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Building Desks to Repair the World

Boston Diller Teen Fellows Assif and Gabi reflect on their experience with Volunteer Ventures for Diller’s Spread the Light Day. Originally published on JewishBoston.com.


Before we commit ourselves to the work, we must frame the work that lies ahead. When the Diller fellows were asked, “What does tikkun olam mean to you?” hands shot up and a plethora of answers ranging from social action to adding pocket change to a tzedakah box in return for a Sunday morning shmeared bagel on the way to Sunday school filled the room. This goes to show the teens we work with interact with and are impacted by tikkun olam in a variety of ways.

From kabbalah stories of a vessel of light shattered around the world to the literal definition of the phrase, tikkun olam is taught in a multitude of ways in educational environments to personally connect to the student. It is no shock to find teens, leaders, and activists commit to the work they find personal passion in and have a unique affixation.


There are 32 Diller Teen Fellows communities around the world. In every community, a “Spread the Light Day” takes place, which aims to weave the vital values and integral meaningful aspects of tikkum olam within a program for the fellows This year, Boston’s Diller Teen Fellows worked with Volunteer Ventures, a local non-profit led by Barry Glass. Barry works to help the community by starting at what is most important, the people. Volunteer Ventures’s staple program Desk Mates brings in volunteers of all ages to assemble a desk for a child in a school, foster home, or a youth club.


Before the Diller fellows stepped into the of role of volunteer, they all sat on the floor of the Glass family’s living room and listened to Barry. He expressed his excitement to see them all at his house, also his work shop, and explained why he started Volunteer Ventures. He then took a minute to connect each fellow to the project that laid ahead. Each fellow nodded their head when asked if anyone had a desk or work space in their home. Even some gave the same response when asked if their work space is used as something other than a work space because they have the ability to finish their homework in another place. Barry then explained the desk they build is more than a work space, it is a piece of furniture that grants a student room to excel in school, find private area for themselves, or have something that is theirs.


Two of the Diller Teen Fellows, Assif and Gabi, shared their reflections on Spread the Light Day:


“On Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, the Boston Diller Teen Fellows cohort went out to Lexington to do engage in hands-on service work with Volunteer Ventures, a local service organization. Before beginning, we studied a text (Vayikra Rabbah 4:6) about the meaning of tikkum olam and responsibility as a uniquely Jewish value. We discussed the difference between social justice work in general, and repairing the world through a Jewish lens.


“Then, with the help of Volunteer Ventures leaders, we worked in teams of three to put together desks for children in need who did not have a workspace of their own. As the project leaders explained, these desks often created a safe and productive environment for kids to do work and help their education in and outside the classroom. Our Spread the Light Day was a great way for us to see the impact we can have by repairing the world with an engaging and hands-on opportunity.” —Gabi


“In our most recent mifgash, we had the chance to volunteer at an organization called Volunteer Ventures. There, we built desks for children and those who do not have any work space. Over the day we used many different tools including nails, power drills, and sanders to build the desks. Getting the chance to work hands-on with the tools was a very fun and educational experience, and something which I don’t think I would have otherwise done.


“In Diller, we have been learning about tikkun olam, or repairing the world. It’s really amazing to think that what we were building with our own hands that would go to someone who really needed it, which felt so different than a general art project. Overall it was a memorable experience to both bond with friends and create something that will go towards a noble cause.” —Assif


Boston Diller Teen Fellows is grateful for the opportunity to work with Barry and Volunteer Ventures. The Desk Mates project provided an experience for the fellows to start and complete a tikkun olam project. Boston Diller Teen Fellows is thankful for the financial support from Combined Jewish Philanthropies to complete this project and partnership.

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