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Jessica Caminker’s essay about her experience with JFS’ “100 Mensches” Essay Contest.

Editor’s Note: Jessica Caminker was part of JFS’ 100 Mensches Essay Contest a year ago, won, and was given a stipend to participate on the Haven’s Youth Advisory Board. She has written the attached essay about her experience.

As a result of my participation in Jewish Family Service’s “100 Mensches” essay competition, I was offered the unique opportunity to apply for a position on a new Youth Advisory Board at Haven, a local comprehensive program for survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Haven does incredibly important work, providing shelter, intervention services, counseling, advocacy education and more to thousands of people each year. These efforts make all the difference for those who take advantage of them and lay the foundation for a future in which they won’t be necessary. 

I found incredible meaning in the time I spent with Haven. Especially as a young woman beginning to navigate society as an individual for the first time, I feel very connected to the cause of eradicating intimate partner violence and helping heal those who have been affected by it.  

The Youth Advisory Board certainly gave me the opportunity to assist in pursuing this goal, as well as deepened my appreciation for and understanding of the Jewish values that go hand in hand with its mission. 

Jessica Caminker
Jessica Caminker

Although Haven is not a uniquely Jewish organization, the strides it takes to better the lives of others beautifully reflect values that Judaism holds closely, and my time spent on the board allowed me to personally involve myself in furthering many of these ideals. 

The Jewish Family Service mission statement is: “Inspired by the wisdom and values of Jewish tradition, we strengthen lives through compassionate service.” As part of this mission statement, JFS also highlights and describes several significant examples of such Jewish values. Among them are chesed (compassion and kindness),
tzedakah (justice) and tikkun olam (repairing the world).

These three concepts serve as a sort of algorithm for much of Haven’s work: When someone comes to Haven seeking help, they are welcomed immediately with overwhelming compassion in a clear expression of chesed.

Next, the organization takes steps toward securing justice for the individual seeking help. Through interventions, court advocacy, personal protection orders or whatever the situation requires, Haven pursues tzedakah on behalf of everyone it serves.

Finally, even once an individual’s immediate needs have been met, Haven continues to provide them with longer-term care such as support groups and counseling, as well as hosting events for educational programming and youth outreach which attack the broader issue. In this way, both directly and indirectly, Haven sets out to repair the world. 

The value that I found the most profound in Haven’s work, however, is that of B’tzelem Elohim, viewing every human being equally and as they were created: in God’s image. All of Haven’s tasks, each with its own specific goals, serve to preserve and empower the humanity and dignity in each individual. In all the support and encouragement that Haven has to offer, the “victims” it serves are never victimized; Rather, they are reminded of their worth and fundamental importance as people. This elevates Haven to the next level of service: Not only does it help those in need, but it does so with grace, mindfulness and in true recognition of God’s image in everyone. 

While I am grateful to have learned many lessons from this experience, my main takeaway is this: The more we can do to remind the world of the holiness found in every single human being, the better suited we will be to combat these difficult issues together going forward. Haven encouraged me to identify the inherent value in myself and in everyone I meet.

And although my personal involvement with Haven ends here, for now, I am confident this is a message that I will carry with me and aim to spread for the rest of my life. Thank you, Haven, and thank you, JFS!  

Jessica Caminker was raised in Ann Arbor and West Bloomfield and graduated from the Frankel Jewish Academy with the class of 2021. She is eager to spend a gap year at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem and continue her Jewish learning before returning to the Honors Program at the University of Michigan the following year.

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