OPTIONAL additional class session: Planning a Community Service or Social Justice Activity

Note to teachers: This activity touches on the difference between community service and social justice work, which can be explained as the difference between meeting a communal need (e.g. feeding hungry people at a soup kitchen) and pursuing structural changes that would eliminate the conditions that caused the need (e.g. targeting the social causes of poverty and hunger).

  1. To begin the class or session, return to the question of whether a group's experience with persecution/oppression in the past should make us expect more from them in support of another group's fight for justice in the present/future. (Ask students to contribute what they remember being discussed in the previous class, or ask volunteers to each share a different perspective on the issue.) If it hasn't been covered, then ask students to consider this question specifically in relation to the Jewish community, and then specifically in relation to your class/group.
  2. Have everyone break into pairs and discuss the following questions. Then ask each pair to write their responses on the board or on a large piece of paper:
    • What are the conditions that move an individual or group from wanting to help or see change, to feeling compelled to participate themselves?
    • How, if at all, does your understanding of Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement impact your class or group's sense of obligation to do service and/or social justice work?
  3. Distribute to each pair copies of the "Not Only for Ourselves": What are the Goals of Service Projects? Document Study, which is based on a speech given by Ruth Messinger of American Jewish World Service. Have students take turns reading the article out loud.
  4. Remaining in their pairs, students should answer the following questions (and take notes on their responses):
    • What happens in the story that begins the article? Why is the group meeting? What do they do? What happens in the end?
    • No one is suggesting that service programs aren't needed or shouldn't be done, but what do some people find wrong with such programs? Where is the focus? Where do they think the focus should be?
    • What qualities does Ruth Messinger believe make the best acts of service? What else would you add to this list?
  5. Come back together and have the pairs take turns writing up on the board both the qualities Ruth Messinger believes make the best acts of service and the qualities they would add to the list.
  6. Clarify the difference between a community service project and a social justice project and let students weigh in on what kind of project they think is most urgent and/or most practical for them to accomplish. (See related note at start of this section.)
  7. If you already are doing a service or social justice project, or are doing this lesson as part of a service learning program, guide your students in assessing the work that they are doing. Use the article and the lists of issues and qualities written on the board to think about where their project fits into the discussion, and encourage them to revisit the project’s goals and methods. If the group is eager to explore other types of service or social justice work, you may want to vote on possible new directions to explore. (Skip h-j.)

  8. Explain that using the list of civil rights and social justice issues that we made at the beginning of class, as well as the list of qualities we just wrote on the board, we are going to plan a mitzvah day/service/social change project. (Decide ahead of time whether this will be a hypothetical project or one that your class will really carry out themselves or for another class or grade.)
  9. Have your class vote to choose an issue on your list, and allow time for debate if there is not clear consensus. (You may want to narrow down the list based on issues that are relevant in your community, based on the prioritized lists the students made earlier in class, or based on what is feasible to complete; consider involving students in this process.)
  10. Once you have chosen a project, have the students use the Forward.com article, as well as the list of qualities for a good service project written on the board, to develop a program that is "linked to learning about and working to change the conditions that brought about the need in the first place."

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "OPTIONAL additional class session: Planning a Community Service or Social Justice Activity." (Viewed on May 28, 2023) <https://jwa.org/node/12027>.


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