming events in the sector. Consider this an initial effort to crowdsource some of our thinking. But the most important offering has yet to come: the wisdom and enthusiasm of a real community.
Are you a JSL or IJSL professional? Is that designation even helpful? What resources can a capacity building effort like RepairLabs provide? Do you have any experiences with cultivating a community of practice that might be useful here?
Thank you!
(Full disclosure: Dan S. currently works for Repair the World, and he introduced me to that fine organization, leading to my current gig at RepairLabs. RepairLabs wouldn’t exist without all the amazing content from Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Rabbi Brent Spodek, Amy Schrager, Perry Teicher, and Beth Steinhorn.)

8 thoughts on “Introducing RepairLabs

  1. I’m curious as to the relationship of RepairLabs to things like Selah, which strikes me as doing some of the same work in terms of supporting leadership -and developing Jewish knowledge and networking- amongst Jews who are working in social justice organizations, and to the organizations themselves, who often employ Jewish professionals directly (i.e. Rabbis in Residence, and the like). Will this encourage those organizations to forgo actually having people who are trained as Jewish professionals to create and support their own content?

  2. I like the concept, but I’ll give a light critique of the execution. Looking at the RepairLabs and Repair the World website, I simply can’t see a clear focus difference. They’re both a combination of centrally written (and probably invited) articles, a calendar, blogs with similar topics, etc. Comments and user interaction is only possible in the blogs’ comments sections.
    They both seem to be in the mold of central gateway sites that push information out. That limits what can appear and limits how much of a community can be built through the site.
    There could be a moderated wiki or, at least, a prominent form for users to upload new materials. (I finally found a request for guest posts under the “about->authors” page).
    There is keyword tagging, but it’s being inconsistently used and some of the tags seem opaque to me, which will cause headaches later.
    For a site with the goal of creating a community, there’s no blogroll or website list, which is probably the lowest cost way to introduce people to each other.
    Looking forward to seeing how this evolves.

  3. Thanks. I hope more folks chime in.
    I wonder about the overlap between social justice activism in the Jewish community (often directed outward) and social justice programming (often directed insward.)

  4. I’m not sure what this approach does but add another layer of the management. are these repairlabs providing anything other than another type of ideological surveillance?

  5. there is a lot of lingo in that post that I need defined more fully.
    community, identity surgery, Jewish sector, cultivating a community of practice.
    i work with jewish youth in disparate corners of the world, and I don’t understand much of this.

  6. @Iamarcus: Not sure what you mean about ‘ideological surveillance.’ I’m writing from the annual conference of the Nonprofit Technology Network. It’s great here! All these lovely nptechies.
    Ten years ago, the phrase ‘nptechie’ might not have made much sense to many of the people here. NTEN has been at the forefront of cultivating this identity, articulating collective interests, and serving the needs of people who identify in this way.
    New professional and personal identities are forming and reforming all the time, sometimes organically, and sometimes as the result of a well meaning effort.
    I’d like for Jewish Service Learning practitioners to experience themselves as part of this emerging professional identity. It can help advance the field and deliver JSL outcomes more effectively.

  7. I wonder if there is any corroboration for Charles Lenchner’s implication that social justice activism is often directed outward, while social justice programming is often directed inward. It seems to me that the assertion could be readily reversed (since “often” does not really quantify). Assuming that Lenchner’s outward and inward are parallels to the balance between universalism and particularism, I’m sure we can all point to examples of Jewish organizations and institutions being active particularistically, and programming universalistically.

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