Action Guide > Introduction to Jewish Service Learning

What is Service-Learning?

Service-learning is a form of experiential education in which students
engage in activities that address human and community needs in the
context of in-depth learning of relevant issues and structured reflection activitties.

The combination of issue-based learning, reflection and action in initiatives that meet an authentic community need, enables students to identify themsselves as members of a community contributing to positive social change.

What is Jewish Service-Learning?

Jewish service-learning infuses service-learning with Jewish sources, values
and traditions. Typically, volunteers engaged in Jewish service-learning explore
classical texts or the writings of Jewish thinkers and apply them to the issues
that are being addressed.

Although the terminology is new, the practice of integrating Jewish learning with action can be found in classical sources. Rabbi Akiva taught that “Study is great because it leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b), while Shimon HaTzaddik said, “The world stands on three pillars: Torah (study), Avodah (prayer), and Gemilut Hasadim (acts of kindness)” (Pirkei Avot 1:2).

Incorporating Jewish service-learning into service projects builds community and provides volunteers with an opportunity to explore and strengthen their Jewish identities.

The PARE model:

The PARE model is a systematic approach to planning effective community service projects. Using PARE to design and implement service projects helps a group learn from the experience of serving the community. Preparing for and reflecting upon service helps to overcome stereotypes and places the service experience in a broader context for participants. Evaluating action helps to improve the service in which the group is engaged. While use of the PARE approach does not guarantee a successful service experience, it helps to minimmize the number of missteps that result from lack of forethought and planning, while maximizing the participants’ understanding of what happened.

Definition of Jewish Service-Learning adapted from statements from the Jewish Coalition for Service and Spark: Partnership for Service.

PARE Model from University of Maryland Faculty Handbook for Service-Learning, Marie Troppe, Editor (University of Maryland, 1999).

  Preparation includes identifying a need, investigating it, building relationships with community partners, and formulating a plan. One common mistake that groups make is to jump straight to activities without first engaging in thoughtful assessment and planning. Be sure that participants are involved in this stage, as key buy-in occurs here.
  Action is when participants follow through on their plan. It can take many forms: raising money, signing a petition, building a house, or founding an organization to name just a few. This is the most visible stage of service-learning, but it should not eclipse the other stages.
  Reflection is a key component to service-learning. In fact, this is what distinguishes a service-learning program from what would otherwise be simply volunteer work. Reflection challenges participants to think critically about their experience and has the potential to transform a single project into commitment to future action based on awareness of the broader issues at stake. Despite its name, reflection takes place throughout the service-learning experience.
  Evaluation of each community service experience is important to determine the extent to which the goals and learning objectives of the project have been met. Through evaluation, participants can strengthen their ability to design and implement service projects.

The PARE model describes the critical elements of service-learning, but they are not rigid, sequential steps. For example, you might begin the process with an opportunity for reflection and this often leads to more meaningful action.

Or you might engage in evaluation concurrent with action, and then adjust your plans on an ongoing basis based on developments during the course of the project.

The material presented in the next few chapters is designed to support educators as they prepare students to proceed through the different steps of PARE. It is important to realize that getting students ready for PARE and leading students through the process of PARE are two separate things. We recommend that students be oriented to the methodology as a whole before embarking on the planning process. Performing a community needs assessment is an aspect of the preparation stage. It precedes students’ decision about what “action” to take. However, as students prepare for PARE, it is useful to explore all five modes of action so that when students are investigating problems or issues they can think creatively about the most effective strategy for advancing positive social change.






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