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Texas Hillel Bella Abzug Social Justice Fellowship focuses on leadership, giving back, education

Posted on 07 February 2018 by admin

The Texas Hillel Bella Abzug Social Justice Fellowship through the University of Texas-Austin 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.

Current Co-Leader Eileen Wolfowicz, a UT senior Latin American Studies major from Houston, explains the Fellowship’s impact on her and other students. “The Abzug Fellowship has given me the opportunity to form relationships with local Austin organizations that are doing incredible work for central Texas,” she said. “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 weekly 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 in whatever capacity is needed, such as helping kids with their homework or working on building improvements.

Austin resident Gabe Sperling, a 2016-2017 Fellow majoring in Health and Society, 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 don’t go to Posada Esperanza, Fellows meet at Texas Hillel to wrestle with important social justice issues. Topics have included food and environmental justice, reproductive justice, immigration & detention, and refugee crises. Outside speakers are guests, including those from local and national nonprofits such as Urban Roots, Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, and Grassroots Leadership; Texas Hillel staff members, lay leaders from a local organization and UT professors.

The discussion topics, speakers and hands-on volunteering are designed to give students wide exposure to current social justice issues. “I really like that the Fellowship is a mixture between constantly learning about new issues and new nonprofits and volunteering with the same organization twice a month,” said Co-Founder and current Co-Leader Ally Karpel. Karpel, from Dallas, is majoring in Speech Language Pathology.

Yana Maskov, a UT graduate and former Texas Hillel student, and Karpel co-founded the program at Texas Hillel because of their interests in social justice through Judaism. “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,” Karpel said. “For me, Judaism really is all about repairing the world, and I wanted to bring the passion I had for social justice to college.”

Once she arrived at UT-Austin, Karpel determined that “there had to be like-minded students who wanted to engage in tikkun olam but didn’t know where to start.” The result was a group to attract those individuals. Ten students are participating in the Fellowship during the 2017-2018 school year.

Learn more about the Bella Abzug Social Justice Fellowship by contacting Rebecca Mather, rmather@texashillel.org, Texas Hillel Social Justice coordinator.

— Submitted by
Alicia Garnes

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