An AVODAH Story Told in Selfies
By Avery Drongowski
I don’t necessarily consider myself a photographer, but I love taking pictures for the same reason most people do – to remember and reflect on a particular moment in my life story that made me feel a certain way. I don’t remember the first time I took a “selfie” in the particular fashion for I have become known among my friends, but it’s been a way to capture a moment without stopping and posing, which can change what that moment actually felt like to me. Our Chicago
bayit and the community we have built has been a significant part of my AVODAH experience. Capturing the moments I have had with my housemates has been a meaningful way for me to reflect on the the things we’ve done together, program-related or not. The following “selfies” have been taken in our bayit and in and around Chicago. Some are candid, some you can catch all 16 of us smiling, and all of them remind me of the incredible friendships I’ve made and the experiences we’ve shared, whether they are challenging or entertaining.
Abby Harris-Ridker (left) and Leah Shefsky (right), native Chicagoans, show me and my roommate, Tanya Fink, around Chicago on one of our first days of orientation. We are reflected in The Bean, an art structure at Millenium Park. One of the best parts about Avodah is learning from my housemates because we all have so many unique experiences to share and stories to tell. The girls from Chicago wanted to share their city with us, and this picture shows the beginning of learning from each other and growing together.
This picture shows the first of many Shabbos brunches, a part of our first “community Shabbat.” I love this picture because we didn’t know it then, but our favorite memories as a whole community are around this table, breaking bread and singing songs. This Shabbos weekend was so beautiful because everyone had a responsibility to cook, clean, lead prayers or sing songs, and we all followed through. It helped us start the year with a really positive energy regarding communal living.
The Chicago bayit is located one mile north of Wrigley Field. We moved to Chicago at the end of the baseball season, but attending one game made me feel connected to my new neighborhood. This picture makes me laugh, because my roommate and I bought tickets for 4 and figured someone else would come with us, and now, Jenny Ferentz and Rachel Steinbach (pictured in the middle) are some of our closest friends.
Nate Seeskin (left), Leah Shefsky (middle) and I are all placed at Jewish organizations. We had multiple days off of work in the fall during the holidays, and spent time together exploring the surrounding neighborhoods and going to the zoo. Jokingly referring to ourselves as the “Jew Crew,” our organizations work very closely with one another, and I have found that Avodah allows me to feel professionally connected in a big new city. Even though I am a young professional, I have built in connections to other organizations, not just the Jewish ones, through my housemates and their placements. There are multiple instances of corps members referring their clients to another corps member’s placement for services, which I think is incredible. We’re not just friends and housemates, but colleagues.
Many of the Chicavodahniks’ favorite program to date is captured in this photo. Leah Shefsky’s parents opened up their Sukkah to us, cooked a delicious meal, and sparked house discussion on social justice topics we hadn’t previously considered. Leah’s mother is a physician at Cook County Jail, and learning about her job and what she has learned working in the criminal justice system grabbed our interest. Through our conversations over the next few weeks, some of our housemates decided to plan a Sadna (day long workshop) focused on criminal justice which included a visit to Cook County Jail. It was one of the most unique and challenging opportunities I have ever had, and it opened my eyes to understanding a whole new world of inequality and systematic oppression.
We always enjoy traveling on public transportation as an entire house. We find it amusing, sometimes embarrassing, and probably confusing for the other people on the bus. This is the majority of our house on the way to the bus stop! I have many selfies of groups of us walking down our street after leaving our house, and this is why they’re fun for me. It’s not as if we’re going to stop on the sidewalk for a group picture, but these are moments that I want to remember because they’re a part of my daily life – they’re honest and silly, and sometimes you can catch Nate eating a sandwich.
While it was hard to be inside for a lot of winter, I couldn’t be happier with the people I was stuck with.We often tried to find fun indoor activities to do together so we didn’t feel so trapped. A group of us went to Adler Planetarium on Chicago’s Museum Campus to explore space!
Sixteen corps members plus Josh, our director, in one elevator at Freedman Place, Becca Rich’s placement. This is during our first Issue Salon which focused on health and ability. We explored mental and physical health, and the way treatment programs and facilities can be inclusive to all needs. Beyond learning about important themes in social justice, our issue salons have showed what an incredible amount of respect we have for each other as we take turns developing programs around our placements. We have created an environment where constructive criticism is honored and the opportunity to learn from one another is a privilege.
Our fall retreat was a really huge bonding experience for our house. We learned a lot about each other’s goals, struggles, and interests, and laughed a lot too. While this retreat generally focuses on mediating conflict, it was a re-energizer for our bayit and we were able to pick up the momentum we had gained at that first community Shabbat. For our Saturday evening program, we went ice skating. It was a good thing we bonded so well because we held a lot of hands and caught a lot of falls!
Many of us have been attending Shabbat services and holiday celebrations with Mishkan, a progressive, spiritual, Jewish community. We have enjoyed getting to know the Chicago Jewish community, but I have found Mishkan very uplifting for me personally. Our relationship with Mishkan goes beyond our participation in services. Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann of Mishkan did a really great Purim service with us, helping us to reflect on more subversive themes surrounding the holiday. Following services, we had an entertaining meal at IHOP, as captured in this picture!
Avery Drongowski is from Royal Oak, MI, attended Hendrix College, and is a Social Service Assistant at The ARK.
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